One week after longtime head coach Jaime Dixon departed to his Alma mater TCU, the Pitt Panthers basketball team hired his successor in the name of former Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings, a team that he spent 17 years with and has led to 7 NCAA Tournaments appearances, including this season in which they lost to Wichita St. in the First Four.
Pitt gets a veteran head coach that has had some success, and what was the fans reaction? Outrage. And for the record, that was before it was announced that he would be Pitt’s 15th basketball HC in school history.
Why the outrage you ask? because Stallings isn’t Sean Miller. Former Pitt player and successful HC at Xavier and now Arizona. Many fans, just had it downright predicted that Miller would leave his success as a Wildcat and come home. Get a clue, people. Would you do the same? The man has led both Xavier and Arizona to a combined 4 Elite Eight’s and his Wildcats spent a few weeks last season ranked #1. He left a classy statement confirming that he will stay at what he called ‘The best coaching job in America.’ And I don’t blame him either.
Folks are mad that Stallings isn’t Archie Miller, either. Sean’s brother, who isn’t even a Pitt alum (he went to NC State) has turned into a pretty good coach too, turning the Dayton Fliers into one of the elite teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference and he has led them to 3 NCAA Tournament appearances, including the Elite Eight in 2014. He also said he wasn’t interested in the Pitt job. Can you blame him? No.
My point is, the Pitt fans wanted a big name coach to return the Panthers to the status that Dixon had almost 10 years ago. My question is this: Why can’t that be Stallings? Has he led Pitt to a losing season that we didn’t know about?
No. The man deserves a chance. You know, just like the man that Stallings is replacing. In 2003, Ben Howland made the decision to leave Pitt and go after his dream job at UCLA (just like Dixon did last week) folks were in an uproar because he turned Pitt around and now he was gone. I wasn’t mad at him for doing so-partly because I knew he was going to do it. Then the fans started chirping about that proverbial ‘big-name’ coach, like then Wake Forest HC Skip Processor, who had won ACC Coach of the Year that season and had future NBA Hall of Famer Tim Duncan on that team. Whether he was interviewed or not, Prosser stayed.
Current Kentucky HC John Calipari was interested in the Pitt job back then. At the time, he was coaching the Memphis Grizzlies and at one time, he as an assistant at Pitt, but the Panthers didn’t even look his way. They chose Howland’s assistant Dixon and just like this year, the fans went nuts.
Pitt was Dixon’s first coaching gig and he made Howland’s teams ever better, leading them to 13 NCAA Tournaments in 15 years and that Elite Eight appearance in 2009. He had a 1st-team All-American (Dajuan Blair) and led them to their first-ever #1 ranking and #1 seeds in their history. They were a top team in the Big East and despite nearly mediocre status in the ACC, it’s fair to say that Dixon did a good job.
So why can’t Stallings?
Because he didn’t lead Vanderbilt to a National Title? Just ask every HC in college basketball team just how hard that is. Stallings led the Commodores to consecutive Sweet 16 appearances (2006, 07) and an SEC Conference Tournament Championship in 2012-you know, the conference that has Kentucky, and Florida in it? He knows what it’s like to play against nationally-ranked teams and was successful against them. Unlike Dixon, he comes with veteran coaching experience.
Stallings also has the reputation of very good recruiter-something that Pitt hasn’t had since Dixon found Steven Adams, only to lose him a year later to the NBA Draft. New Pitt AD Scott Barnes is a basketball guy and he had a reason for bringing Stallings on board. Yes, he has to deal with the fans, and also the threat of two of their 2016 recruits (Corey Manigult, Justice Kithart) possibly changing their minds about Pitt now that Dixon is gone, but the question is, how will Stallings, the 17-year vet respond? He deserves the chance.
Also, there’s the relationship between Stallings and Pitt F Sheldon Jeter. Stallings was Jeter’s coach in Vanderbilt and when he wanted to transfer a few years ago, Stallings blocked it. Jeter then played at a Junior College before joining Pitt.
At his introductory news conference, here’s what Stallings had to say about that: “That’s something that Sheldon and I have discussed, and the details, quite frankly, are unimportant. I think if we had to do the situation again, things might have been handled a little bit differently. Honestly, that to me is something that is in the past. I’ve spoken with Sheldon, and I’ve spoken with his family, and I think we’re all comfortable with what happened. I think we’re all comfortable with where we are at now, and I think we’re all with what things look like for us going forward.” Good answer.
Stallings also had this to say about being HC at Pitt: “I’m humbled, I’m thankful, I’m appreciative, and most of all I’m very excited to be the new basketball coach at the University of Pittsburgh. My goals as we enter this new era is to have a program that our administration looks at with pride on and off the court, teams that our fans find exciting and entertaining, and players whose experience will be rewarding and life altering.”
Stallings also said “I’m very committed to recruiting the very best student-athletes that we can find for the University of Pittsburgh. I would love for all of them to come from Western Pennsylvania. It would perhaps make our recruiting endeavors a little bit easier, but that’s probably not going to happen. We’re going to recruit locally, state-wide, and nationally as hard as we can and as effectively as we can.”
Like Dixon and every new coach, Stallings deserves a chance to show what he can do at Pitt. The fans need to get over it and get ready for the 2016-17 season with him in charge. You live and die by their decision, and Pitt is living by theirs. Give the man a chance.
Final Four Teams Set
I have to be honest, I expected the North Carolina Tar Heels to make it, Villanova too, I didn’t exactly see Oklahoma getting in, but if you would’ve told me that the Syracuse Orange would be a Final Four team, I would’ve thought you were nuts. And I’m not the only one.
But it’s true, the Orange is one of two ACC teams to play on College Basketball’s biggest stage which will take place this weekend. The #10 Seeded-Orange will take on #1Tar Heels for the 4th time this season for the right to play in the National Championship against either the #2 Villanova Wildcats or #2 Oklahoma Sooners in Houston Texas.
I was among the many who didn’t expect the Orange to even make the Big Dance, but like Pitt, I believe that they benefited from the absence of the Louisville Cardinals, who missed the postseason due to suspension. But who cares? HC Jim Boeheim’s team got invited and are now 1 of 4 teams left in the 68 team tournament.
Boeheim said himself that his team hadn’t peaked yet. They missed him for several weeks, and they didn’t exactly shine with him. And Pitt also beat them 3 times too. But look at them now. Boeheim was right.
I have to be honest though, despite their impressive showing, I can’t see them getting past the Tar Heels, who are truly having one of their better seasons under HC Roy Williams. I have this thing about teams who have been there, done that. They always have a chance to do it again, and I think the Tar Heels will be in the National Championship.
As for the other game, the Sooners are truly just as much as a surprise as the Orange, but at least they’ve been ranked in top 10-including #1 for a few weeks. Folks seemed to forget about them after that. I bet nobody’s forgetting about them now. But HC Jay Wright has certainly made sure that folks didn’t forget his Wildcats, who were also ranked #1 for a few weeks this season and here they are: A game away from the National Championship for the first time since 2009. I think that Villanova wins this game and will play the Tar Heels next Monday for the right to win it all.
It’s been a good season folks, but we haven’t seen nothing yet.
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