‘If it’s me, then get rid of me;’ Dana Altman airs out frustration on lack of fan support
When you’ve made it to five Sweet Sixteens, two Elite Eights, and one Final Four, you’ve got to deal with high expectations. When past accolades read like that in recent decades, then you have to deal with the fact that you’ve got little room for error going forward.
Dana Altman’s Ducks have never won fewer than 20 games. They’ve made the postseason — either NIT or NCAA Tournament — in 13 straight seasons. They’ve won the Pac-12 in four of the last nine seasons.
Those memories of March success have faded, though. After back-to-back years of losing in the NIT, fans have grown frustrated, and Altman has grown tired. His team almost pulled out a victory on Tuesday night against the Wisconsin Badgers in the quarterfinals, but in the end, a litany of issues that have been plaguing the Ducks all season long came back to bite them.
Poor free throw shooting, a lack of basketball IQ, and an inability to outwork the opponent. All of it was prevalent, and all of it was expected. You saw it. I saw it. The 3,300 fans inside Matthew Knight Arena saw it.
Altman knows that the team has to be better going forward, and he’s ready to buckle down and get to work, starting with himself. But he also wants the fans to be better. He knows his players work hard, but he doesn’t think that they are getting the support that they deserve.
Dana Altman isn’t someone who often makes headlines. The most controversial thing that he said this season was telling Juwan Howard and the Michigan Wolverines that they still owe Oregon a game after not following through on a home-and-home series that was agreed upon.
It’s not often that you’ll read a quote from the Ducks’ head coach that makes you do a double-take.
That changed on Tuesday night.
Maybe it was the fact that the season was officially over and he had the opportunity to reflect. Maybe it was the fact that 24 months of frustrating basketball had finally boiled over, and he was ready to talk about it.
Regardless of the reasoning, Altman let loose in the post-game press conference, and touched on an array of topics. He discussed the type of players that the Ducks need going forward, and they type of buy-in that is expected. He also offered a poignant criticism of the fans at Matthew Knight Arena, noting that he was disappointed in their attendance this year. Most notably, he said that if he was the reason that fans didn’t buy into this team, then he was happy to leave, with reminiscent thoughts of coaching junior college basketball, where players really wanted to play hard.
Normally after post-game interviews, we take a few quotes and turn them into a story. This one is different. Altman said too many things for just a story here or there. You need to read it all.
Here are the most notable quotes from Altman’s post-game presser on Tuesday:
Free Throw Struggles
Question: Is it safe to say that your guys will be focusing more on free throws going forward?
Altman: “Well, it was a problem at the start of the season, we ironed it out a little bit. That’s really disappointing. You can’t have a division one team go 4 for 13. I told them on October 1 and I’ve told them 20 times since then, there’s nothing more disappointing than to play hard and lose a game at the line. You don’t even give yourself a chance. The funny thing is they have shot them well lately but before that they were shooting poorly and but we haven’t shot them well all three games. Guys have gotten to the gym and shot, but they sure didn’t pan out tonight. You know, again, we just didn’t get it done. We had our opportunities. The Guys played hard. We had 40 deflections. So I mean we were playing hard. We just didn’t play very smart. We played hard but we did not play smart. So they found a way to make some plays at critical times had a couple of threes down the stretch and we had turnovers and a couple of bad shots.”
Question: Do you still feel like these three NIT games were a net positive because of the experience they offered some guys?
Altman: “Oh, you know, you never feel that way right after a loss. But yeah, no, no, we played hard. We did some good things. It’s just a real disappointing way to lose when you don’t execute down the stretch. You don’t hit free throws. We got an 8-point with 10 minutes to go. Took a couple of really questionable shots there. A couple of bad turnovers. So very disappointing there.”
Question: How do you evaluate this as a coach? Last year you said the problem was that players didn’t seem to want to live in the gym and get better, but that doesn’t sound like it’s the issue this year.
Altman: “We will evaluate all of the guys individually. We have guys that want to be here. We got to make some changes. We were not good enough. We’re not coaching good enough, players aren’t good enough. We’re just not good enough, and we gotta get better. So if that means changing personnel if that means getting in the gym more. But we’re not good enough. So I’ve got to start with me. I’m not good enough. And then we go right down the list. But 21-15 or whatever we are, it’s not good enough. So we’re gonna get better. I gotta do a better job. We’re gonna get after players, if they’re gonna stay here they’re gonna work their asses off, and if they don’t, we’ve got to find somebody who will. We’ve got too good of a situation here. The facilities, we’ve got a lot of support staff that wants these guys, you know… we’ve got Cliff in the weight room. He’s an NBA weightlifting coach. We can get to the Mariota Center over there. We’ve got nutritionists. We give these guys every advantage, we just have to take advantage. So again, that goes into the evaluation, and we’ll make some changes.”
