by Bob Gaughan, Buffalo Sports Page
UB is in the midst of hiring a new basketball coach that will try to lead their program after Nate Oats left for the head job at the University of Alabama. This decision will define Athletic Director Mark Alnutt’s tenure at the university. Bringing in a coach that will keep the ball rolling is critical to the future of the program.
Thoughts on Oats
First of all I have only positive thoughts on Nate Oats and his tenure with the university. I don’t begrudge him from taking three times as much money as he would have made in Buffalo. Oats won 69% of his games at UB and took the team to three NCAA tournaments. Because of him the team has been elevated to one of the top mid-major programs in the country. The Oats era will be looked back on as the most important era in the programs history. He will always be welcomed back and I have no negative feelings about his leaving.
Not Starting from Square One
There seems to be a thought process that the Bulls are back to square one when looking for a coach. I couldn’t disagree more with these people. First of all the quality of coaches that could be calling Mark Alnutt or that he can call his much higher than it was four years ago.
You don’t have a coach asking the question: Can I win at UB? Hurley and Oats have proven that you know you can win here. That’s a big difference from where the program was six years ago.
Money could be better as well. The money that UB was willing to pay Nate Oats was by far the top in the MAC conference. A new coach coming in here knows that that money could be eventually on the table for him. That elevates the program from the start. Oats wasn’t going to leave for another mid-major program like what happened to Keith Dambrot when he left Akron for Duquense. UB has shown they are willing to pay enough where other mid-majors are off the table.
The fact that your last two coaches are now coaching at Arizona State and Alabama raises the quality of candidate that wants this job. The point is this is a job that to an aspiring new coach is a mid-major jewel. That’s hardly square one.
The Local Community
Another thing that the Nate Oats era did to elevate this program was embrace the overall Buffalo sports community. My point is when you go to other colleges in the area you only see former alumni and current students. This past year I have received ticket requests and seen people at the UB football and basketball games that have no ties to the university.
These are the fans that are in the upper decks of the Bills or Sabres games. The atmosphere at the games had a different feel this past year. The overall Buffalo sports community has started to embrace UB as an entertainment option. This is huge in the development of the program. You now have the regular sports fan that has been exposed to your product. This puts you light years ahead of where you were. It’s also one of the reasons you can afford to pay more money for your coach. The other reason you can afford to pay more for a coach is the big donor alumni have embraced this team. The alumni donations have increased because of how much they have enjoyed the last four years. This is I see as a positive pressure going forward. The alumni are now going to want to see this program continue at the current level. There’s a standard that is now going to be expected. This type of pressure could be good so the program stays at or near it’s current level.
Names Thrown Around
Where the search will take the Bulls I’m not sure. I’m glad the Bulls didn’t make a quick decision and name their head coach in a day or so. This shows me that Mark Alnutt is exploring all options. I would definitely explore everyone. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t take one of the current coaches.
I believe that in an effort to keep the ball rolling a quick decision can be made so current recruits aren’t lost. I believe the right man should be hired. If you lose a recruit or two or three in the process then so be it. Finding the right man for the job can take time. Remember when Nate Oats got the job from Bobby Hurley he lost Shannon Evans and Justin Moss from his first team. The team still won because they had the right man.
If the Bulls stay inside the program then assistants Jim Whitesell and Bryan Hodgson are obviously good candidates. Whitesell has helped this team so much over the last few years with his experience and game planning. Oats had the best of both worlds with Whitesell and Hodgson. The great X’s and O’s coach on one hand and the great recruiter on the other. The fact that Hodgson has a job with Oats at Alabama if he doesn’t get the UB job tells you a lot about him.
If the Bulls go outside the current staff then the quality of coaches being thrown around are equally as impressive. Dane Fife has ties to two coaches. Bobby Knight and Tom Izzo. He’s Izzo’s top assistant at Michigan State. Can you even imagine six years ago saying that the Michigan State top assistant is a viable option for the UB job?
My point is this: when your looking for a new coach you don’t want to have to settle. The Bulls aren’t going to have to settle. They have a ton of quality coaches that want the job for two basic reasons. One is they know they can win here. The second is they know they can get paid a very good salary.
That’s hardly square one.