Hungry for Oats: Nate Oats introduced as 13th men’s basketball head coach, popular choice with players

When Nate Oats served as an assistant coach for the men’s basketball team, he would think about what he’d do differently with the program if he were the head coach.

“Obviously we knew who the boss was, but I always thought, ‘If this was my program, I would change this or that,’” Oats said. “So I would talk with Bobby [Hurley] about it and we would go back and forth. It allowed me to see some of the things I would do if I were in charge.”

Now Oats is in charge.

UB Athletics introduced Oats as Buffalo’s 13th men’s basketball head coach in Alumni Arena on Monday afternoon. Oats is replacing Hurley, who Oats worked under as an assistant the past two seasons. The hire came less than 48 hours after Hurley let the team know via conference call last Thursday that he would be accepting the head coaching position at Arizona State.

Oats said Monday that one of his main goals is to get Buffalo back to the NCAA Tournament. The team made its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance this season after winning its first-ever Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship.

“We plan on repeating what we did last year and then taking it to a next step,” Oats said. “We’re not just playing to make the NCAA Tournament, we think we can get a couple wins in the NCAA Tournament and see what happens from there.”

Oats is the second assistant coach Athletic Director Danny White has promoted to head coach in White’s nearly three years in Buffalo. Women’s soccer head coach Shawn Burke, who won a MAC Championship in his first season, is the other.

White said it was clear the best candidate for the job was already in the program after he spoke with junior guard Jarryn Skeete, sophomore guard Shannon Evans and junior forwards Justin Moss and Raheem Johnson over the weekend.

“We came in the meeting with a simple message and that was to have Coach Oats become the next head coach of the team,” Skeete said. “He’s a hard-working, grind-it-out coach that will hold you accountable and expects the most out of his players.”

White said one of the main reasons he decided to promote from within was the team chemistry that had already been built after a historic season.

Oats said he is confident the transition to head coach will be easier because of the team camaraderie that already exists and his experience with the players on the roster.

“I know what their strengths and weaknesses are,” Oats said. “Coach Hurley, two years ago, he had to figure out what Javon McCrea liked to do, what [senior forward] Will Regan liked to do. I don’t have to figure that out – what they like to do. I know how to interact with them.”

Moss said it was important to keep Oats for the longevity of the program because Oats is a coach that the players trust. Oats helped recruit Moss, Johnson and freshman guard Christian Pino – all of whom he coached at Romulus High School near Detroit, Michigan.

Oats coached at Romulus High School for 11 seasons, won seven consecutive conference championships and amassed a career record of 222-52 before spending the last two years as the Bulls’ assistant coach. He hinted Monday that more Romulus players might soon be Bulls.

Oats made the jump to college basketball to join Hurley’s staff because of his relationship with Hurley’s brother, Rhode Island men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley.

“My relationship with [Dan Hurley] was key,” Oats said. “I was very tight with Danny first. Danny Hurley recommended me to Bobby, saying you needed someone who was a head coach before, someone who ran their own program and was successful.”

Oats was one of Buffalo’s top recruiters during the Hurley era. He was responsible for bringing in talent such as freshman guards Mory Diane and All-MAC Freshman Lamonte Bearden, and was instrumental in the recruiting of incoming players Torian Graham, Nick Perkins and Maurice O’Field.

Oats admitted he is a “no-name guy.”

He brought in Romulus players with ease, but used Hurley’s national name recognition to solidify other recruits, such as Bearden.

Oats said Hurley’s name helped with the recruiting process, but Buffalo’s first-ever bid to the NCAA Tournament will now help him recruit without Hurley.

“It helps huge,” Oats said. “Every kid wants to play in the NCAA Tournament. You never want to have negative recruiting, just accentuating the positives.”

Last season, Hurley used three guards in his starting lineup and played without a center, often playing senior forwards Xavier Ford and Regan next to Moss.

Oats said “much isn’t changing.”

He still plans on pushing the ball up the court and creating exciting moments on offense and defense because he said he doesn’t believe “there is a reason to fix what’s not broke.”

Oats said he plans on continuing the high-energy trend that propelled the team this season. The first-year head coach said he always coached with a “fiery passion,” but will not need to drink two Red Bull energy drinks before a game, like Hurley used to do.

Oats said there is a “definite concern” that players he did not personally recruit might transfer from the program. He said he plans on taking care of it within the next week. Oats would not confirm what players are staying and which are leaving.

Moss said he and the rest of the team plans on staying with the Bulls next season. The players are excited to continue playing under Oats, according to Moss.

Oats has not named his assistant coaches yet but said he and White have been working together to come up with a profile of what they want to see in an assistant.

“I think we’re going to put together a dynamite staff,” Oats said. “Once we announce the staff in the next week or two, everyone’s going to be in shock about how good the staff will be.”

Jordan Grossman is the senior sports editor and can be reached at