The weeks and months leading up to the college basketball season, or really any season, is a fertile time for boundless optimism. Everybody’s in the best shape of their lives. A given team, no matter how mediocre or plain bad it was, feels it has a chance to be something special or, at the very least, surprise a few people. There’s a rinse-repeat nature to it all.
This kind of sunny outlook is doubly true when it comes to a coaching change. Short of replacing a wildly successful coach or some sort of brooding, legendary figure, a new person in charge represents all or many of the good things the person they’re replacing didn’t. That may be true in some instances, but in these cases, ‘change’ can also be conflated with ‘progress’ and the magnitude of those changes has a tendency to get overstated.
Which brings us to Kevin Stallings. Jamie Dixon, for all he achieved in 13 years as Pitt’s coach, employed a brutally slow style of play. At the zenith of his tenure, it was a system that helped Pitt emerge as a continual presence in the top 10 of the national polls and shaped the Panthers into one of the toughest teams in the country. Once the wins didn’t come with the same regularity, it became a nuisance, a basketball eyesore for fans and a persistent question for potential new players about how their skills would be utilized in such a deliberate, inflexible scheme.
The move from Dixon to Stallings wasn’t made for that reason – technically, since Dixon voluntarily left for TCU, a move wasn’t even made – but pace of play was undoubtedly a factor in Stallings’ eventual hire. Pitt AD Scott Barnes said as much in a release announcing Stallings as the Panthers’ new coach.
“He plays a fun, up-tempo style that players love and fans will enjoy,” Barnes said in a statement.
If Barnes’ point is that Stallings runs a faster system than Dixon, he’s right. But to dub Stallings’ teams as “up-tempo” is more than a little misleading. Of Stallings’ 15 teams at Vanderbilt since KenPom began rankings, only three of them ranked among the top 100 Division I teams in tempo, none of which came in the past six seasons. Furthermore, not one of his teams in that span ever finished in the top 50 in tempo.
While preseason talk of Pitt playing up-tempo is perhaps overstated, Stallings does represent a small shot of adrenaline in the pace department, if only because his teams generally veered toward the middle of Division I in those rankings while Dixon’s were often near the bottom.
Below is a side-by-side ranking of the two coaches since the 2003-04 season.
Dixon and Stallings pace comparison (Craig Meyer/Post-Gazette)
Of all the questions surrounding Stallings’ first team, two of the most crucial will be how much faster will Pitt play and how will it handle that increased tempo. They’re questions that won’t come with firm answers for another few months, at least, but for now, we can use some historical examples to give us an idea of how it all may unfold.
We’ll start with Stallings’ own history with this. Vanderbilt’s 1998-99 team, the final one before Stallings’ arrival, averaged 69.4 possessions per game, a reasonably decent pace. In Stallings’ first season, the Commodores averaged 71.1 possessions per game, a jump of 1.7. In the following three seasons, they averaged, in order, 69.8, 70.4 and 71.1 possessions per game. Those numbers fluctuated on a year-to-year basis, but the basic point was the same – the Vanderbilt program Stallings built in those early years was faster than the one he inherited.
This happened before KenPom started measuring things like a team’s offensive efficiency, so there’s no reliable way of knowing whether the Commodores, with that faster pace, became a better offensive team.
But what about other teams over the past 10 years? How did those moving from an incredibly slow coach fare under a new leader? To find this out, I looked at every team that finished at or below 300 in the pace rankings in a given year that made or had a coaching change following the season (14 teams in total).
Here, individually, is a look at how those teams fared, listed in order of how much possessions per game increased. Before that, though, a quick explanation on each column:
Old coach tempo: Average possessions per game in last season under previous coach
New coach tempo: Average possessions per game in first season under new coach
Old o eff: Offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) in last season under previous coach
New o eff: Offensive efficiency in first season under new coach
List of historical examples (Craig Meyer/Post-Gazette)
It’s a lot to digest, but here are some of the major takeaways:
** Of the 14 teams, 10 finished with a higher number of possessions per game than they did the previous season. It’s worth noting all but one of the new coaches who had previously been a head coach had a faster system than the coach he was replacing.
