Altman spurns Arkansas for return to Creighton

Updated: May 29, 2007, 1:39 PM ET
By Mark Schlabach |

Dana Altman, introduced as Arkansas' new basketball coach on Monday, changed his mind less than 24 hours later and announced on Tuesday night that he is returning to Creighton, where he has coached the Bluejays the past 13 seasons.

The coach apologized to Razorbacks fans "with deep regret" and said returning to Creighton was in his family's best interest.

University Chancellor John A. White announced Altman's departure at a hastily scheduled news conference outside Bud Walton Arena.

"I knew it was a very difficult decision for them and their family," White said.

Altman has coached the Bluejays for 13 years and said he made the decision to return to the Omaha, Neb., school after talking to Creighton's athletic director Bruce Rasmussen, then his family.

Notable Short Tenures

Arkansas is left looking for a new men's basketball coach again after Dana Altman abruptly decided to return to Creighton. However, this isn't the first time a coach has accepted a job only to change his mind soon after.

Coach School Days as coach
Dana Altman Arkansas (2007) 1
Gregg Marshall College of Charleston (2006) 1
Bobby Cremins South Carolina (1993) 2
Rick Majerus Southern California (2004) 3

"After I was sure he would allow me to return, I talked to my wife," Altman said. "This is something I'm doing for my family. I wish I would have come to that decision earlier."

Altman, who had a 260-141 record at Creighton, spent much of the day in his new office in Fayetteville, but talked with Arkansas athletics director Frank Broyles and met with White earlier in the day and expressed reservations about taking the job.

A plane owned by Creighton boosters was en route Tuesday to pick up Altman from Drake Field in Fayetteville on Tuesday night, has learned. Meantime, Broyles was expected to return from Augusta, Ga., where he was scheduled to attend the Masters (he is a member of Augusta National Golf Club). The Razorback Foundation's jet was scheduled to pick up Broyles later Tuesday night.

Altman was hired Sunday night by Broyles, who will have to renew an arduous search for a replacement for Stan Heath, who was fired last month after six seasons. Broyles, who has spent more than 50 years as the school's athletic director and football coach, will retire at the end of the year.

Altman was believed to be at least the Razorbacks' sixth target. Arkansas officials reportedly offered the job to Texas A&M's Billy Gillespie, Kansas' Bill Self, Southern California's Tim Floyd, Memphis' John Calipari and Marquette's Tom Crean, who each turned the job down.

White did not provide a timetable for a renewed search.

"We'll be engaging the services of a search firm to help us" hire a new coach, White said. "We'll be able to attract a very strong coach to come to the Razorbacks. This program is strong and we're going to be strong in the future."

Altman isn't the first college coach to pull an about-face after accepting a new job. In 1993, then-Georgia Tech basketball coach Bobby Cremins signed a five-year contract to return to South Carolina, his alma mater, but then went back to the Yellow Jackets three days later. Cremins coached at Georgia Tech for seven more seasons.

Closer Look: Dana Altman's Record
Dana Altman

Dana Altman has a 343-208 overall record in 18 seasons as a Division I head coach and has led Creighton to seven NCAA Tournament berths.

School Years Overall NCAAs
Marshall 1990 15-13 None
Kansas State 1991-94 68-54 0-1
Creighton 1995-2007 260-141 2-7

In 1995, then-Kansas football coach Glen Mason agreed to replace fired Ray Goff at Georgia, but changed his mind less than a week later. Mason announced his intentions to stay with the Jayhawks on national TV before they played in the Aloha Bowl on Christmas Day. The Bulldogs hired then-Marshall coach Jim Donnan (now an ESPN college football analyst) later that day, and Mason coached at Kansas for two more seasons before leaving for Minnesota, which fired him after the 2006 season.

Altman, who grew up in Nebraska and coached a junior college in the state, had been reluctant to leave Creighton in the past. He turned down several opportunities to leave the Jesuit university with an enrollment of about 6,000 students. In the past several years, Altman interviewed with larger schools such as Georgia, Iowa, Iowa State and Tennessee, but he kept coming back to Creighton, which reportedly is paying him an annual salary close to $1 million.

Creighton also upgraded its basketball facilities during Altman's tenure. Four years ago, the Bluejays moved into Qwest Center, a $291 million downtown facility financed by the city and private funds. Creighton averaged about 16,000 fans for home games this season.

Altman said family matters were the only reason for his quick departure.

"It's just something that, when I got here, my heart and my 13 years at Creighton wouldn't allow me to do it," Altman said. "My ego was involved and I'm not sure of all of the reasons, but again, it was something today that, in my heart, wouldn't allow me to do it."

Altman's departure likely puts star freshman Patrick Beverley in limbo again. Beverley, the Southeastern Conference newcomer of the year, announced Monday night he was staying at Arkansas after he met with Altman.

He said he had been leaning 60 percent toward leaving before talking with the coach.

White said he wished Altman well but was hopeful that the Razorbacks and the coach would one day cross paths.

"The No. 1 priority is doing what's best for you and your family," White said. "I'm looking forward to meeting you in the Final Four and beating the socks off you."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball