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Canzano: Dana Altman is fuming... but he's not leaving Oregon
Ducks basketball coach follows up after rant.
Dana Altman called me on Wednesday morning.
He’d cooled off.
“I’m not leaving,” he said, “unless they want me to.”
The University of Oregon men’s basketball coach sounded miserable on Tuesday night in the wake of the Ducks season-ending NIT loss in Eugene. His team lost 61-58 to Wisconsin. Only 3,358 fans showed up to see it.
“I was mad at the world,” Altman said. “It was the end of the season. We gave away the game at the free-throw line. We didn’t execute. I blew off some steam. I usually don’t do that. I did last night.”
There were some issues in the last couple of seasons at Oregon. Injuries and disruptions, for sure. The roster has lacked bite, too. This season, the Ducks finished fourth in the Pac-12, missed the NCAA Tournament, and saw their postseason crash to an unremarkable end on Tuesday night.
“God dang we took some bad shots,” Altman told me. “And I didn’t find the right mix. That’s on me.”
After the game, the 64-year-old Oregon coach vented to reporters about the lack of fan support and his disappointment. The Ducks have had a difficult time getting Big Ten opponents to play games at Matthew Knight Arena. Oregon has tried multiple times to get Michigan to schedule a road game there. But Wisconsin had no choice and when fans didn’t show up Altman let loose.
“We should have more people here,” he said.
“If it’s me, then get rid of me,” he added.
“Make the change,” he said. “Somebody will hire me somewhere. I'll go coach junior college ball. I love junior college ball. Those guys are dogs. They want to be in the gym all the time. I love those guys. But 3,300 people? For Wisconsin? I’m disappointed.”
When he walked out of the news conference, Altman said he kicked himself. He regretted the tone. The last thing he wanted to do was come off as whiny. But I sort of liked that the long-time Oregon coach isn’t OK with how his season went. The rant was a departure from his typical monotonous post-game talks.
It humanized him.
“I still probably shouldn’t have done it,” he said on Wednesday.
Altman has been to five Sweet 16s at Oregon. He’s made a Final Four. His success is unprecedented and the program has produced a line of NBA talent.
“We set the bar at Sweet 16s,” he told me.
Altman and I spoke for a half hour on Wednesday morning in a wide-ranging and candid discussion. He talked about the support the program gets from long-time boosters such as Phil Knight and Pat Kilkenny. Those two have filled in athletic department budget gaps, provided access to chartered flights, and elevated the program’s profile.
“Because of them, we don’t want for anything,” Altman said.
The UO coach lamented the trend he sees in the NCAA Tournament this season. The rosters of those playing in the Sweet 16 — except for maybe Arkansas — are filled with older, more experienced players. Altman said, “The covid thing changed the game. Everybody got old. You’ve got to be a little older now. You have a 25-year-old playing against an 18-year-old right now.”
Ultimately, though, Altman owned responsibility for what he called a “disappointing” season. The 21-15 record is on him. He’s the coach. This offseason, he’ll be focused on making a number of improvements. But he can’t do it alone.
“I need to be better,” Altman told me on Wednesday. “And we need players who want to be here. My staff has to want to be here. Fans need to want to be there. We need everybody moving in the same direction. That’s what we need — we need everybody all in.”
Altman brought up former players such as Payton Pritchard, Chris Duarte, Dillon Brooks, Jordan Bell, Dylan Ennis and some others during our talk. They were vital talents, but also served as program culture keepers.
“Those guys weren’t as highly ranked as some others,” Altman said, “but those guys were in the gym all the time. You want the most talented guy who will work his tail off.”
The dismal attendance on Tuesday night wasn’t really a surprise, was it? The Ducks have been inconsistent all season. It’s been frustrating to watch. A mid-week, NIT game didn’t move the needle, even against a Big Ten opponent. The market didn’t lie. Oregon fans essentially indicated they’d seen enough.
Altman said: “Our guys were disappointed. I’ve been here 13 years and it was the only Big Ten team we’ve had in a while.”
There’s always some truth buried in a rant like the one Altman unleashed on Tuesday night. He blew his top. The pressure was building for a couple of years. His program was plagued with injuries this season. Last season, there were chemistry issues in the locker room. Also, anyone paying careful attention knows that a few of the players in uniform in the last two seasons just didn’t compete.
There was no Pritchard, staying hours after practice to lift weights and meeting with a nutritionist.
No Brooks, setting a fierce tone in the locker room.
No Ennis, who dragged himself around an empty gym with a broken foot one season, taking shots with nobody around.
Oregon’s coach told me he loves his job. He’s not quitting. He doesn’t really want to go coach a junior college team. He’s determined to lead the Ducks back to the NCAA Tournament. Dana Altman told me on Wednesday morning that he isn’t going anywhere — except maybe in search of a few players willing to work.
“We’ve got to find competitors,” he said.
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