** The average team in that group saw its possessions per game rise by 2.8.
** Six of the 10 teams who increased their average number of possessions per game improved their offensive efficiency in the process. Conversely, three of the four teams with a slower tempo saw their offensive efficiency dip.
** The average change in offensive efficiency was -0.7 points per 100 possessions.
** The difference in average tempo between Stallings’ previous five teams and Dixon’s was 1.8. The closest examples on the above table to that scenario are Tennessee in 2016 and Washington State in 2015. The Volunteers averaged 9.1 more possessions per game in Rick Barnes’ first year than they did in Donnie Tyndall’s lone season in Knoxville while the Cougars averaged 5.8 more possessions per game under Ernie Kent than they did in their final season under Ken Bone (not THAT Ken Bone).
I got a couple of questions about how, beyond the tempo statistics, these teams fared from a win-loss standpoint. From a fans’ standpoint, I get it. Here’s how each of those teams did in the final year of the old coaching regime and the first year of the new one.
Tempo changes and win-loss records (Craig Meyer/Post-Gazette)
** Eight of the 14 teams finished with a better record than they did the previous year. Some of that can be based on the personnel they inherited, but people were curious, so there you go.
** Six of the 10 teams who increased their pace with a new coach finished with a better record than they did the previous season. Two of the four teams whose average number of possessions decreased with the new coach finished with a better record.
So what to take from all of this and how it relates to Pitt? It’s almost certain, given Stallings’ background, that the Panthers will play faster this season, but between their taller lineup and the pace at which the team is used to playing, I don’t know if it will be a seismic change.
If anything, the numbers (and history) show Pitt, if it follows the average of the recent trend, will be a marginally speedier if slightly less efficient team.
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG
I don’t know how it is for others, and whether this is just a product of my relatively young age, but Bill Raftery is a name that I associate with college basketball as much as almost anyone. He’s endlessly entertaining as a broadcaster and his catchphrases — ”Onions!”, ”With a kiss” and, of course, ”Send it in, Jerome!” -— are an unavoidable part of the sport’s lexicon and history.
Perhaps more than anything, though, Raftery’s career as a broadcaster and coach has turned him into something of a walking encyclopedia of the game, someone who can break matchups down in the detail many of us can’t replicate and place recent developments into a proper historical context. In short, he’s pretty awesome.
Raftery was an emcee at Pitt’s ”Throwback Throwdown” Saturday morning at Stage AE. The event reunited him with former Pitt great Jerome Lane, the subject of the aforementioned call, marking what he guessed to be the second time they met in person since his now-iconic dunk in 1988. While we didn’t get the opportunity to speak with Lane, who had to leave quickly to get back to his hometown of Akron to watch his son’s football game this afternoon, the media members present did get the chance to speak for about 10 minutes with Raftery, who offered his opinion and perspective on the trajectory of the Pitt program, whether it can reach the upper echelon of the sport, and how he and others view new Panthers coach Kevin Stallings.
Below are highlights from that talk, which, given Raftery’s personality, means this is most of the conversation.
On the ”Send it in, Jerome!” call:
“It’s probably the first time people knew my name. I heard it in airports. At first it was like ‘I don’t know what the hell they’re talking about’, that kind of a deal, which happened with a lot of the things I’ve said. They’d repeat them. I was on a two-way [call] once with ESPN with Jerome where I was in Charlotte and he was in Akron. It was the 25th anniversary of the dunk. He was ready to get off and he said ‘Thanks for making me famous, Mr. Raf.’ I said ‘Jerome, thanks for making me famous.’”
On Kevin Stallings’ reputation in the world of college basketball:
“If I say offense, everybody will say ‘Well, he doesn’t coach defense.’ I think he’s on a level of offense where he gets easy baskets and he’s been able to do it with restrictions, with the types of kids they get at Vanderbilt and the demands on them. I don’t mean the academic angle; it’s just getting into the school and being able to be on that level academically, not that Pitt is a second sister. He just knows how to get easy baskets. I think most of the respect for him is he’s got a great mind for offense, with back cuts and early 3s. Those are a lot of the things that have made him good to compete at that level, with Kentucky and Billy Donovan at Florida. He was hanging in there with, what, seven NCAAs. It’s uncanny, in a league that’s not near the top and in the last few years hasn’t had a lot of teams in the tournament.”
