Fourth back surgery benches Oakland women's hoops coach Jeff Tungate

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Oakland women's basketball coach Jeff Tungate has been placed on immediate medical leave after having emergency back surgery Wednesday. It's his fourth back surgery, and third leave of absence in four years.

The surgery was to release pressure on his spinal cord. Tungate said he started to feel off last week, with numbness in his hands, the shakes and dizziness. Doctors said immediate surgery was critical.

Associate head coach Ke'Sha Blanton will be the interim coach in Tungate's absence.

Jeff Tungate

The leave of absence is frustrating for Tungate, who is in his ninth season as head coach at Oakland. This is one of his better teams, having played Michigan tough, Michigan State close and beaten Central Michigan. The Golden Grizzlies are 4-5 heading to a Vegas tournament next week.

"We're really starting to play good basketball," Tungate said Wednesday night over the phone from his hospital bed at Troy Beaumont. "We're starting to figure it out."

Tungate hopes to return this season, though he will be sidelined for at least eight weeks.

The first six weeks post-surgery, he'll have to wear a hard neck collar 24-7. The two weeks after that, he'll have to wear a soft neck collar 24-7. Then, he'll start a full rehab program. Ten weeks, being somewhat conservative, would put him back around the end of February.

Tungate's target date, though, is Feb. 19, for a home game against Purdue-Fort Wayne.

"That's the plan," he said. "I told our seniors, 'I'll tell you one thing, I'm not missing Senior Night.'"

Tungate had to take leaves of absence during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, for back issues (as if that wasn't enough, he also missed time early in the 2020-21 season after contracting COVID-19).

Tungate missed seven games in the 2018-19 season, and most of the season in 2019-20. The news after his last surgery was very positive, with doctors suggesting he might be in the clear for the foreseeable future.

This week, he learned that, indeed, was actually not the case.

But he's kept his sense of humor.

"After my third spinal fusion, I didn't slice the ball anymore," said Tungate, a weekend-warrior golfer. "I'm hoping after today that it helps my putting."

Tungate, a former Oakland baseball player and former member of the men's basketball staff as associate coach to Greg Kampe, is 105-137 in eight-plus seasons as head coach of the women's program.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984