Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats tells the story about his upgraded wardrobe.
There was a time when Nate Oats was a suit-and-tie coach, stalking the sidelines in suburban Detroit high schools after teaching math.
Less than a decade ago, they were different times.
“Those,” he said, “definitely came off the rack.”
And few were commenting on the fashion choices of the Romulus High School coach. Skip ahead in his timeline and, well, a lot has changed.
The Alabama coach who just agreed to a contract extension worth $3.225 annually is no longer in the 2-for-1 game at the local strip mall. The suits have transitioned into dress slacks with a sport coat and those jackets get a fair share of attention.
Now customed tailored, Oats’ sport coats come in a variety of colors -- mostly with a checkered pattern. Some, it’s fair to say, are better liked than others.
“I remember when we played in Huntsville last year, this man walked out with an all-blue Buffalo suit,” Alabama senior Britton Johnson said. “I was like ‘This isn’t Alabama colors’ and we won by, I think, 17. So I was like, if it’s rolling then we just have to keep it going.”
Oats wore navy blue dress slacks with the sport coat featuring a blue pattern over his white shirt and blue tie. Alabama beat Belmont by a little more than Johnson remembered, 92-72, in Huntsville’s Von Braun Center that December day.
Oats explained the whole color selection that caught the walk-on’s eye.
“I’ve got blue eyes,” he said. “Sometimes you have to match your own body type, right? The blue matched the blue eyes. It had nothing to do with … I try not to wear blue when we’re playing Kentucky, though. If I wear blue, it’s when we play somebody else that’s got red in their uniform.”
The jackets aren’t an every-game thing, either.
In a more business-casual, COVID-19 season, the Alabama coaching staff has gone with a solid black golf shirt at times. They stuck with the short-sleeved shirts throughout the 10-game winning streak, Oats said on his TV show in early February but dusted off a crimson sport coat for the Feb. 3 home game against LSU a few days after losing at Oklahoma.
When it is a jacket kind of game, the checked-pattern influence should be clear. Oats paid tribute to former Crimson Tide coach Wimp Sanderson in his first Tide Tipoff event before the 2019-20 season. Tide senior Tyler Barnes said they were “sorta taken aback” when Oats came out in the oversized crimson jacket for the season kickoff event. It’s more standard now.
Oats said he actually borrowed one of the coats worn by Sanderson during his tenure from 1980-92 for the 2019 midnight madness-style event.
“That’s why it was a little bigger,” Oats said with a grin. “It didn’t quite fit me. He’s a little bit bigger than I am. Then after that, I got a few myself.”
To do that, Oats traveled to the Birmingham suburbs to visit Kripalani Tailors. The family business open since 1978 tailored all but one of the sport coats in Oats’ closet.
That includes the blue one that’s been an occasional lightning rod.
“I know we’re crimson down here but you can’t wear red every single day out,” Oats said. “Sometimes you have to mix it up a little bit. I kinda like the sport coats. Up at Buffalo, we had the suits. I don’t even know if I wore a sport coat up there so any blue sport coats I have are new since I got down here.”
Oats went with the same crimson coat Saturday game with visiting Vanderbilt. Alabama won its 18th game that afternoon, 82-78 over the Commodores but Oats knew he wouldn’t win a hypothetical red carpet.
With Jerry Stackhouse and his three-piece suit on the other sideline, Oats knew he was outgunned.
Still, Alabama’s second-year head coach is a long way from ill-fitting suits from his days on the high school level. His clothing budget only figures to rise from here and his players appreciate the effort.
“It brings energy and he likes to drip out in the suits,” Barnes said, “so we like it.”