Whenever a school makes a coaching change, the impact of that decisions reaches far beyond the head coach who just lost his job. Suddenly, the assistant coaches are out of a job as well in most cases.
That’s the situation Armon Gates found himself in after Bill Moos fired Tim Miles in later March, although those in the program saw the writing on the wall well before the final game of the season.
However, after Fred Hoiberg accepted the job, he took a look at Miles’ staff and Gates caught his eye.
“To be honest with you, I was taking it one day at a time, trying to finish the season out on a good note, which is what we tried to do,” Gates said on Monday. “A couple days after the last game, the decision was made to get rid of Coach Miles, Fred [Hoiberg] was announced and Fred contacted me … and told me he would like to meet and it just took off from here.”
Gates was the only one of Miles’ assistants who was present at Hoiberg’s introductory press conference.
“We met,” Gates said. “He came up and did his press conference and then it was pretty much a week-and-a-half, two-week interview for me just to get to know him and vice versa.”
Hoiberg obviously saw something he liked when he did his homework prior to meeting with Gates, and the feeling was mutual.
“First of all, I did all my research on him and also some of the guys that were mentioned to be a part of his staff to see if I would fit in,” Gates said. “I was shocked with the accolades that he had, the different things that he’d done at Iowa State and also his résumé in the NBA, being a GM, being a former NBA player and also being an NBA head coach. That’s very impressive and I just feel like it would be a really good opportunity for me to learn and grow as an assistant coach.”
The day after his introductory press conference, Hoiberg and Matt Abdelmassih, his first assistant coaching hire, were on a plane heading out to meet with Nebraska’s 2019 recruiting class. Gates joined them.
“It was actually fun,” Gates said. “It was a relaxed environment. Myself, Matty and Coach hit the road right away and got a chance to see Jervay [Green] at his junior college, and from his junior college we were able to see his host mom out in Denver, so that was a one-day trip. So you could see that Jervay was pretty much one of our top priorities to make sure that we can get him to stay here. The following day, we ended up going to see Akol [Arop].
Green, one of the top junior college players in the country from Western Nebraska Community College who had committed to Tim Miles and signed with Nebraska during the early signing period, took a visit to Nebraska this past weekend and reaffirmed his commitment. Akol Arop, the talented athlete from Omaha Creighton Prep, reaffirmed his commitment immediately after his meeting with Hoiberg. New Hampton (New Hampshire) guard Mika Adams-Woods is the only one of Nebraska’s signees who chose to re-open his recruitment.
“That whole process was fun — to be honest with you, me just being myself. If I couldn’t be myself, I wouldn’t be able to work anywhere,” Gates said. “So being myself, it just went from there — I felt like it was a good fit. The things he wanted rom me are things that I do on my own everyday.”
Gates apparently knocked that two-week interview out of the park as Hoiberg hired him and former Nebraska he'd coach Doc Sadler to round out his assistant coaching staff last Friday.
Gates joined’ Miles’ staff in Lincoln last year after spending five seasons at Northwestern, helping lead the Wildcats to their first NCAA Tournament appearance — and win — in 2017. He left Evanston to take the associate head coach position at Florida under Mike White last April but the two sides parted ways soon after and Gates landed in Lincoln, a place where he said he is happy to stay.
“That was huge for me, to stay in Lincoln,” Gates said. “I actually love Lincoln. It was a huge change from Chicago, obviously. I was there for the past seven years — two at Loyola-Chicago and five at Northwestern — and the hustle and bustle of the city, it can get to you. Being from Chicago as well for my whole life, just the hustle and bustle. But getting here, I just love the environment.
“This program has the full support of the Lincoln community and pretty much I tell all the guys that I recruit you guys are the pro team, you’re the NBA team here in Nebraska. In the other places that I’ve been, there were actually pro teams in the NBA, NFL, MLB, so you always competed. Here, it’s the top of the line so this is exactly where I wanted to be.
Hoiberg has assembled a diverse staff with different levels of experience and versatile skill sets, and Gates said he’s looking forward to learning everything he can from his new colleagues.
“If you look at the staff that Coach assembled, I just feel like it’s an unbelievable opportunity for me,” Gates said. “I’m blessed to be a part of this staff because I’m on a staff with former head coaches and also with the accolades of Coach Hoiberg and you guys know Coach Matty, they call him the recruiting guru, the transfer guru, so I’m starting to learn a little bit on that side of things as well.”
Gates was brought in to replace the departed Kenya Hunter on Miles’ staff. Hunter was Miles’ top recruiter who brought in most of the top players on the last few Nebraska teams, leaving big shoes for Gates to fill. But Matt Abdelmassih was Hoiberg’s first hire and is the highest-paid assistant on his staff for a reason. He’s the recruiter, which means Gates can just be a coach.
“That’s one thing I love about this opportunity is I’m on a staff that really locks in on recruiting and I don’t feel that pressure,” Gates said. “All my other spots that I’ve been, there was a little pressure that I felt to help in getting the majority of the guys and that’s not the case any more and I love it. I get to focus on a couple other things continue to better myself and that’s what I love. At the end of the day, I do have aspirations of becoming a head coach, but it’s baby steps and I can learn so much from this staff.”
For Gates, that learning has already begun. With five open scholarships following Nana Akenten’s decision to transfer and possibly six depending on Isaiah Roby’s draft decision, the staff has a lot of work to do to put together a full team and the coaches are exploring every avenue to doing so. Hoiberg and Abdelmassih are no stranger to this process, as Derek Peterson wrote on Tuesday, and now Gates is along for the ride as well.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.