On how difficult the transition to the ACC is for a quintessential Big East team like Pitt:
“I guess the answer is the type of kids you attract and where you attract them from. It’d be great if Pittsburgh had more and better players because they would get their fair share, but I don’t know if they have that. There’s not 10 kids that could go a lot of places. That’s my guess from what I’ve been told. That hurts. Now you’ve got to find an area. Is it Philly? Is it New York? Is it Washington? That’s part of your staff makeup. [Assistant coach Kevin] Sutton is a guy that’s been around the DC area. The other kid, [assistant coach Jeremy] Ballard, has a little New York taste. That’s all the trial and error now about ‘Where do we go?’”
On the Petersen Events Center:
“The atmosphere at the game, it’s maybe the best building in the east on campus. I consider Maryland south. This is right up there with some of the best in the country. The atmosphere is pretty consistent.”
On whether Pitt can reach the top rung of college basketball:
“I’m smiling because can Seton Hall get there? Can Northwestern get there? Nobody’s going to get there. If you watch the Jordan and McDonald’s games, there are three or four schools that have the top 23 kids. But that doesn’t mean you can’t win a championship. Look at Villanova. Look at Butler getting there a few years ago. They had tough kids, though [Utah Jazz guard Gordon] Hayward was a big-time player, as it turned out. George Mason back in ’06. I don’t know if you can [get there], philosophically or realistically, but it’s all about trying to get a group together that can win it all. I don’t know if you can get that one-and-done kid. You can’t get four of them. And maybe they [Pitt] don’t want them, either.”
“You want to be good consistently and every couple of years, you might be fortunate to get to that point if you get a break or you win a close game. It’s unrealistic to say it’s going to be Kansas, Kentucky, Duke or North Carolina.”
On whether that’s true even just within the ACC:
“They’re probably going to get eight to 10 teams in every year. Rollie Massimino in 1985, he was the highest seed to ever win a championship. You always would like to be like that, but you want to be able to compete with them and that’s what I think he’ll do. He’ll get players who can score, compete and work hard. That’s it. Ben [Howland] did it, Jamie [Dixon] did it. He’s going to do it different offensively.”
On whether a sense of stagnation develops during a long coaching tenure like Jamie Dixon’s at Pitt:
“No question. I used to say Bill Foster was one of the first…he coached at Bloomsburg, Rutgers, Utah, Duke, Northwestern and South Carolina. He used to say the jokes aren’t as funny, they don’t like your hair or your tie anymore. It’s hard anymore to be a John Wooden or Mike Krzyzewski, to be at the same place. There’s always a new president, a new AD, a new faculty rep. It’s hard. You just try and do your job. Jamie’s family loved this area. That was the hard thing for him. I haven’t talked to him since he left. But I knew he loved it here.”
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG
Typically, discussing the physical measurements, namely weights, of college-aged students is frowned upon in society, as it probably should be...unless you’re a sports writer, of course.
The 2016-17 season is, simultaneously, one of continuity and wholesale change for Pitt, as it gets adjusted to a new coach with a roster that, as far as key contributors are concerned, remained almost entirely intact. Those players, however, are not carbon copies of what they were heading into last season from a physical standpoint, especially with a new strength and conditioning program in place.
Amid all of the ”best shape of my life” talk are tangible changes these players have undergone from last season to this one. Some of them are slight, but still worth noting, while a handful of others have been a bit more radical. With the season still more than a month away, I took a look at Pitt’s roster this year, compared it to its roster from last year and noted the differences in height and weight in its returning scholarship players. Please keep in mind, though, that listed physical measurements are always entirely true. Otherwise, Allen Iverson would actually be 6’2”.
GROUP ONE: NOTHING (LITERALLY) HAS CHANGED
Jamel Artis: 6-7, 215 lbs.
Michael Young: 6-9, 235 lbs.
Jonathan Milligan: 6-2, 170 lbs.
GROUP TWO: THE SLIGHT ALTERATIONS
Last year: 6-5, 200 lbs.
This year: 6-5, 195 lbs.
Last year: 6-9, 220 lbs.
This year: 6-9, 225 lbs.
