If North Carolina wants to talk, Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats at least has to listen | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

At some point, Nick Saban is going to sit down, look around college football only to see no worlds left to conquer, and decide to retire.

Whenever that may be, there will only be a handful of possible replacements who will come out and say, “No thanks, not me, I am not interested in the premier job in college football,” before having an idea of Alabama's thinking.

There are simply some jobs that a coach does not eliminate himself from unilaterally. In football, that list would be Alabama and Ohio State, maybe one or two others. In basketball, the list would probably be Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and, certainly, North Carolina. Those are the bluest of the blue bloods, locations at which winning championships is not only possible, but expected: jobs that might come open once a decade, or less. 

It’s one thing to one to stay where you are, if you have a good job. It’s possible to feel that you can accomplish as much at Alabama, for instance, as you can at Indiana or Texas or Oklahoma.

PROUD COACH:What Nick Saban said about Alabama basketball's NCAA Tournament run to the Sweet 16

CECIL HURT:After a Sweet 16 run, what will Alabama basketball look like next season? 

North Carolina? That’s a different matter. You at least want to know which way the wind is blowing before you decide to get out of the way.

At this point, no one is saying publicly what North Carolina will do in the wake of Roy Williams’ retirement. There has been some speculation that the Tar Heels, like many tradition-rich programs, will want someone with some connection to that tradition. Indiana chose that route in hiring Mike Woodson last week. Texas did the same, although Chris Beard’s résumé might have been strong enough to land him the Longhorn job even if he had never done an assistant coaching stint in Austin.

North Carolina has taken the in-house approach before, when Bill Guthridge was Dean Smith’s designated successor. This time, Hubert Davis, a longtime Williams assistant and former Tar Heels player, is considered a strong possibility. Wes Miller, a former Tar Heel walk-on, has done a solid job at UNC-Greensboro. Those are possibilities; another is that North Carolina would try the all-out muscle flex and go after Gonzaga’s Mark Few, Villanova’s Jay Wright or the Boston Celtics’ Brad Stevens.

Nate Oats, however, has attracted tremendous attention at Alabama, both for his quick success in two years and the Crimson Tide’s innovative style of play.  His buyout, approved earlier this week by the UA Board of Trustees, is a huge $12.5 million. Could North Carolina find that money by gathering loose change from Michael Jordan’s car seat? It could, but it might not be the fiscal direction the Tar Heels want to take.

Could Oats (or another coach) ultimately turn the Tar Heels down? Of course. He’s expressed a strong commitment to Alabama in the wake of other openings. He’s spoken strongly about “culture change” in UA basketball and might not want those words to sound hollow by walking out the door in two years. He has a family with school-age daughters and the thought of moving them again might be a negative.

To use the Saban scenario, some coaches might not feel like they could ever do enough to match his accomplishments. (Hint: they can’t.) Others might take that as a challenge. 

No matter how many “hot boards” someone’s name might appear on, parties do have to agree. Listening isn’t the same thing as accepting. But if Alabama football or North Carolina basketball calls, anyone would at least listen.

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