A two-and-a-half mile walk from the legendary loudness of Autzen Stadium will bring you to Matthew Knight Arena: a $200-million office for a $2-million-a-year coach. In a few weeks, Altman will be entering his 27th season as a college basketball head coach and his 7th as the coach of the Oregon Ducks. During his career he has won Coach of the Year awards in four different conferences. His 327 wins at Creighton are the most ever at that school.
Altman arrived at Oregon in 2010, and the past six seasons at Oregon have been like a continuous escalator ride toward the top. Since arriving in Eugene, Altman has never won fewer than 21 games. His Duck teams have made it to the NCAA tournament four straight years, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2016, and he has a 71 percent win percentage. Currently, that yields him the 24th-highest salary in NCAA basketball, and third highest in the Pac-12.
Oregon is getting a Porsche for the price of a Prius - but they can’t expect that kind of discount forever.
Oregon’s recruiting success in basketball the last few years can be traced back to two things: Altman and winning.
Payton Pritchard is considered to be one of the best guards to ever graduate from an Oregon high school. Altman was able to sway Pritchard to stay in state, prying him away from powerhouses Kansas and Louisville, among others. This was something at which Altman’s predecessor - Ernie Kent - failed, he did not get the elite home-state recruits to come play for the Ducks.
He had two chances in 2007 with Kevin Love and Kyle Singler. In the opinion of many, Kent’s recruiting of these two stars was woefully inadequate. He bricked on both of them. They went on to lead their respective college teams to Final Four appearances before being drafted by the NBA, while Oregon sputtered around heading toward the bottom of the Pac-12.
It is not just about how well Altman recruits, but whom he recruits. He is getting 4- and 5-star players, but he is not recruiting them simply for talent. It is about recruiting the right players for him, his team, his style.
Dillon Brooks explained the philosophy to Daniel Uthman of USA Today: “Coach always says he recruits you for your versatility … you don’t have just one skill set … he saw me as a smart player who can play a lot of positions.”
Altman’s teams play aggressive basketball, and even when he has his bigger lineup on the court they still push the ball. Oklahoma coach Lon Krueger spoke of the new Oregon style with Andrew Grief of Oregonlive.com: “His players play with freedom and confidence attacking again and again.”
Altman knew how to win before he came to Eugene. In 1990, his first season as a Division I head coach at Marshall, he was named the Southern Conference Coach of the Year. When he left for Kansas State, he took over a team that typically competed for last place in the Big 8/Big 12 conference.
In the four years he was there, he beat Kansas twice, made it to the finals of the conference tournament and took Kansas State back to the NCAA tournament. He then accepted the head coaching job at Creighton (a perplexing decision to some) where he stayed for 16 seasons. At the time of Altman’s arrival, Creighton was not competitive, having lost 22 games in the previous year. Four years later, they were playing in the NCAA tournament.
He was not on the short list when Oregon went through their coaching search in 2010. Actually, it is hard to know whether his name was on the long list, either.
The Oregon athletic administration was committed to making a splash, so they went after some of the biggest names. They all turned down the job.
Altman has a sense of humor about it; in an interview with Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Review Journal, he reflected “I’ve joked a number of times over the years that I’m not sure if I was the 38th or 39th choice [of my wife] … It just happened to be a fit.”
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove
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