Altman leaves for Oregon - Omaha.com
Published Sunday, April 25, 2010 at 12:00 am / Updated at 8:15 am
Altman leaves for Oregon

Video: Cavel Witter, Josh Jones and Kenny Lawson discuss the potential departure of coach Dana Altman:


Live chat: Chat live with The World-Herald's Dirk Chatelain at 7 p.m. Sunday night to discuss Altman's move to Oregon and what happens next for Creighton. Bluejay Talk Live - Special Edition on Omaha.com/sportschat

Photo showcase: Dana Altman at Creighton

Photo showcase: CU coaching candidates

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Twelve Creighton basketball players arrived Saturday afternoon at the Qwest Center for a routine pick-up game.

The oddest thing happened.

Their locker room door was locked. They couldn't gain access to the one thing necessary to compete.

A basketball.

And their coach, Dana Altman, wasn't there to help.

At that hour, Altman was preparing to leave Creighton to take the coaching job at Oregon.

Oregon offered Altman the job Saturday morning. Later in the day, Altman accepted.

Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen hastily called a meeting at 8:30 p.m., at the Vinardi Center. There, accompanied by assistant coach Darian DeVries, Rasmussen broke the news to seven players in attendance.

“Everybody was dead quiet,” guard Josh Jones said.

Altman was upstairs in his office, Rasmussen said, if you want to talk to him.

All seven players walked up the stairs and crowded into Altman's office.

Nobody said an ill word, Jones said. They thanked the coach. Congratulated him on his opportunity.

“He was real emotional,” Jones said. “He said he appreciated his time with us.

“I just wish him the best. I can understand he needed a change. I know he's been around here a long time.”

Altman, who could not be reached for comment, is expected to arrive in Eugene Sunday, where he'll meet his new players.

He is not Oregon's first choice. The school, after firing Ernie Kent last month, reportedly pursued Mark Few of Gonzaga, Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon, Butler's Brad Stevens and Missouri's Mike Anderson.

Altman met with former Oregon Athletic Director Pat Kilkenny, who headed the search committee, in Indianapolis this past week, according to reports.

Altman leaves not only the university that employed him for 16 years, but his home state.

At Creighton, he became the school's all-time leader in coaching victories. Eleven years in a row, Creighton won at least 20 games. The past decade, Altman's name has come up in speculation for several jobs, including Illinois, Arizona State, Miami (Fla.), Tennessee, Georgia and Penn State.

Kilkenny spoke with multiple people about the Ducks' job, Oregon senior associate athletic director Joe Giansante told FOXSports.com on Saturday. Altman's name continually came up, he said. “Without question, he's considered one of the best coaches in the country.”

In 2007, Altman accepted the coaching position at Arkansas. Two days later, he was back in Omaha, where he said, “This is home. This is where I will finish my coaching career.”

That spring, Antoine Young was a junior in high school. The Bellevue West product committed to Altman as a 15-year-old. Now, after just two years, he loses him.

“After (Arkansas), he was going to be here for a good while,” said Young, a junior. “Apparently not, huh?”

Young said he was disappointed and hurt.

“Especially when he's my coach, I'm his point guard. That relationship is supposed to be, you know, it's a strong bond. ... He's almost like a family member.

“I had a nice freshman year with him. We've known each other so long. We went through some struggles together this year. But at the end of the year, we were making strides, I thought.”

Until Saturday night, Altman's players knew nothing beyond what they'd heard from news reports. They hadn't heard from Altman or his assistants about Oregon.

Information started flowing in at 4 p.m., at the Qwest Center.

With no ball available, players cracked jokes. Casey Harriman dunked a plastic Fanta bottle.

“Really, what are we doing?” Harriman said.

“So is Altman even in Omaha right now?” Kaleb Korver said.

Kenny Lawson Jr. wondered aloud what it'd be like to walk across the catwalk high atop the arena.

Harriman, a senior, told his teammates what it was like the first time Altman left CU.

Wayne Runnels and Jones started arguing about who scored on whom in the last pick-up game.

“I just wanna hoop, man,” Runnels said. “God dang.”

Finally, Rasmussen approached from the far end of the floor.

“Let's talk in the locker room,” Rasmussen told players.

As they met, assistant coach Brian Fish showed off the Qwest Center to the parents of a Creighton recruit.

This wasn't CU's home when Altman took over in 1994. Five years later, he won his first NCAA tournament game, beginning a span of five consecutive NCAA appearances that vaulted Creighton into elite company.

That run culminated in 2003 when Altman's best team, led by Kyle Korver, won 29 games and rose as high as 10th in the Associated Press poll.

That fall, Altman's program moved into this building, where the fan base exploded.

But on the court, Creighton has slipped. The Jays haven't made the NCAA tournament since Altman returned from Arkansas.

Inside the locker room, Rasmussen told players their coach had been offered the job Saturday morning. He'd have an answer within 24 hours.

Altman didn't need 24 hours.

“All I can say is that I'm happy for him,” Lawson said Saturday night. “He took the opportunity he thought was best for him.”

“You hate to see him go, but it's a business decision,” Jones said. “We've just got to keep pushing.”

Jones said he looked forward to what happens next. He doesn't know who the next coach will be — Rasmussen encouraged players to give him their input. He doesn't know what teammates will stay and who will transfer.

He knows he'll keep playing ball, just as they did Saturday afternoon after Rasmussen found a security guard, who opened the door to the basketballs.

Players returned to the court, started a game of shirts and skins.

Antoine Young crossed over and scored in the lane. Kaleb Korver buried a 3. Newcomer Greg Echenique dunked so hard the shot clock nearly came off the backboard.

It was April. It was a group of college kids playing in an empty arena.

They didn't need a coach.

Contact the writer: Dirk Chatelain

dirk.chatelain@owh.com    |   402-649-1461    |  

Dirk Chatelain is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and general assignments.

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