When Dana Altman attended Southeast Community College back in 1976, it set in motion a number of things: his education, his future career as a top collegiate basketball coach, and his future wife. For those things, he is thankful for his time at SCC.
“I really enjoyed SCC a lot,” Altman said. “I met my wife there and I really enjoyed my time there. I met lifelong friends that I still stay in touch with.”
Altman is currently the head men’s basketball coach for the Oregon Ducks. Before the pandemic hit, his team had a 24-7 record going into March Madness. Oregon was at the top of the Pac-12 Conference and poised for whatever was coming next. Then, the whole world changed in what seemed like an instant.
“It’s been different, things have slowed down a lot,” Altman said from his house in Eugene. “Normally I would be traveling a lot. This is the first time in 30 years I haven’t been on a plane for a month.”
Altman said he’s been in communication with his players either by phone or via video chat. They’re still taking classes remotely, so he follows up with them on a regular basis. He said it’s hard for them not to be physically active. If they could use this idle time to shoot some hoops and let off some steam it would be more bearable.
“If they could just get into the gym, they would be much better off if they could do that,” he said.
Instead, they continue to wait it out like the rest of the world. Altman said he’s fortunate in two ways: there aren’t a lot of cases in the Eugene area yet, and his daughter is a nurse, so he and his wife are able to watch their grandchild when she is at work.
Dana and his wife Reva met at SCC when he played basketball there for two years. The Wilber native said he chose between playing football at Wayne State College or basketball at Southeast Community College when it had a campus in Fairbury.
“My high school coach at the time told me to do what you love, and I loved playing basketball,” he said.
So Altman chose the campus that was only 35 miles from his hometown. That was the best decision for him because he was able to play right away, and his family was close by.
“The two years I spent there was a good transition for me coming from Wilber,” he recalled. “I wanted to play, and it gave me an opportunity. I wasn’t ready to end my basketball career. Coach (Gary) Bargen gave me a great opportunity.”
His soon-to-be wife, Reva, came to SCC from Stanton. The two stayed together after their time at SCC when she went to Kearney State College to get her degree in teaching, and he transferred to Eastern New Mexico University to continue his basketball career and earn a bachelor’s degree.
Altman then went to Western Colorado University where he was a graduate assistant. He was working on his MBA and wasn’t sure he wanted to coach as a future career. Then Fairbury, Nebraska, came calling once again, this time to coach.
“I went back there and had a really good year, we had a really good team,” he said, which explains why he didn’t stay long. His team finished third in the nation with a 29-6 season. Next, he went to Moberly Community College in Moberly, Missouri, where he spent three successful years as head coach with an overall record of 94-18. However, he was destined for greater things.
“When I started coaching, I was hoping to get a Doane job or something like that,” he remembered. His hometown is only 13 miles from the Doane campus in Crete.
After three years as an assistant coach at Kansas State University, he started on the fast track to be a successful Division I head coach, first at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, then back at Kansas State, and then Creighton University in Omaha, where he spent 16 years. At Creighton, he took over a team with a 7-19 record and eventually made an impact. He compiled a 327-176 record in 16 seasons, the most wins in school history.
“Good players make me a good coach, and I was also really fortunate with my coaching staff at Creighton,” he said.
In 2010, Altman accepted a head coaching position at the University of Oregon. Under his leadership, the Ducks have been one of the most successful basketball teams in the Pac-12. In nine years at Oregon, Altman has an impressive 230-95 record.
Between Creighton and Oregon he’s guided teams to 23 consecutive winning seasons.He credits his players and coaching staff, many of whom stayed with him from Creighton. He talks about the differences from coaching community college to a big Division I university.
“As you move up the talent level, it’s a different pack of athletes, but coaching is still the same,” he said. “There’s the press and the media and boosters. You lose a game and everyone tells me how to coach. Every game is on national television, everyone knows it. Players mess up on and off the court. It’s a very public job. But coaching is coaching.”
Altman recently signed a contract extension at Oregon that takes him through the 2025-2026 season. Beyond that? He said there are many different variables at play.
“It probably depends on how many grandchildren we have,” he said. “It’s hard to walk away (from coaching). If I slowed down, I’d miss it.”
Meanwhile, Altman and his wife return to Nebraska on a regular basis since most of their family is there. Altman’s dad and brother are still in Wilber. They also have family in Fremont, Lincoln, Omaha, and Stanton.
When asked why he’s such a great coach, Altman doesn’t like to take all the credit, which is one of many reasons why he’s such a successful coach.
“I had opportunities, and I was really fortunate to get a lot of good players,” he said.
Dana and Reva have four children: Jordan, Chase, Spencer, and Audra. Jordan takes after his father and coaches basketball for Cloud County Community College in Concordia, Kansas.