Last year: 6-6, 213 lbs.
This year: 6-6, 215 lbs.
Last year: 6-8, 225 lbs.
This year: 6-8, 230 lbs.
GROUP THREE: THE NOTABLE JUMP
Last year: 6-7, 200 lbs.
This year: 6-8, 210 lbs.
GROUP FOUR: THE UNKNOWN
Last year: 6-11, 300 lbs.
This year: 6-11, 300 lbs.
Nix’s story is fairly well known, as he lost 100 pounds in a two-year span and transformed himself into a Division I prospect that was able to land at a major-conference school. Visually, he looked slimmer than he was last season, but his weight, according to Pitt, is the same. If anything, it’s one of the cases where, most likely last year, his listed weight wasn’t entirely accurate.
College basketball season won’t actually begin for another five-or-so weeks, but after a long, trying and excruciating week the season has, technically speaking, started.
Pitt and other Division I programs across the country held their first practices in advance of the 2016-17 season Friday. With a bevvy of topics to discuss — from a new coach to a probable unconventional starting lineup — we got the opportunity to chat with several Panthers players and coach Kevin Stallings Friday, serving as a preview of sorts for the upcoming season.
Since you all, rightly, care much more about what they had to say than what I do, I’ve got some quotes and scattered quotes from Friday’s practice, as well as from Tuesday’s open workout. Keep in mind these are highlights, not an exhaustive transcript. You probably don’t need to read endlessly about how every player on the team is in the best shape of his life, anyway. They all say that.
“I literally haven’t watched a minute from a game last season. I don’t know how they played. I just know how we want to play. Players like it fast, fans like it fast and the only group that leaves is the coaches. We’re all too controlling anyway. We need to let loose and let the players have some fun.”
“I like that our team, most of them, are 6-4 to 6-8. We’re pretty interchangeable offensively and defensively. There’s a great deal of flexibility there. We’ll work to maximize that in any way we can. I’m not too worried about our lack of height. In my opinion, we can do things to neutralize some things other people do that have more size than us. If they’re a lot bigger than us, someone still has to guard Mike Young. That’s not going to be easy for some 6-10 guy unless he’s really, really mobile. Sometimes you can take that size thing and make it work to your advantage if you’re the smaller team or the smaller guy. We’ll work with our pace, we’ll work with the flexibility in our offense and we’ll work with our players to try and utilize that.”
** Early on, he has noticed that Pitt doesn’t have a lot of rim protectors, which is true; only one returning player, Sheldon Jeter, had a block percentage higher than 2.2 last season, nor did anyone other than Jeter average more than 0.4 blocks per game. Stallings’ final Vanderbilt team, with the help of 7-0 Damian Jones and 7-1 Luke Kornet, finished 15th in Division I in total blocks last season.
On what he has learned about the team: “I didn’t know they liked each other as much as they do. I really like that. I didn’t know about the depth. I’ve learned about that. I didn’t know how talented a couple of these guys are. Gosh, I learned a lot of things about them I didn’t know. I really enjoyed Chris Jones’ transformation this summer. About the middle of the summer, I started calling him ‘Pillsbury’ for the Pillsbury Doughboy. Chris, with [strength coach] Garry [Christopher]’s, is not the Pillsbury Doughboy anymore. He looks like a sculpted college athlete.”
On what he first noticed about Pitt as far as the speed in which they were accustomed to operating in practice: “In our first probably six or eight workouts, all I told them was ‘Do what you know, do what you’ve been taught.’ I noticed they were very big on defending the arc and the paint, just defending inside. It was a defense built from the basket out as opposed to trying to pressure guys on the outside, which is fine. That’s primarily how we’ve played. The pace was…I have to yell ‘Run, run, run’ a lot. It wasn’t uncommon for the ball to bounce three of four times after it went through the net before somebody took it out. Now, if it bounces, I’ll say something. I like it to be gotten right as it’s going through the net. We’ve just had to change to fit what I want. Whenever I say anything like that, I’m always worried that I’m going to sound like I’m saying something negative about the people that were here before me. I’m not. My way is not better; it’s just my way, it’s how we play. We’ve tried to freshen up the pace and pick it up. I’ve got guys who think they can still shoot their way on to the court. I try to tell them you’re not going to shoot your way on to the court. One day, I looked around at the four seniors and I said ‘Okay, these are the guys that will be taking all of the shots. Him, him, him and him.’ I looked at everybody else and they were all thinking ‘I’m not going to get to shoot?’ I didn’t mean that in a literal sense. The point is that, okay, Cam Johnson and Ryan Luther, they’ve played their way into the rotation and lineup with the four seniors. We’ve got some other guys who are jockeying for position. Some of the guys think the way to get there is to shoot their way in there. Honestly, that just puts them further down the line. It’s just trying to educate them on what we’re looking for, what we want and what’s best going to serve them. That’s the whole thing – what’s best going to serve them to help our whole team.”
