| MBB/WBB article snippet on Bama and Oats rebuild on the staff.

Alabama’s overhaul

After enjoying six years of atypical staff stability, Alabama coach Nate Oats just experienced a most unusual opposite extreme: All three assistants left within weeks of each other, all for head coaching jobs. Recruiting ace Bryan Hodgson (Arkansas State), defensive coordinator Charlie Henry (Georgia Southern) and former Crimson Tide player and longtime staffer Antoine Pettway (Kennesaw State), who ran the offense with Oats, all had to be replaced. They’d been on staff since Oats took the job in 2019. He didn’t lose an assistant in his final two years at Buffalo, either, so this mass exodus was a bit of a shock to the system.

“There was definitely a comfort level. I mean, Hodgson was with me all eight years I’ve been in Division I. I gave Charlie his first job out of college, way back when I was in high school. Pettway had been at Alabama forever. So things were smooth, everybody was comfortable,” Oats said. “Then all of a sudden, they’re all gone — and it’s not just them leaving, but they took support staff too. Managers who were supposed to become GAs and GAs that could’ve been moved up. It was a lot to lose, so I’m still hiring some of those support staff roles.”

Oats did finalize his primary staff last week, adding former Rhode Island player and assistant Preston Murphy, who also worked previously at Boston College and Creighton. Austin Claunch, former Nicholls State head coach, and Ryan Pannone, a New Orleans Pelicans assistant, filled the other two vacancies. Murphy is the eyebrow-raiser of the group, but also perhaps the shrewdest of those moves. Oats had to wait for Murphy’s two-year NCAA show cause penalty to expire this summer before officially adding a guy who last coached in college basketball in 2019, when he was caught up in the FBI’s wide-ranging probe of the sport. While in exile, though, Murphy worked with the Nike-sponsored Expressions Elite grassroots program — which helpfully boasts a pair of five-star recruits in Joson Sanon (No. 16 in the 2025 Class, per the 247Sports Composite) and Dybantsa.

“Preston is just a great person. I’ve known him since he recruited my guys when I was coaching high school basketball. He gets along with the players, got no ego, is just in it for the kids, is great with skill development,” Oats said. “(Hodgson) was our biggest recruiting guy, so you definitely had to get a guy who can really recruit, but the biggest things I was looking for: How good a person are they? Will they get along with the staff? How hard do they work? And are they in it for the players? The other thing: I want guys who are smart and are going to make me better, too, and with these new guys, shoot, I’m learning some basketball.”

With Claunch’s head-coaching experience and Pannone’s time in the NBA, Oats is confident his new-look staff will help him keep evolving and keep Alabama atop the SEC. The Crimson Tide had not made a Sweet 16 in 17 years, hadn’t won a conference regular-season title in 19 years and hadn’t won the SEC tournament in 30 years before doing all three of those things twice in the last three seasons. They also got six players drafted, including four first-rounders and three lottery picks, in four years under Oats. But he wants more.

“Pannone watches more video than anybody I know. He knows the NBA game inside and out. I feel like we’re running an NBA system in college, so I wanted somebody that knows that league,” Oats said. “I was definitely looking to get better, to continue seeing what the NBA is doing and how it’s changing, because I feel like we’ve been a step ahead in college and I want to stay a step ahead as people try to catch up. I want to be on the cutting edge.”
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