On Monday afternoon, Greg Byrne had no basketball coach, just a plan.
On Thursday afternoon, he had a basketball coach.
The whirlwind in between wasn’t entirely by design but it worked out well. Nate Oats, who was considered one of college basketball’s fastest-rising coaches after his transformation of the University of Buffalo program into a No. 6 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament, agreed to come to Alabama after a phone call and a comprehensive job interview/enchilada dinner at the Oats’ home on Tuesday night.
Byrne said he first reached out to Oats “on Monday, sometime.”
“I don’t know what time on Monday. One of the things from an ethical standpoint is that when you have a coach, you shouldn’t be reaching out to other coaches, directly or indirectly. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t do your research and start doing some pick-and-shovel work. But I really didn’t start contacting coaches at all until we knew Avery and I were heading in a certain direction. My days are all blurry as you can imagine — that’s the time when we started reaching out.”
There were a couple of important reasons for haste.
First, despite having signed an extension with Buffalo last week, he was clearly on the radar for other schools, and the coaching carousel has just started to spin. When some of the current vacancies are filled, jobs like Arkansas, Texas A&M and UCLA, that will lead to other vacancies at other schools, some with enough cash available to be enticing.
Second, Oats was given an absolute “all clear” by the NCAA — Byrne had clearly made that a priority in his Monday press conference. The coaching talent pool has other fish, but some coaches who might be candidates a year from now were not going to be available.
Third, the NCAA transfer portal has created a different dynamic, one that will be a factor in coaching change decisions at all schools in the future. The portal was created to increase autonomy for players and that’s a noble goal. Just don’t tell that to the coaches and athletic directors that have to deal with it going forward.
Plenty of players are uncertain about their future after a coaching change. That’s nothing new. But in the past, those players had to ask for a release and that process could take a few days or a few weeks — enough time for a new coach to meet with them, evaluate their situation and, when appropriate, try to persuade them to stay without searing public scrutiny, to say nothing of contact from other schools. The faster a new coach was hired, the better his chances at re-recruitment. Oats noted that some players contemplating transfers “might not need to be here,” but said he would explore each situation individually. Another week, and a new coach might have had nothing left to explore.
The one thing that did not hasten his pace, Byrne said, was social media.
“Hiring people is challenging,” he said. “You’re trying to make long-term decisions. I remember Andy Staples, when we hired Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, he did a follow-up article to it and Andy said (that) his first newspaper job out of college was with (Chattanooga). He went through three days of interviews for a $20,000 a year job and met all these people. We hired Dan Mullen in five hours. Paid him a lot of money.
“But one of the most important things you do in a coaching search is block out the outside noise. I’m not sitting there reading message boards. I was paying attention to Twitter to see how our teams were doing during the process, but I wasn’t looking at my mentions.”
With that to preserve his mental health, Byrne landed what he called his top candidate.
“He was at the top of my list,” Byrne said.
“The entire time you’re working on Plan A, you’re also working on Plan B, you’re also working on Plan C, you’re also working on Plan D.
“I feel very good about the plan that we used.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.