There won’t be any T-shirt slogans printed from Nate Oats’ first day at Alabama.
The new men’s basketball coach arrived in Tuscaloosa with a three-part plan to build a culture, but it’s not meant for bumper stickers or social media hashtags.
“We established a culture playbook a couple years ago,” Oats, the former Buffalo coach, said at his introductory press conference Thursday. “We talk about max effort, that’s everything. Every workout, every weight room session, every practice, our guys are going to give max effort. We’re going to demand it out of them.
“Continuous growth is one. We’re going to get better every day. We want to be better today than yesterday. We’re going to get guys that want to get in the gym that want to work on their own. If the NCAA only allows us so many hours with the guys, if that’s all the hours they put in, we’re never going to get where we need to get. We’re going to get a culture that they’re in to get better every day. That goes for academics-wise. We’re going to get better.
“We’re going to give max effort, continuous growth, then we talk about selfless love. We’re going to teach our guys, young men, how to love each other, love this community, treat each other well.”
Oats has signed a memorandum of understanding for a five-year contract at Alabama, though terms were not available. It is still subject to approval from the university’s Board of Trustees.
Regardless, it’s an elephant-sized step forward for Oats, who first became a college head coach in 2015 and was coaching in high school as recently as 2013. Oats got a recommendation from Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo while athletics director Greg Byrne was researching candidates. Oats had spent time watching practices at Michigan State while he was head coach at Romulus High School from 2002-13.
“We talked about different names, but as soon as Nate Oats’ name came up he was, ‘Hey that guy’s a grinder,’” Byrne said.
Oats was also a math teacher during his time coaching the high school ranks. He had signed a contract extension in Buffalo less than two weeks ago, but chose to leave for Alabama instead.
The decision came quickly. Oats had a missed call from Byrne on Monday when Buffalo returned from the NCAA Tournament. He was announced as head coach Wednesday afternoon and arrived in Tuscaloosa for the first time later that day.
“There were a lot of jobs open that were high-level basketball jobs that contacted me maybe,” Oats said. “We weren’t sure we wanted to raise our family in those cities, but everything kind of came together on this one.”
Byrne also reached out to several former players for Oats who recommended him highly.
“As important as his success has been on the court, we’ve heard from so many about what a great person he is,” University of Alabama president Dr. Stuart Bell said. “Not only is he an outstanding coach, but he is someone with high integrity, visionary leadership, in short, all the qualities that we’re looking for at the University of Alabama.”
Oats said he plans to bring assistant coach Bryan Hodgson with him from Buffalo unless he becomes the Bulls’ next head coach. Byrne said Oats also has made moves to fill at least one off-court position. Oats met with Alabama’s three current assistants earlier Thursday and said “in all likelihood, we’re going to keep some.”
That could be important as he begins to build a recruiting base in the area.
“I believe in allowing the head coach to have autonomy to hire who they hire within our budget, within the NCAA recruiting rules and everything else,” Byrne said. But I know that’s something he’s paying attention to as he puts a staff together. I think having somebody on your staff that knows what sweet tea and grits are is important when you’re at Alabama.”
He’ll have other challenges facing him immediately as well. Four Alabama players with eligibility remaining are exploring their transfer options, including point guard Kira Lewis Jr. Oats met with Lewis on Thursday morning.
“I’m going to do everything I can to make sure he’s playing in an Alabama uniform next year,” he said.
Others may be moving on.
“Maybe some of the guys in the transfer portal don’t need to be here,” Oats said. “You’ve got to get the culture built right. We’ve got to have those meetings and see.”
Buffalo reached the NCAA tournament in three of his four years as head coach. He won the conference in both the regular season and conference tournament in both of the last two years. The Bulls spent most of this season ranked in the top 25.
“They’ve never been to a Final Four here, but we can get to a Final Four,” Oats said. “We can get the talent level that you need. The SEC’s one of the best leagues in the country every year, and the tradition here — they may have never been to the Final Four, but they’re second in wins in the SEC and second in winning percentage. There’s some high-level basketball that’s been played here in the past, and I think we can do it.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.