Explaining the timing of Nate Oats' Alabama basketball extension — and the bold message it sends | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

There was never a question that the University of Alabama would take care of Nate Oats after the 2021 season ended.

The second-year basketball coach has the Crimson Tide leading the SEC race entering the final two weeks of play. Alabama is ranked No. 9 in the latest Ferris Mowers USA Today Basketball Coaches Poll and No. 8 in the Associated Press rankings. The Crimson Tide plays a fast, fan-friendly style, has recruited well and has managed coronavirus issues with minimal disruption. 

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Nothing was surprising about the decision to raise Oats’ annual salary to $3.225 million, putting him in the top 25 nationally and fifth in the SEC. Perhaps more eye-catching was the effect that the raise and extension will have on Oats’ buyout should he take another job. That figure, which was approximately $7 million based on Oats’ original contract, now leaps to more than $10 million for the next two years. The figure declines after that but the logical assumption is that continued success would mean another raise and extension and a further increase in the buyout. 

[ Imagine if Nate Oats coached Robert Horry and other Wimp Sanderson stars at Alabama basketball

Alabama Head Coach Nate Oats rocks a jacket straight from Wimp Sanderson's closet during the Tide Tip Off event to introduce the Crimson Tide teams to their fans in Coleman Coliseum Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

The intriguing question is, why now, rather than at the end of the season? Alabama director of athletics Greg Byrne has a reputation for keeping his cards close to his chest in any sort of negotiations, so he hasn’t revealed much beyond the  basics. Speculation, however, might suggest a couple of factors.

First, Byrne is very aware, and rightly so, of Alabama’s reputation as a football school. He wouldn’t necessarily want to change that. Everyone with the slightest awareness of Alabama athletics knows that football is what powders the baby. Nick Saban makes three times more than Oats’ new salary but might be worth 10 times as much if judged as a successful CEO. That’s not a knock on Oats, just the economic reality of what six national championships are worth. 

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Byrne doesn’t want Alabama to be a one-trick pony even if that pony is worth more than Secretariat. Basketball success means something to him personally and professionally. He hears plenty of feedback about it from Alabama fans, who have been vocal about retaining Oats and about doing something, whatever “something” means, about Coleman Coliseum. A massive construction project would require a tremendous investment, not to say that the cost pushes all options off the table. But whenever Byrne gets the chance to show a commitment to a non-football program, especially one with basketball’s visibility, he does so. 

The other possibility besides brand-building would be this: the winds might have been whispering about a prominent program (or more than one) taking a hard look at Oats as a potential coach. The value is already there. As the history of college basketball shows us, a deep NCAA Tournament run only increases it. Byrne might well have wanted to make a bold first move before someone else did.

In either case, the move looks like a smart one and certainly has the endorsement of Alabama fans. 

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt