DISCLAIMER: I believe Jim Whitesell is a solid coach who has an opportunity to be very successful leading the Bulls. This article is focused on Buffalo’s search to replace former head coach Nate Oats after he left for Alabama.
BUFFALO, NY – Jim Whitesell is a great person, coach and teacher.
He played a crucial role, game-planning and leading the Bulls defense the past four years under Nate Oats.
Whitesell has plenty of head coaching experience, leading Loyola (Illinois) to a 109-106 record from 2004 through 2011 following stops at Lewis and Elmhurst.
He clearly knows the game of basketball and has been all over the country teaching it.
But he wasn’t the right man for the job.
Not because he wasn’t qualified and not because he won’t be successful.
Whitesell wasn’t the right man to be the next head coach at Buffalo because he never should’ve been a candidate in the first place.
It’s my belief that he became the Bulls choice after a series of misfires during their coaching search.
The first of which was never seriously considering former assistant Bryan Hodgson for the position.
Hodgson was Buffalo’s leading recruiter the past four years, the man responsible for their incoming recruiting class and the majority of their current roster.
If you’re preaching continuity, he’s the first person athletic director Mark Alnutt should’ve looked at.
For one reason or another, it appears he wasn’t even an option. There’s been plenty of social media speculation that he abandoned the Bulls, recruiting with Oats at Alabama while still employed at Buffalo but I have reason to believe the situation went down much differently than what’s been speculated.
Regardless, Alnutt still had a chance to move forward.
With Hodgson out of the picture, it was all but a guarantee that the majority of their recruiting class would decommit and that’s exactly what happened.
First it was Andre Allen. Then Raymond Hawkins followed Oats to Alabama. Days later, Noah Williams decided to re-open his search. Then on Friday, Durey Cadwell and James Rojas followed him, leaving the Bulls with zero incoming recruits.
All of this took place while a search firm hired by the university was taking their time vetting candidates.
Their rumored list was impressive, including names like Rob Lanier, Chris Caputo, Carlin Hartman, Luke Murray and Dane Fife.
But as each day passed, things started falling apart.
Lanier took the head coaching job at Georgia State. Fife got in a Twitter battle with local Bulls reporter Kevin Massare (contributes to From the 300 Level and Trainwreck Sports) while there was mostly radio silence surrounding the other names.
By Saturday morning, it appeared the Bulls were primed to hire an assistant still coaching in the Final Four. What other reason would Alnutt have not to make a hire while the program was losing recruits left and right?
It had to be someone that was currently unavailable.
Which is why I was flabbergasted on Saturday afternoon when I saw Buffalo was hiring Jim Whitesell to be their next head coach.
It came out of left field.
First, I couldn’t believe he was seriously considered for the job despite inheriting the interim tag once Oats left.
Second, I couldn’t believe Hodgson wasn’t their guy if they were sticking with an internal candidate.
Third, I couldn’t believe they waited two weeks to promote someone from within while losing their entire recruiting class.
No other conclusion can be made other than Mark Alnutt fudged this search in his first major challenge since being named the Buffalo Athletic Director.
It’s my belief that he wanted to bring in a big name, an outside candidate that could create some excitement for the Bulls fanbase.
But something had to have gone wrong. I’m not sure if any coaches turned down the job or caught Alnutt off guard but I can assure you that Whitesell was not their first choice.
If he was, Buffalo would’ve hired him immediately, which they clearly didn’t.
This was their backup plan. An attempt to protect their existing roster while trying to save face after a search gone wrong.
That doesn’t mean Whitesell won’t succeed.
He has a tremendous basketball IQ and will be a popular choice inside the Bulls locker room.
Whitesell has a massive task in front of him, needing to fill five open scholarships heading into mid-April.
Recruiting isn’t his main strength. That was Hodgson’s role. It’s the most important task for successful programs in modern day college basketball.
Whitesell will need to assemble a staff quickly and head to work.
He has a tremendous opportunity in front of him, one that I believe he can succeed in but he’s going to need some help.
Buffalo botched their search but with some luck, they may have backed their way into a decent hire.
Time will tell.