Question: Is it possible that you need more assistant coaches and support staff, going along the lines of what Houston and Baylor and some of the other top programs are doing?
Altman: “That goes in the evaluation, you know? What are we not doing as a staff? If that means getting more people, then I will go to Rob (Mullens) and beg. But you see the commitment of Wisconsin, you know, they get their cheerleaders, their band, you know. And we make a commitment. Don’t get me wrong here. But I mean, you can just see, you know how important it is, and it was important to them. It was important to me, and you know, I was… what the heck, we should have more people here. All right. I mean, the guys have played hard. Okay? 3,300 people, you know, it’s not good enough. If it’s me, then get rid of me. If you need somebody else to be a promoter, do something. But 3,300 people, that’s embarrassing. It really is. I’m not in a very good mood you can tell. If it’s me, then make the change. Make the change. Somebody will hire me, I’ll go coach junior college ball again. I loved junior college ball. Those guys, those guys were dogs. They wanted to be in the gym all the time. But 3,300 people for Wisconsin? I was disappointed. And I appreciate the people that came, that’s 3,300 people who did come, great. I sure appreciate and you know, the people who have stuck with us. But, again, you know, I’m not a promoter. And I’m not out to public. I don’t have Twitter and all the stuff. My job is to coach, my job is to get the team and coaching and you know, I’m not out there … I’m so bad at promoting, doing those things. But, you know, we have won 20 games for a long time and we have been in the postseason 13 years in a row. And I know this is the NIT, it’s not the NCAA. I understand. I understand. But our guys work hard. And I’m just a little disappointed, but they’re disappointed in us. We didn’t win. And so it works both ways. We didn’t win enough games so I understand the fans’ disappointment. But again, you know, I want guys that want to be here and staff that wants to be here. I want to be here. But I want the fans to want to be here too. You know, you watch Wisconsin play the other day against Liberty and I think that they had 10,000 people there. We have recruits here tonight and recruits watching on TV. And are we sending the right message? So we’ve got to get better. Our teams gotta get better. We’ve just got to do a better job. Our programs gotta be better.”
Recruits That Fill Seats
Context: Coaches are not allowed to talk about specific recruits, but Altman was asked about the potential of recruiting a certain unnamed player (Bronny James, the son of LeBron James) and how his coming to Eugene might help attendance at the games. Altman cut off the question before it was finished.
Altman: “We don’t recruit to put fans in the seats, we recruit to win basketball games. We recruit to get guys here who want to compete. Okay. We had great crowds with Dillon Brooks who was No. 150, and Jordan Bell was No. 99, and Chris Boucher was on nobody’s list. You know Payton was maybe our highest-rated guy at No. 56. Those guys just played hard and we won. And so we’re gonna get winners. We’re gonna get competitors, and if people appreciate that, great. And if they don’t, then like I said… But our program is going to be about guys who want to be in the gym, want to compete here, and want to get better. And we’re going to recruit guys that want to compete and if winning is not enough, then like I said, you need to go a different direction.”
The Program DNA
Question: Do you think that proper DNA is currently present in the culture?
Altman: “Not like we need it to be. Alright, we have 5 Sweet Sixteens, 2 Elite Eights, you know, and 1 Final Four. And you know, we haven’t won the league for two years. We went to two NITs. We won the league in 2020 and 2021 and went to Sweet Sixteen in 2019, and went to a Sweet Sixteen in 2021. We’re close but you know the difference tonight? It’s not like it’s a mild difference, the difference is right there. I tell our guys all the time, one or two possessions, one or two rebounds, one or two free throws. You know, one or two possessions decide a lot of games. Okay, so it’s a fine line. And that confidence that you get from being in the gym all the time, confidence that you get from shooting threes all the time. I’ve been fortunate that guys, they wanted to be in there and that confidence grows. And we’ve got guys that go in with both feet. And that confidence grows and they’re really good. We have to evaluate each individual and like I said, if anybody’s got doubts about whether they want to be here, they’re answering your question right away. Because you gotta be all in. So, we’re going to find those guys that are all in, we’re gonna get better and hopefully stay a little healthier next year. You know, I hate to make excuses. But God, I was looking you know, Wisconsin hadn’t missed nearly as many games as we have, you know, we missed 60-some games from guys who play and it’s hard to get a little rotation there. But that’s an excuse. You build a team on 12 guys and you make it work, And we didn’t make it work. So again, guys, sorry, I went into my rant there. That’s not what I anticipated doing. You guys egged me on. Try to be nice and you write your articles and do your stuff.”