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Staying in house by hiring Nate Oats as men's basketball head coach is a good decision

In Oats, Bulls look to maintain stability, parlay coaching success into program success


The Spectrum

Sometimes, keeping a system in place is a good thing.

On Saturday, UB Athletics removed the interim tag on assistant head coach Nate Oats, making him the new head coach of the men’s basketball team after Bobby Hurley left for Arizona State. Oats joined the Bulls in 2013 with Hurley after coaching at Romulus High School near Detroit, Michigan.

I was expecting the Bulls to go on a small coaching search, but I think Buffalo made the right decision in giving Oats the head coach position. In total, I found three reasons to like the move.

It keeps the Bulls in position to have a great 2015-16 campaign. Before Hurley’s departure, I thought this team had the talent to not only run through the Mid-American Conference, but also flirt with the program’s first 30-win season. While I think the latter is now off the table, this team could repeat as MAC Champions.

The addition of a new head coach outside of the program would’ve opened the door to two things: transfers and system adjustments. Last year, Hurley ran a three-guard offense and often played without a center. UB hiring a new coach runs the risk of players leaving the program or just not fitting the system at all.

With promoting Oats from within, Athletics lessens that risk.

If all stays as planned, this roster has the reigning MAC Player of the Year in rising senior forward Justin Moss and one of the best point guards in the conference in rising junior guard Shannon Evans. Around them were four experienced players from a team that won 23 games and made their first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history.

Then, consider the incoming class of players: Maurice O’Field and Torian Graham could easily crack the rotation next season and if he adjusts correctly, Ikenna Smart could give this team another dynamic that would offer Oats a legitimate center and game changer on the defensive end.

This team is good, and more importantly, experienced. The Bulls’ rotation will have at least five upperclassmen and one underclassman. Depending on the coaching transition from Hurley to Oats, the Bulls could repeat last season’s accolades.

For recruiting, I’m not too worried about it. Hurley’s name and resume helped get him through the door to potential recruits, but Oats was instrumental in helping Hurley land most of the team’s current talent.

As the lead recruiter in the Midwest, Oats was consistent in helping the Bulls land talent. The trio of Michigan players (Moss, freshman guard Christian Pino and junior forward Raheem Johnson) all landed in Buffalo because Oats coached them at Romulus.

This year, the Bulls have two players that were recruited by Oats: Nate Navigato from Illinois and Nick Perkins from Michigan. Hurley’s departure will hurt recruiting, but having the ability to recruit talent from Illinois, Ohio and Michigan should help Oats as he looks for the next group of Bulls.

I would also look for Oats to hire someone from one of these three areas to strengthen his pull there. Michigan feels like the frontrunner, considering Oats’ prior coaching arrangement was outside of the Detroit area.

Finally, I like the hire for the program because Buffalo is attempting to create a winning program from within, in an effort to maintain a winning culture. If the Bulls hit on Oats and he has multiple years of success, it helps promote the program for the next head-coaching search.

Success opens doors. Although the Bulls will never have the pick of the litter for any of their coaching positions, being able to point to prior success will open the door to better coaching candidates – whether head coaches from smaller conferences or assistant coaches from larger programs who are looking to get their head coaching careers started.

If Oats were to lead this team to another MAC Tournament Championship and NCAA Tournament appearance, he would be on the shortlist of the next guys moving up in the world of college basketball. That would be a great thing for the program because that would mean two coaches had success and went on to better jobs, meaning Athletic Director Danny White and the administration could sell Buffalo as a place where you can win and get a ticket to a bigger program.

That’s an important selling point for a Mid-Major program.

The move to hire Nate Oats was a hasty one, but could look to be the right move down the line.

Now all we need to know is if he can be a head coach on the college level.

Quentin Haynes is a sports editor and can be reached at quentin.haynes@ubspectrum.com


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