The ill-fated tenure of Pittsburgh coach Kevin Stallings has come to a sudden yet predictable end.
Pittsburgh fired Stallings after two dismal seasons on Thursday, an expensive yet necessary move that will enable the Panthers to seek a fresh start.
Seldom has a coaching hire been more clearly bungled from the get-go than Pittsburgh’s decision to pluck Stallings from Vanderbilt two years ago. Pittsburgh erred every step of the way, from lowering Jamie Dixon’s buyout to encourage him to leave, to needlessly raising expectations for the hire with a fruitless run at Sean Miller, to ultimately hiring a candidate whose previous school was happy to see him go.
Vanderbilt made the NCAA tournament seven times in Stallings’ 17 seasons, but his most talented rosters tended to underachieve. His final Vanderbilt team boasted NBA prospects at point guard and center and an array of shooters surrounding them, yet the Commodores failed to meet expectations in the regular season, suffered an opening-round SEC tournament loss to Tennessee and lost to Wichita State by 20 in the First Four.
Stallings was also a poor fit for Pittsburgh because he had no strong ties to the talent-rich regions of the Northeast that the Panthers have traditionally recruiting. Instead of trying to sell elite Northeast recruits on the opportunity stay close to home yet still compete against name-brand ACC programs, Stallings and his staff attempted to pull players from other parts of the country with less encouraging results.
Pittsburgh staggered to a 4-14 ACC record in Stallings’ first season even though he inherited a talented veteran roster that included current North Carolina starter Cam Johnson and returning stars Jamel Artis and Michael Young. Things got much, much worse this season after Artis and Young graduated, a handful of other key players transferred and Stallings failed to recruit enough newcomers capable of making an immediate impact.
Not only did Pittsburgh go 8-24 this season, the Panthers were the only team in the country that did not win a single conference game. Fifteen of Pittsburgh’s 18 ACC losses came by 10 or more points.
Pittsburgh fans might have shown more patience with Stallings were his hire not a product of search firm nepotism. The head of the search firm that former Pittsburgh athletic director Scott Barnes used is Todd Turner, the former Vanderbilt athletic director who hired Stallings in 1999.
The one silver lining for to the Stallings era for Pittsburgh is that it could make the Panthers job more attractive to prospective candidates. Expectations were unreasonably high at Pittsburgh during the latter stages of Dixon’s tenure. Now merely winning a couple games in the ACC next season would be seen as an improvement.
Pittsburgh is a tougher job in the ACC than it was in the Big East, but the appropriate hire is someone with a winning track record and longstanding ties to Northeast basketball hotbeds like New York, New Jersey or Baltimore. Maybe Pittsburgh can make a run at Rhode Island’s Dan Hurley. Perhaps the top target will be former Marquette and Indiana coach Tom Crean. Or maybe they go a little more below the radar to find someone who’s a good fit,
Regardless, it shouldn’t be hard to make a better hire than the last time.
Now that the Stallings era is over at Pittsburgh, there is nowhere to go but up.
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