Published April 10, 2019
New UB men’s basketball head coach Jim Whitesell has a message for fans wondering whether the Bulls will continue to play the same up-tempo style they had under Nate Oats.
“Oh, yeah. We’re going to guard and we’re going to run and we’re going to play that blue collar style of play,” Whitesell said Monday morning during his introductory news conference in The Buffalo Room in Capen Hall. “Our fans want that. I want that. It’s been exciting,” Whitesell said of Bulls basketball. “It’s grown every year. It’s morphed into something else.”
Director of Athletics Mark Alnutt named Whitesell the program’s 14th head coach on Saturday. Whitesell was formally introduced Monday, but he’s a familiar face to anyone who’s followed the program’s success the past four seasons. He served as UB’s associate head coach under Oats during that time. (Visit the UB Bulls YouTube page to see the full press conference.)
“Everyone who knows Jim speaks highly of his commitment to our team, and the key role he has played in elevating the national profile of our program,” said UB President Satish K. Tripathi. “That’s why we have every confidence that under his leadership, our men’s basketball program will continue to build on that momentum.”
Oats was named head coach at Alabama on March 27, just a few days after the Bulls returned from Tulsa, where their record-breaking season ended with a loss to Texas Tech in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
While some of Oats’ staff followed him to Tuscaloosa, at least two assistants are staying on with Whitesell: assistant coach Jamie Quarles and video coordinator Tom Fox. Whitesell will round out the remainder of his coaching staff over the next week or so. Then, they’ll hit the recruiting trail.
When he met with the team following Oats’ departure, Alnutt promised players he would name a new coach before the end of the Final Four, which took place Saturday in Minneapolis and concluded with Monday night’s national championship game.
The timing of the decision was important on two levels:
First, to reassure current players who might have felt uneasy during a transition period. “I know it’s tough. I know there’s a lot of questions,” Alnutt said. “I know that patience is not really the word that student-athletes want to hear at that time.”
And second, to have a new head coach in place when the NCAA basketball recruiting period opens at noon April 11.
Oats met with the team and announced his departure on March 27. Later that day, Alnutt appointed Whitesell as interim head coach. Whitesell was in Chicago to be inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame at Lewis University, where he was a head coach for 12 seasons earlier in his career.
To speed up the selection process, UB hired Parker Executive to conduct a nationwide search for Oats’ successor. Whitesell was among an initial pool of nearly 40 candidates that was pared down to 12. Alnutt met with six finalists at the Final Four — three each last Thursday and Friday — and extended the offer to Whitesell after determining he was the best fit for Buffalo.
Nellie Drew, professor of practice in sports law in the School of Law, and director of the Center for the Advancement of Sport, is thrilled with the decision. “It’s a great hire,” she said. “Jim Whitesell is an experienced, capable coach who knows our team and will be able to keep this ship sailing smoothly.”
Having the continuity of someone familiar with the program will be key, Drew said. “Continuity is important to continue the program’s success,” she said.
Jayvon Graves, who will be a junior on the team next year, agrees. “It’s very important because when you have someone that already knows how you guys play and what you like to do, you’re more comfortable,” he said.
Senior Nick Perkins, whose time overlapped with Whitesell’s tenure as an assistant, also applauded the move. “Coach Whitesell is the man,” Perkins told reporters after the press conference. “He’s been really key to our success here these last four years.”
The Bulls advanced to the NCAA Tournament four of the past five years. Perkins expects that to continue with Whitesell in charge. “Coach Whitesell is going to take the program to another level,” he said.
Perkins said UB administrators kept players in the loop throughout the process. In fact, several players, including Perkins, met with Alnutt to discuss what they wanted for the program.
They felt that Whitesell’s 34 years of coaching experience, along with his familiarity with the players and the program, made him the best candidate for the job. “It was good back and forth. It was very productive and I’m glad that we had a chance to really sit down and have that conversation,” Alnutt said.
Whitesell’s resume includes coaching stints across all three levels of the NCAA. He came to Buffalo after two seasons as an assistant coach at St. John’s. Prior to that, he was an associate head coach at St. Louis University, guiding the Billikens to a pair of NCAA Tournament runs in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
He spent seven years as head coach at Loyola (Chicago). Whitesell’s other coaching stops include Division II Lewis University, which he led for 12 seasons, and Division III Elmhurst College.
“I’m excited to have him on board, just based on everything I talked about earlier, in terms of the criteria we were looking for and the fit that’s there,” Alnutt told reporters. “At the end of the day, Jim proved that he’s the right person for the job,” he added.