Armon Gates and the circuitous journey of college assistant coaches

There has been a lot of interest of late in Armon Gates. The reasons are plenty, yet it’s still odd when there is heavy attention on an assistant college basketball coach.

But Gates was a Chicago area product, playing his high school ball at Hillcrest before going on to star collegiately at Kent State.

As a college coach, Gates stayed connected to the area as he recruited the Chicago area with coaching stops at Kent State and TCU. He then came home as an assistant coach at Loyola before joining Chris Collins’ staff at Northwestern.

While at Northwestern, Gates helped put together the roster that fueled the Wildcats on their record-breaking 2016-2017 season, which resulted in the first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.

Thus, the interest locally in Gates is obvious with his long history in the area.

The success NU experienced is the type of program accomplishment that shines a spotlight on a coaching staff. As a result, Gates’ reputation grew. He became an assistant coach on the short list of other high-major head coaches.

There is so much to take into consideration as assistant coaches mull over other opportunities, some of which go beyond financial reasons. There are other geographical areas to help widen their recruiting reach. There is the ability to learn under another head coach while also entrenching themselves into another valuable coaching tree.

This past spring others did come calling. Gates had multiple offers on the table at programs that would clearly help vault his career further. It’s the natural progression for any hot assistant coach.

Florida and head coach Mike White was a big enough draw for Gates to leave Evanston. Anyone really locked in with the college basketball world and with in-depth knowledge how the coaching ladder works understood the move. This was a tremendous opportunity to spread his basketball coaching wings, with a title next to his name and for a connected head coach of a top 25 program.

But soon after taking the Florida job, where White immediately named Gates his associate head coach, is when things changed. Within just a couple of weeks the well respected Gates hit a speed bump in his career, and it’s an example of how challenging, perplexing, fickle and cutthroat the college coaching world can be.

According to multiple sources, White began feeling uncomfortable with the overall dynamic and makeup of the staff he put together. The head coach is the boss and usually has unyielding power in the program he runs. Thus, White made the move he felt was necessary for himself and the program, no matter the odd timing of it or the repercussions.

This fickle decision-making, however, was going to leave immediate and unnecessary uncertainty for an assistant coach who turned down other job offers, was in the midst of moving his family and leaving a great job for, in the end … What?

Though no fault of his own, Gates was blindsided and unnecessarily left high and dry due to the cutthroat life in college basketball coaching. Some could say that’s how this basketball coaching world works.

Yes, there have been rare times and examples of assistant coaches bolting in a matter of weeks after taking a new job. But that’s always been due to a too-good-to-pass-up job opportunity and is typically understandable — never mind the loyalty. But a head coach second-guessing a constructed staff just weeks after completing it? Now that’s even more rare and maybe unprecedented.

But Gates was immediately a hot commodity –– again –– as word in the underbelly of the college basketball world began to circulate that he was available. There were no concerns from any of the programs or head coaches in pursuit. By this past weekend, just days after his meeting with White, he was entertaining multiple high-major offers.

Sources confirm that Gates is now headed back to the Big Ten, with an official announcement forthcoming, and will join Nebraska coach Tim Miles’ coaching staff, effectively ending a wild few weeks.

While Gates will join a team that won 22 games last season, returns its top four four scorers and will be among the top four teams in preseason Big Ten rankings, the road to get there shows the types of twists and turns college coaches must navigate through in what can be a mucky world.

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