Thursday morning’s news that Dan Hurley was heading to Storrs, Connecticut, to accept the UConn job took Pitt’s top candidate to fill its men’s basketball coaching vacancy off the table, but there are still a number of strong options available, two of whom Pitt reportedly spoke with after Hurley’s decision was made public.
The university has talked to Buffalo head coach Nate Oats and Washington head coach Mike Hopkins, according to Adam Zagoria and Sean Bock of Zagsblog. Details of their respective conversations with the university have not been revealed, and it’s unclear if either coach is interested in the position. But at the least, Pitt has zeroed in on two appealing candidates.
Oats was thrust into the national spotlight recently, as he led Buffalo to the NCAA tournament, where his Bulls upset the heavily favored Arizona Wildcats last Thursday by a score of 89-68. Although Buffalo’s tournament run ended shortly thereafter, Oats clearly made a statement about the depth of his talent and what he could potentially bring to a higher-tier university.
The Buffalo coach has gone 64-39 over three years as a head coach at the Division I level and posted an impressive 27-9 record this season. He has yet to suffer a losing season and has earned a reputation as a skilled recruiter, with each of his three recruiting classes ranking first in the Mid-American Conference, according to 247Sports.
His recruiting classes have also improved in national standing every year, as his 2016 class ranked 100th in the nation, his 2017 class ranked 89th and his 2018 class currently sits at 65th.
Hopkins’ appeal to Pitt is fairly obvious, as he spent 22 years as an assistant to Jim Boeheim at Syracuse before accepting a head coaching position at Washington in 2017. Since he took the reins in Seattle, the Huskies have gone 21-13, and the coach took home Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors for turning around a program that went 9-22 the season before his arrival.
ESPN’s Jeff Goodman also brought up Hopkins as a name apparently under consideration by Pitt on Wednesday night, noting that his ties to the Northeast, particularly to prep schools in the region, paired with his ACC experience would make him a solid fit at Pitt.
Both coaches are currently under contract, and Hopkins’ buyout would likely pose more of a hurdle than Oats’ at this point. But with Pitt able to offer Hurley a deal worth upward of $3 million annually, the university appears to have the financial wherewithal to land either candidate, provided they’re interested in coming to Pittsburgh and taking on the rebuild.