“Our guys have been very responsive and very good in terms of their efforts and doing what we want them to get done. They’ve embraced the changes, they’ve embraced the newness of the culture and they’ve embraced me. We’re ready to get going.”
On his adjustment to Pitt, coming from Vanderbilt: “There were times at Vanderbilt that those players didn’t really need help in their life, if that makes sense. They came from homes and backgrounds where both parents were college educated and they were going to be doing things similar to what they were doing, whether I showed up in their lives or not. I might be able to impact some of these guys a little more and in a better way than I’ve been able to for a while. That’s kind of exciting for me. At the end of the day, this is about these guys and their success.”
“The buy-in was fairly immediate. They accepted me pretty quickly.”
On balancing playing at a faster speed with not fostering carelessness: “Over the course of time, one of two things happen – they either learn to trust you or they learn not to trust you. For the six months I’ve been here, I think there’s a pretty good level of trust. They know they can count on what I say and can count on what I do. I back up the things I tell them, both good and bad. From that standpoint, they trust that I am who I say I am. That’s a guy who’s here to help them succeed.”
On the biggest growing pains or points of adjustment that remain: “The biggest one I see right now is ‘How do I play really fast running up and down the court but yet play under control?’ That’s the biggest thing they have to get their minds and games and their attitudes wrapped around. Yes, we want to play fast, but we don’t want to be stupid. I always tell them there are two kinds of turnovers – there are careless turnovers and selfish turnovers. All turnovers fall into one category or another for me.”
** Of Pitt’s three newcomers, freshman point guard Justice Kithcart has stood out the most, partially because, according to Stallings, he has been the most consistent of the trio.
“The biggest thing in terms of the physical reaction is how we play at a faster pace while still playing under control. From a mental standpoint, I think they’re all bought in. They like the idea of playing fast. They like the idea of me being a guy that gives them a lot of offensive freedom. That’s just my nature.”
On granting his players more freedom on offense: “As a player, it’s easier to play if you’re not in fear of making a mistake or missing a shot. I don’t want those guys to miss a shot and think ‘Oh no, coach is going to take me out.’ I don’t want them to make a turnover and say ‘Oh no, coach is going to take me out.’ Eventually, that negatively impacts their playing psyche. I want to do it the other way, to know their coach has confidence in them. Then I think they’ll play better. If there’s a guy out there making selfish turnovers because he’s being selfish, then the next horn will be for him because I’ll take him out. Or if a guy takes a couple of bad shots that look like selfish shots to me, that’s not something I’m good with. As long as we play for each other and play for the team and have that kind of mindset, then I want them to play with as much freedom as they can.”
On having more offensive freedom with Stallings: “That’s what coach wants. This is a team that’s going to have more freedom than in past years I’ve been here. I like that a lot because I don’t really think I could show my talents [previously]. Teams in this offense, a lot of them run the point guard and push the ball up the floor. That’s a good thing because I can make the plays and make scouts see me as versatile. I don’t think I had that in the past few years here and I’m happy coach Stallings is here.”
“Guys are more comfortable out there. With Jamie Dixon, I think guys were a little scared to make a play. Coach Stallings put the trust in these guys that you can go out there and make a play and have more freedom. But don’t get too overcome and comfortable with the freedom. Play within the system and make a play.”
“We had a rotation of nine guys last year I don’t think we should have had. Guys would come in for two minutes and get pulled out. That’s not how I want to play. You can’t get comfortable like that. We don’t have that much depth right now, but with coach Stallings, there’s freedom.”
