Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings hired as Pitt men's basketball coach
Coach will be introduced at 2:30 p.m. Monday
March 27, 2016 6:41 PM
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings gives instructions during the first half of an NCAA tournament game March 15 against Wichita State.
Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings reacts to a call during a game against Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference tournament in Nashville, Tenn., on March 10.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When University of Pittsburgh athletic director Scott Barnes began the search for Pitt’s head men’s basketball coach, he said he put a high priority in finding someone with head coaching experience whose teams play an up-tempo brand of offense.
It appears he met those goals Sunday with the hiring of longtime Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, 55. But if initial reaction is any indication, Barnes has his work cut out for him to convince the Pitt fan base that this move is the right one.
• 17 seasons as Vanderbilt head coach
• 332-220 record with the Commodores
• Seven NCAA tournament and two Sweet 16 appearances
• 2012 SEC tournament title
• 2007, 2010 SEC coach of the year
• Coached Illinois State from 1993-1999, with two NCAA and two NIT berths
“Coach Stallings and I share the same vision for Pitt — playing in the Final Four,” Barnes said in a statement announcing Stallings’ hire. “Kevin has a successful track record recruiting the [Atlantic Coast Conference] footprint and beyond and is one of the best coaches in the country at building an offense around his talent.
Stallings, who has nearly 38 years of coaching experience, had seven NCAA tournament appearances in 17 years as head coach at Vanderbilt. But he is known as a solid recruiter whose teams generally play an up-tempo style of offense, something Barnes said “fans will enjoy.”
Stallings, who signed a six-year deal, will be formally introduced at a 2:30 p.m. news conference today at the Petersen Events Center. Whether what follows will “move the needle up” for the program to boost attendance — something Barnes said he was looking to do when discussing Jamie Dixon’s departure to Texas Christian University last week — is the subject of much debate, especially given Stallings’ record in recent years. (Vanderbilt made the NCAA tournament only once in the past four seasons).
One man who sat in the head coach’s seat at Pitt, however, said Stallings will find success.
“This was a real coup for Pitt, a steal for them, an absolute no-brainer hire,” said Mississippi State coach Ben Howland, who coached at Pitt from 1999-2003. “I’ve known Kevin for 30 years. Pitt basketball is in great hands. He will do a fantastic job. This isn’t a young guy learning on the job; he will know exactly what to do from day one.”
Stallings has compiled a 455-283 record in his head coaching career, which began at Illinois State in 1993 before he went to Vanderbilt in 1999. Stallings reached the NCAA tournament twice at Illinois State and advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 twice while at Vanderbilt.
This season’s Commodores were considered Southeast Conference title contenders because of two NBA prospects in Damian Jones and Wade Baldwin, but they finished a disappointing 19-13 and got pounded by Wichita State in the First Four round of the NCAA tournament. That poor ending, coupled with the Commodores missing the NCAA tournament the previous three seasons, led to numerous reports that Stallings was going to be fired.
While Howland voiced his support, the Stallings hire has its critics. Although Vanderbilt has stricter academic and admissions standards than many of the schools it competes against — and Stallings recruited well with those limits — some say his recent teams underachieved.
Mike DeCourcy, a Pittsburgh native who writes for the Sporting News, called the hire “ludicrous” in a column Sunday. He called Stallings a “capable tactician” but said he is a coach who had “exhausted the patience of the program’s fan base,” and the upside for Pitt is minimal.
DeCourcy also brought up an issue that was instantly at the forefront of the minds of many with knowledge of the Pitt program: That Stallings blocked the transfer of Pitt junior Sheldon Jeter, who left Vanderbilt in 2013 and wanted to transfer close to home. Jeter spent a year at Polk Junior College in Florida before being able to enroll at Pitt.
There also is a YouTube video from February 2015 of Stallings appearing to yell at one of his players, “I’m going to [expletive] kill you,” after a game, an incident that caused some to question Stallings’ tactics. Stallings later apologized for the incident.
Plum High School graduate Nolan Cressler, a redshirt junior guard at Vanderbilt who transferred from Cornell, said Stallings is very controlled and thoughtful, not angry.
“I think he’s a man of value and he really values high-character kids,” Cressler said Sunday. “He’s about doing the right thing and he exemplified that in his recruiting efforts. He wants things done the correct way. He’s a pretty intense coach, but he’s not a hot head.
“He’s more of an intellectual guy. He’s more of a thinker, but he’s very strategic as well. If you’re doing something wrong and he doesn’t like it, he’ll take an intense approach to it.”
One other aspect of Stallings’ hiring has raised a few eyebrows: The search firm Pitt used, Collegiate Sports Associates, is run by Todd Turner, the former athletic director at Vanderbilt who hired Stallings, who is also one of his clients, in 1999. Turner also was athletic director at Washington from 2004-08, and Barnes served as his deputy athletic director from 2005-08.
Stallings, a native of the St. Louis area who played at Purdue, also has spent time as an assistant at his alma mater under Gene Keady and at Kansas under Roy Williams.
“Kevin is a great X’s and O’s guy, really knows the game, really understands the game,” Keady said. “He will be a great fit in Pittsburgh. They like guys who work hard there. ... And he won’t take shortcuts. ... It is a great hire for Pitt.”
Stallings is the 15th head coach in Pitt program history. He’ll take over a team that went 21-12 overall last season and reached the NCAA tournament for the 13th time in the past 15 seasons.
“I am extremely excited to join the University of Pittsburgh family,” Stallings said in a statement. “Pitt has a tremendous basketball tradition, and I am looking forward to building on the excellent foundation that is in place on the court and in the classroom.”
Paul Zeise: email@example.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.
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