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Bucky Gleason: St. Bonaventure on deck with Schmidt after UB hits home run with Oats

WASHINGTON – The timing was strange Thursday given that UB was hours removed from a victory in the middle of its conference tournament, but university officials deserve credit for a wise decision. They recognized it was never too early to give Nate Oats a pay raise and a long-term contract.

Oats was given a five-year extension after the Bulls reached the Mid-American Conference tourney semifinals with a win over Central Michigan. It was unclear Thursday how much Oats will pocket in the years ahead, but evidently it was enough for UB to keep him.

St. Bonaventure would like to make a similar statement to Mark Schmidt before another school attempts to steal him away. On Thursday morning, the University of Pittsburgh fired coach Kevin Stallings after two disastrous seasons and immediately began searching for a replacement.

Schmidt would be a strong candidate for the Pitt job after coaching Bona to its highest win total in regular season history. The Bonnies won 12 straight conference games, finished with a 24-6 record overall and 14-4 in the Atlantic 10, and climbed to 26th in the country. St. Bonaventure clearly wants him to stick around.

"We're always prepared for his name to come up because of the great job he's done here," Bona athletic director Tim Kenney said Thursday. "He's part of the fabric of St. Bonaventure. What he's been able to do here has been incredible. We've been in touch with his representation. We want to keep him. We want him at St. Bonaventure for the rest of his career, and we're going to do everything we can to keep him."

To be perfectly clear, Schmidt had not been contacted by Pitt on Thursday while Bonnies prepared for the A-10 tourney in Capital One Arena. To be perfectly candid, Pitt or any other school should keep him in mind given his success at the mid-major level. The Atlantic Coast Conference is a different monster than the A-10, but he should not be overlooked.

Schmidt pocketed about $900,000 this season at Bona, a large portion of which was paid by the university with the rest covered by donors. His total income was around the average for Atlantic 10 coaches. The school does have a limit to how much it could pay him, however. It can't simply empty the vault.

Let's be honest, though, too. Pitt was far more attractive a few years ago than now after finishing 8-24 overall after losing to Navy to open the season and 19 consecutive defeats to end the season. We're talking about a heavy lift. The challenge could be too daunting and not worth the risk for a coach already on sound footing.

If it's not Pitt, it could be someone else.

Schmidt has been revered for his work at St. Bonaventure after he pulled the troubled program from the ruins and restored respectability. Bona won 20 games or more in each of the past three seasons and had winning records in the ultra-competitive A-10 for four years despite coaching at one of the smallest schools in the nation.

In 2014, Schmidt was considered for the position at Boston College before his alma mater hired Jim Christian. Schmidt has a considerably stronger resume now than he did four years ago. The Bonnies finished second in the A-10 behind Rhode Island this season and stands a good chance of being invited to the NCAA Tournament.

It doesn't happen without Schmidt, who has done an outstanding job finding players who were overlooked by other schools and molding them into solid D-I players. Good luck finding another coach in the country who has squeezed more from his players than Schmidt did during his time in the Southern Tier.

"One-hundred percent it has to be addressed," Kenney said. "We've always been proactive. We were proactive two years ago when we gave him an extension. He has four years left. We'll do everything we can to rebuff offers and hope that it's enough."

Stallings made more than $2 million per year in his first two seasons at Pitt and reportedly is owed some $9.5 million for the final four years left on his contract. Obviously, Pitt has money to throw around. The Panthers were the only team in the country that was winless in its conference, finishing 0-18 in the ACC.

When he took the job, Schmidt hoped to remain at Bona while his kids attended high school. His youngest of three sons is a junior at Olean High School. Schmidt, 55, could be inclined to remain at St. Bonaventure. He's 13 victories from becoming Bona's all-time winningest coach.

Nobody would blame him for accepting an opportunity to more than double his income. Schmidt has connections to Pittsburgh. His wife, Anita, is from western Pennsylvania. They met while Schmidt was coaching at Robert Morris, where he spent his first six seasons as a Division I head coach.

Oats' stock soared in three seasons since he took over for Bobby Hurley, who left for a bigger program and more money at Arizona State. Oats coached UB into the Big Dance in his first season, prompting the university to bump his pay from $250,000 to $350,000. This season, he was the sixth-highest paid coach in the MAC.

In an interview a few weeks ago, interim athletic director Kathy Twist said UB planned to make Oats one of the three highest-paid coaches in the conference. Oats repeatedly has said he would like to stay because he believed UB could be better next season. Evidently, the university paid him enough to stick around.

We'll see whether Schmidt draws interest from Pitt, but the situation is worth watching. His value could skyrocket over the next few days if St. Bonaventure plays well enough in the A-10 tournament and reaches the NCAAs. It could be higher than ever if the Bonnies win a game or two in NCAAs, and it could be harder than ever to keep him.

 

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