On the move to point guard: “Last year, I couldn’t bring the ball up the court like I wanted to.”
** I asked Jamel if he had any experience playing point guard prior to arriving at Pitt; he had, in prep school.
On what Sheldon Jeter told Pitt players about Stallings after the hire was made: “Sheldon talked about him. He said he lets guys have that freedom and lets guys play their game and isn’t too hard on them when they make a play or miss a shot. I know I can trust him. I feel that trust right now.”
** Artis added Pitt will be more of a fast-break-oriented team this season than it has been previously.
On the adjustment to a new coach: “He [Jamie Dixon] is a good coach. He won a lot of games. But sometimes you have to let guys play to their skills and show their skills and have a little more freedom. That makes a guy more confident, not being yelled at all the time. Not saying coach Stallings doesn’t yell, but he puts it in a different way.”
On if he has ever played in a starting lineup that will potentially (edit: probably) have as much size/length as Pitt’s this season: “No, never. But it’s something different.”
On Stallings’ offense: “His offense has a lot of flow to it. So when something happens, something else happens right away.”
** Jones said he, in addition to Artis, will be handling the ball some this season, though Artis will primarily be responsible for doing so.
On Pitt’s lineup: “We can create mismatches at the one and two and, honestly, offensively, we’ll still have mismatches and the five and four. Mike’s a really mobile guy and so is Sheldon. If we can get up and down and score the ball like we really want to, we’ll have a bunch of mismatches.”
On the biggest difference between where Pitt is now and where it was this time last season: “We’re in a lot better shape because of getting up and down. We do a lot more running in practice than we normally would. I don’t mean running like sprints. I just mean transition wise, we get up and down a lot. Guys are slimmer, guys are faster.”
On why nobody left, even with the coaching change: “He gives off a sense of trust. That’s something he talked to us about the first day, about being honest and things like that. We all liked what he had to say.”
On what Pitt is capable of this season: “We’re capable of something great. Getting an ACC championship is what I think we’re capable of.”
On if he harbors any negative feelings against Stallings: ”No. None to speak of.”
On how he would characterize Stallings’ coaching style: “On the court, I would call it structured freedom. We’re put in place and he just says ‘Go’ and we go make plays. Off the court, everyone’s accountable. We’re held to like a professional standard now. You’ve got to be on time for everything, you’ve got to go to all your classes, you’ve got to turn in all of your work. The culture is kind of rapidly changing to how it was at Vanderbilt. That’s what I was used to when I got up here. He’s very demanding off the court. He wants you to be a great ambassador for our program.”
** Jeter said Pitt is ”about 85 percent” of the way to completely emulating how Vanderbilt looked, based on the year he spent there as a freshman.
On the adjustment to a new coach for much of his team: “It’s like any time you have a new parent. There’s going to be resistance at some point. But I think, as a team, we met about it and we’re fully trusting him. We fully trust what he’s saying.”
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG
With practice beginning later this week, and with his first season as Pitt’s coach officially beginning in six weeks, Kevin Stallings joined CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein on his “College Hoops Today” podcast to discuss a slew of topics, most notably the Panthers’ point guard situation.
After having few, if any, questions about the position for four years with James Robinson, Pitt now has a gaping hole at the spot on a veteran-laden team. It has three more traditional options at the spot, at least from a size and speed standpoint, in Justice Kithcart, Damon Wilson and Jonathan Milligan. Then, of course, there is the intriguing-but-unsettling possibility of Jamel Artis, who has been a small forward his three previous years in Oakland, manning the role.
As of now, Artis is what Stallings described to Rothstein as “the leader in the clubhouse” to be the team’s point guard. We’ve known for months that Artis is being seriously considered at the position, so I was a little surprised at, well, the surprise people exhibited yesterday when Rothstein tweeted that information out, especially given the Panthers’ inexperience beyond Artis. But with the season fewer than two months away, Artis remaining as not only a legitimate possibility at point guard but a favorite is news-worthy.
