Jim Whitesell knows that while he has to hit the ground running his first week as the University at Buffalo men's basketball coach, he also has to take a patient and diligent approach to crafting an already successful program.
The UB athletic department announced Saturday that Whitesell will be its next men’s basketball coach. His promotion comes 10 days after Nate Oats left UB to become the head coach at Alabama on March 27.
"Time is of the essence, but you want to make good decisions and feel good about what you're doing," Whitesell told the News by phone from Minneapolis, where he is attending the Final Four. "Move at a good pace. Keep steady, and don't panic."
UB announced the appointment of Whitesell after it conducted a national search for a hire to replace Oats. UB will formally introduce Whitesell as its new head coach at 10 a.m. Monday.
Whitesell, 59, has been an associate head coach at UB for four seasons under Oats, but he has been a college coach for 34 years at various levels. He was also UB's interim head coach in the 10 days between Oats' departure and when UB announced his hire.
While Whitesell will be a head coach for the fourth time in his career in college basketball, he has already outlined his list of priorities in his first week at UB: Contact current players. Contact recruits who have decommitted or asked for releases from National Letters of Intent. Hire coaches to fill openings on staff.
"We're going to move pretty quick," Whitesell said.
UB athletic director Mark Alnutt said in a statement that Whitesell was clearly the top candidate in the search for Oats' successor.
“Jim’s basketball IQ is unmatched and his professionalism and care for our student athletes is second to none," Alnutt said.
Whitesell was the primary recruiter for CJ Massinburg when he committed to UB in the spring of 2015, and was also pivotal in player development and game-planning for the Bulls, who won three MAC championships and reached the NCAA Tournament three times in Oats' tenure.
"His leadership, knowledge of the game and past successes over an impressive coaching career will help continue to further advance the national profile of the men’s basketball program at Buffalo,” Alnutt said.
Whitesell was head coach at Loyola (Chicago) for seven seasons (2004-11) and won 109 games. He was head coach at Division II Lewis University in Illinois from 1992 to 2004 and Division III Elmhurst College in Illinois from 1987 to 1992. He has a head coaching record of 387-301 in 24 seasons.
He also served as a Division I assistant at St. John's and Saint Louis, along with multiple assistant positions at lower levels.
In the time he was UB's interim coach, Whitesell said he had to first make UB's players a priority, and also had to reach out to recruits and prospective players.
"It was, try to make sure the guys in-house were taken care of," Whitesell said of the 10-day period between Oats' departure and being named UB's head coach. "Everyone's wondering, 'what's going on?' and they're upset and there's change. We've had so much success, and change is always unnerving. That was the biggest thing. Sit down with everyone and say, 'slow down, let's all breathe.' We were all wondering, 'what's going to happen?' but we had to trust the process.
"It's never quick enough when you're a player or an assistant coach, and you want it to happen right away."
Now, as UB's head coach, Whitesell has a new list of priorities. In fact, he said that as he was in Minneapolis this weekend, he was contacting players and recruits, and scouting assistant coaching candidates. He is also preparing for the spring recruiting period, which opens at noon Thursday.
Whitesell will likely also have to reach out to recruits who have recently reopened their recruitment after originally commiting to or signing a National Letter of Intent to play at UB.
UB lost four players in its 2019 recruiting class within the last 10 days, following Oats' departure: guards Noah Williams and Durey Cadwell, and forwards James Rojas and Andre Allen. Allen, who played this season at Arizona Western College, told the News in a direct message Saturday that he is still awaiting his release from UB.
UB has not said how it will handle the requests for releases during its coaching search.
Whitesell, however, wasn't daunted by the prospect of having to rebuild UB's incoming class. As Oats' assistant in 2015-16, he was on a staff that had to restock its roster following the departure of Bobby Hurley to Arizona State. Two assistant coaches, three players and a recruit also followed Hurley to Arizona State. That season, UB earned its second NCAA Tournament berth and won the MAC Tournament.
"Changes happen," Whitesell said. "We had to go out and get a big group of players, and it worked out pretty well. We kept steady, but we worked diligently and we worked fast."
— Mark Alnutt (@Alnutt41) April 6, 2019
Oats praised Whitesell in a news release.
“I was ecstatic for both Jim and the program we built together when I heard the news today and I’m super excited that Coach Whitesell will be directing the Buffalo men’s basketball program," Oats said. "He’s been a huge part of the success we’ve had over the last four years.
"The administration recognized his value to the program and did the right thing in promoting him. I consider Jim to be a dear friend and couldn’t be happier for him and his wife Connie. Coach Whitesell is one of the hardest-working, most humble men I’ve been privileged to work with. He has a great relationship with the current players and was instrumental in the culture we built at Buffalo.”
While UB announced Whitesell's promotion, it did not say if members of UB's coaching staff will remain. However, assistant coach Bryan Hodgson announced Saturday in a post on Twitter that he will join Oats' coaching staff at Alabama.
Whitesell has a five-year contract that runs through April 5, 2024. He will earn an annual base salary of $300,000 and additional compensation of $100,000, according to terms released by UB's athletic department.
Whitesell's contract terms also include various bonuses, including $10,000 if UB wins at least 20 games, and $15,000 if UB wins at least 24 games, $25,000 if UB earns an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, $30,000 if UB wins the MAC regular-season championship outright and $30,000 if UB wins the MAC Tournament championship.
Whitesell earned $134,501 in 2018-19 as an assistant coach, according to information obtained through a public records request by the News.