It’s been about 24 hours since news broke of Nate Oats leaving the Buffalo Bulls men’s basketball team, and it has been a roller coaster of thoughts. I chose not to be reactionary with my thoughts and instead take some time to really process what I felt. Now, after a constant 24 hour cycle of altering stories, constant stress educing tweets, and arguing with people on twitter (maybe even you) I’ve decided to put this all in to words, as someone who has been around for every single Nate Oats game.
For a little background on myself, I started school after graduating from high school in 2015. This means Nate Oats has been the only UB coach I’ve ever watched while a student. I came to one game in the Bobby Hurley era and watched his games on TV, but I never felt the attachment to him as I did Oats. UB basketball games always gave me a place where I was at peace, whether cheering as a leader in True Blue or transitioning to the media table, and I do attribute a lot of this to Nate Oats for reshaping the program. However, some of the stories I’ve heard coming out of this ordeal have me disappointed in a Coach I as a fan trusted. This post will be done in a few parts. I will start with my happy thoughts, bring in my frustrated thoughts, and then finish it with some ideas of the future. So first, let’s get positive.
First things first, I personally never had a bad conversation with Coach Nate Oats. He would always come over to True Blue during the women’s games and just talk to us like people, not just students. I also would see him interact on campus with students who might not know who he is, in an attempt to get them to check out his team which was deserving of every set of eyes it had on it this season. So from a personal level, I want to say thank you to Nate Oats for trying to connect with students. He wasn’t the best public speaker but he tried, which is why I’m disappointed in how he left, but this will be talked about later.
As for the program, I want to say thank you for everything he did. Buffalo went from this no name program, to one where people want to talk to me about them cause they see I’m wearing a blue horns up shirt. Oats helped give the students and alum such a sense of pride and joy which I never knew was possible. The culture change he helped permeate made it feel as though every fan was the super fan I was. He recruited some of the most stand up guys, who I also loved talking to, and I really think he cared about making them better people first. So to the Nate Oats who gave everything he had to UB, thank you from this student.
Here is my not so happy side. I won’t call it mad, I’ll call it frustrated. From some reports, it seems as if Coach Oats just went through his daily routine, and then dropped a bombshell on the department he was leaving. We all knew it was a possibility, but most of us assumed he would wait a few years for Michigan or Michigan State to open up. Instead, he chose Alabama, which could compete in the SEC, but did not feel like the perfect job. I’m also frustrated because you have to wonder where his head was at during the Texas Tech game.
I can forgive all of this though, but what I can’t forgive is reading he did not address his team. This may just be a false report but if it is true, I can not defend this. As a coach, you are such a role model for these young men, and to not give them the decency of a talk before you leave is not okay. The NCAA transfer rules will always hurt the athletes and not the coaches, but at least talk to the young men you promised four years of dedication to. I hurt for the players who also feel blindsided and are now tossed in to a circus of uncertainty they did not ask to be a part of. The least you could have done was talk to them. I really want to believe this didn’t happen, because if it did, the word family becomes irrelevant to them in terms of basketball.
Here is where I am left as a student who will be an alum very shortly. I want to know if the athletic department and the basketball program can maintain the success we all got to experience. We rebounded from Hurley, can we do it again? We will lose recruits, these are kids who were promised something which can not be delivered and you can not blame them. We will probably have some players transfer, especially if they do not want to be involved in a possible rebuild. The Bulls most likely will not be a top 25 program, which is okay. The thing now is we wait until the dust settles with a new coach and our official roster, and from there on, we can continue to support our Bulls.
So to Nate Oats, this is going to be my final message: thank you for the past four seasons and what you did, but I’m disappointed for the future you may have left this loyal community with.