By: Brandon Stiehler, The Burgh Blog Writer
Back on March 27th, Pitt made a decision that will have a lasting impact on their basketball program. On that day, they hired their replacement for the Panthers longtime coach Jamie Dixon. His name is Kevin Stallings, formerly the coach of Vanderbilt and Illinois State.
Stallings was the head coach of Illinois State from 1993 – 1999 where he went 123 – 63 and made it to two NCAA Tournaments. He then went on to coach the Vanderbilt Commodores for the next 17 seasons. While at Vanderbilt, Stallings struggled at times, but he also managed to turn them into a more consistent NCAA Tournament team. During his time with the Commodores, he made two Sweet Sixteen appearances and got them into the tournament seven times over his tenure. On the surface, his resume is far from overwhelming, but there are many reasons to be excited and optimistic about this interesting hiring decision by Pittsburgh’s Athletic Director, Scott Barnes.
I agree that this hire wasn’t necessarily the best decision by the Panthers, but I really do think that they got a good guy who can come in, be a players coach, and lead Pitt to many more NCAA Tournament appearances, as Jamie Dixon did. To be honest, I have never seen a time where the media and fans have been so frustrated, upset, and betrayed by a hire in my life, especially in Pittsburgh. Not many people in this city are giving him a chance, and he has been with the team for just around three weeks. I almost find it ridiculous that as Panther fans, we are going to complain about the hire of any coach. Over the past five seasons, Pitt has recorded a grand total of three NCAA Tournament wins, which isn’t exactly blowing me away. And two of those seasons, they didn’t even make it into the tournament. I agree that Jamie Dixon USED to be good, but as of late, he hasn’t been able to get anything done. Player development has been non – existent (just look at James Robinson) and the Panthers don’t seem to put fear in teams anymore.
Another reason to believe in what Stallings can accomplish at Pitt is what he has done since his introductory press conference. While this was going on, he was harassed by the media about his past, his lack of success, de-committed recruits, and just about anything you could think of. But he stood his ground, knew what he wanted to say, and really proved that above all things, he is there for the players. Not to mention, those three players that reopened their search for a school have already recommitted to play for the Panthers next year.
The bottom line is that with Jamie Dixon, Pitt just wasn’t going to get better, and the fact that Stallings is coming in with a strong, experienced team, should help him get his feet off the ground. It remains to be seen how this move will affect the Panthers long term, but without a doubt next year, a new chapter for the Pitt Panthers basketball team will start.