For context, Stallings’ full comment to Rothstein on the point guard situation is below…
“It could be something that’s done by committee. We’ve got I’d say three guys that have shown in practice, as point guards, they will help our team. Jamel Artis, who has been primarily a small forward here, would be the leader in the clubhouse at this point to be our starting point guard. Damon Wilson has certainly shown some signs of being able to be a very effective player, be it at the point or maybe in another guard spot. And Justice Kithcart, our freshman, is a guy who has a tremendous amount of tenacity and toughness to him for a freshman and could figure into the mix, as well. But right now, I would say Jamel is the guy who has the best chance. I’ve liked the look of him in practice at the point. He’s our team’s best passer. There’s a lot of upside to it, if he can establish himself as the guy. I think he’s doing that right now and hopefully he’ll continue to do that.”
As we get closer to the season, and perhaps even later this week, I’ll have a more in-depth breakdown of Pitt’s options at the position.
For now, here are some other highlights of Stallings’ appearance on the podcast. The full interview can be heard here.
** While Stallings inherits a talented and experienced team, what the program has beyond this year is a mystery largely dependent upon how successful he is in constructing his first recruiting class. Pitt has four seniors on its current roster and an open, unused scholarship that can be handed out to someone in the 2017 class, meaning it has at least five scholarships to fill for the 2017-18 season.
The importance of that task is not lost on Stallings.
“That may be the most important thing we’re doing right now,” he said. “As much time as we need to spend with these guys and getting ready for this season, we have an extremely heavy lift in front of us relative to turning our team over. We could very well be looking at signing five, six or maybe even seven guys depending on if you have a guy leave, which happens a lot in your first year. The good news to that is we’re going to turn the team over and maybe half of our team will be guys we have recruited. The downside of it, obviously, is your second year will feel like you’re going through year one again. It’s certainly a critical aspect of what we’re doing. We’re excited about it.”
** Sheldon Jeter and Chris Jones, according to Stallings, have shown as much progress as anyone on Pitt’s team since he arrived at the school in late March.
** Stallings was asked about how he was first contacted about the Pitt job and, in response, he provided the following timeline:
He was down at spring training in Florida in March watching his son, Jacob, play. He and his family were driving from Bradenton, the Pirates’ spring training home, to Fort Myers to watch Jacob play against the Red Sox. During that trip, his phone rang and he was asked if he’d have any interest in the Pitt job. He replied by saying he’d have to talk to his family about it, a convenient proposal seeing as they were all packed in the car with him.
His wife, Lisa, provided a quick response.
“You’ve turned down quite a few jobs in the last several years because of timing for our family,” Stallings recalled her saying. “Make this decision for you.”
After mulling it over for a few hours, he called back and expressed his interest. Two or three days later, by his estimation, he interviewed for the position and a day or two after that, he accepted the job. The Pirates and Red Sox played on March 25, three days before Stallings was introduced as coach, so the process may have been even quicker than Stallings remembered, unless of course they were driving to Fort Myers the day before (the two teams also played on March 14, but that was four days before Pitt’s season-ending loss to Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament and one week before Jamie Dixon left for TCU).
** Given the height and athleticism of his team, Stallings envisions Pitt being a matchup problem for teams they face.
“The flexibility we will have both offensively and defensively could make us difficult to play against if we can utilize those things in the right capacity,” he said. “It will be a little bit of a different team for me, but it’s one I’m really energized about and really excited to coach because of a different approach we can take with it and, in some ways, a different approach we have to take with it.”
** As opposed to Vanderbilt, where he was handcuffed by the school’s academic restrictions, Stallings said recruiting has been easier and more natural at Pitt.
“Very refreshing, quite frankly,” he said. “It’s nice to have a larger recruiting pool and it’s fun to be able to go into different kinds of environments and recruit different kinds of kids. As long as I was at Vanderbilt, it feels more natural to me this way.”
** Without going into details, he said he has regrets from his time at Vanderbilt.
“Certainly there are some incidents I would have changed and some other things like that, but I don’t reflect that much and say ‘I wish I would have done this or hadn’t done that,’” Stallings said. “Most of my time is spent looking forward.”
** And as for how he would have responded to people who told him last year he’d end up being the head coach at Pitt?
“I would have laughed heartily,” he said. “I did not see this coming, but I’m excited it did come. I’m excited I have this opportunity.”
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG