The final signing date for Division I basketball prospects isn’t for another two weeks and while Pitt’s 2016 class isn’t fully set quite yet, Kevin Stallings picked up one of his first victories as the Panthers’ coach by holding on to three players who signed with the school when Jamie Dixon was still coach – Justice Kithcart, Corey Manigault and Crisshawn Clark.
Late last week, I spoke with both Kithcart and Manigault about their decision to stick with Pitt even with the coaching change, conversations which led to a story in today’s Post-Gazette.
** I’m planning on talking to Clark at some point, but I’m new on the beat and still don’t have phone numbers for some people. Hang in there.
Below is a transcript of both of those interviews, with questions in bold.
What do you remember those days being like from when Jamie Dixon left to when Kevin Stallings was hired? Was it kind of an emotional roller coaster for you?
“It kind of was, just because it happened so fast. I didn’t really know what to do. I stepped back and looked at everything and reopened my recruitment. When coach Stallings got the job, he called me instantly to talk.”
About how quickly did he call you?
“On that Monday, I think.”
What were that conversation and some of those initial conversations like?
“We just talked about the things he wants, kind of like telling he knows how the situation is, how coaches move around. He gave me the space I needed instead of like hovering on top of me and really trying to get me to stay. He told me he really wanted me to stay and he knew how to use me. He likes the way I play and said it was on me. He didn’t want to force me to do anything. He just kind of left it up to me. I really liked that. He just had that good vibe from the start.”
You touched on it a little bit there, but what were some of your first impressions of coach Stallings?
“He was kind of cool. I talked to a few people and they told me how he was. He’s kind of relaxed instead of kind of tight. I didn’t really know him, but I met him at my school last week. He was just that kind of guy, the kind of guy that can have fun but knows when to be serious.”
What prompted you to open up your recruitment?
“I just had to step back and look at everything over again. I wanted to make sure this was what I really wanted to do.”
What was it that won you over, that made you recommit to Pitt?
“After I got off the phone with coach Stallings, I looked at some film. He kind of played the same way Dixon did, but it was just faster. His personality in general, he was somebody I felt comfortable with. And the coaching staff. I kind of know some of the coaches on the coaching staff from the recruiting process earlier. That was something that played another part.”
How difficult is it to make that kind of a big decision, choosing where you’re continuing your career and where you’re going to college, in such a cramped timeline, one where you make that kind of a decision in less than a week with a new coach?
“It was very hard. Coach Dixon and his staff, I really liked them. When I reopened my commitment, a bunch of schools were trying to come after me. It just felt right at Pittsburgh – the city, the people there. There was just something about Pittsburgh.”
Based on your conversations with Stallings, what do you envision your role being on the team next season? And how has that changed from how you thought it would be with coach Dixon?
“Coach Stallings, he said he lets his bigs play to their strengths. Basically, making mismatches for other bigs. I think I’m a versatile big who can get out and stretch myself out on the floor a lot. And help rebound, be a big rebounding presence.”
From when coach Dixon announced he was leaving until coach Stallings was hired and even going to when you decided to stick with Pitt, what do you remember that week or week and a half being like for you?
“I was talking to my parents about what we were going to do. I was trying to make the best decision for myself and my career, where I’m going to play the next four years and where I can get to the next level. That was the whole thing I was thinking about. I was just praying, trying to make the best decision for myself and my family.”
What was one instance or one moment in that whole scenario where you felt the most uncertain or were the most worried?
“After coach Dixon went to TCU and I didn’t know who the coach was going to be. Was this guy going to want me still? Would I come to Pittsburgh and contribute and be a part of the team? Was he going to treat me like his family, like coach Dixon treated me? Those were the main things I was wondering about.”
What went into your decision to de-commit after Stallings’ hire was announced?
“Me and my parents were talking and we thought the de-commitment was the best thing for me at the time. We wanted to weigh our options and not rush into anything. We still had Pitt on our list, of course, but we wanted coach Stallings to kind of recruit me like I was coming to Pitt kind of like he was trying to get me to Vanderbilt. I wanted to feel that type of connection with him.”
He was introduced as Pitt’s coach on March 28, I think a Monday. When did he first reach out to you?
“He contacted me either the day after or the day he got the job, I’m not sure. He definitely made it a point to contact me.”
What do you remember that first conversation or those first few conversations being like?
“I had talked to him previously because I was getting recruited by Vanderbilt. When I talked to him, he seemed like a straight shooter, which is what I got from him when I was talking to him at Vanderbilt. I felt like he had a good mindset for the team, a good mindset for me and I could tell he really wanted me. He liked the type of player I was and felt like I could fit in his system. That was great, getting that from him.”
What do you think it was that sold you and swayed you back to Pitt?
“Coach Stallings, he was straight up with me. He didn’t try to sell me a dream. He didn’t try to do too much. He told me how it was going to be. I feel like I can fit into his playing style. He’s a coach who lets his players play and that’s something I really like. I like a coach who will let me play because I’m not a guy who will do too great in a system where a coach wants you to run his specific style. I like a tough coach, but I kind of like that freedom coach Stallings gives you. That won me over.”
What were some of the differences you noticed between Stallings and Dixon, as far as how the recruiting process went and how they wanted to utilize you as a guard?
“A few of the differences were the playing style. Coach Dixon likes to play up and down, but it’s a little different than coach Stallings. That’s really all he [Stallings] wants to do. He wants to get up and down any chance he can. He wants to play a little bit faster and get up a lot of shots. That was one of the differences I saw. And I think coach Stallings is a little more fiery than coach Dixon, but they both get up in you when they have to.”
With James Robinson graduating, the point guard position is kind of up for grabs at Pitt. How do you envision your role freshman year? Do you feel like you have the chance to make an impact and play some big minutes?
“Most definitely. I’m trying to come in and start from day one. That’s my mindset. I’m just trying to come in and lead the team and contribute where I can. If I don’t start, I’ll give great minutes off the bench -- coming in and playing with energy, leading, talking, playing great defense, pushing the ball, scoring when I can. I’m trying to help the team win.”
How difficult is it to make such a life-changing decision – where you’re going to college and where you’re taking your career – in such a relatively short period of time?
“It’s definitely difficult. First off, making a college decision was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever been through in my life, listening to different coaches, trying to find the right system, trying to find the right fan base, coaching staff, academics and all of that. It was definitely tough. Recommitting back to coach Stallings was tough, just because there wasn’t a lot of time. I had to get a good feel for coach Stallings. It made it easier that I already had a relationship with him previously. That made it a lot easier to make the decision.”
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG
These kind of posts have a tendency to be a little self-indulgent and drag on, so I’ll aim to keep this brief.
My name is Craig Meyer and I’m the Post-Gazette’s new Pitt basketball writer. In addition to my basketball responsibilities, which will take up the bulk of this position, I’ll also be helping out my colleague, Sam Werner, with Pitt football and the paper’s overall coverage of the university’s athletic department. Paul Zeise, who did a great job covering the team the past two seasons, will be writing sports opinion pieces for the paper, an area in which he should more than excel.
Before we get going, a little bit about me: I’ve been at the Post-Gazette for about the past three and a half years, a period in which I most recently covered Duquesne basketball and West Virginia football. In the two-or-so years prior to that, I wrote about high school sports and Robert Morris basketball, along with a few other things.
College basketball, for as long as I can remember, has been a part of who I am. I grew up in Louisville, Ky., nestled near the center of a geographic triangle that connects three of the sport’s preeminent programs, where basketball is less a sport and more a way of life. It’s cliché, but to many, it’s religion, a game with an appeal and importance that transcends what it actually is — 10 college-aged kids chucking a rubber ball at a metal iron (which I believe some now call a “basketball ring”).
Once I left there almost a decade ago, that kind of obsessive behavior increasingly mystified me, but my passion for the sport never waned, especially once I started covering it in a journalistic capacity.
That passion translates to my work and on this kind of a beat, it will need to. Pitt plays in arguably the best conference in college basketball and, going back to its days in the Big East, has for some time. It has made the NCAA tournament in 13 of the past 15 seasons. Its league affiliation and recent success aside, it’s a major college basketball team in a city without a professional franchise in that sport. This is a very, very important program in this city’s revered sports landscape and you can expect my coverage to reflect that.
Anyone that has followed my work with Duquesne and, before that, Robert Morris knows that I like advanced statistics, the kind of things like offensive and defensive efficiency, rebounding percentage and percentage of shots taken. For as much as I reference those numbers — and as important as I believe they are in painting a more accurate and nuanced picture of how a team is performing — you can’t fully understand the game without also relying on what you see play out on the court, the kinds of little things that gradually add up and can be the difference between a win and a loss, a successful season and a subpar one.
My main passion and the thing that guided me in this profession, though, is telling stories. These games are played and coached by people, some of whom have very unique backgrounds. I’ve encountered that in my four years in Pittsburgh covering college basketball, from the Robert Morris senior who played in the memory of a fallen friend to the Duquesne guard and assistant coach who helped each other battle through separate bouts with cancer.
I’ll be covering this team differently than Paul did because no two journalists approach their work in an identical way. But, ideally, journalism is a conversation, not a lecture. While I will have my own way of writing about Pitt, if there’s something you liked that Paul did or have any other comments, feel free to email me at email@example.com or just reach out to me on Twitter @CraigMeyerPG. As you’ll learn, I’m always happy to chat, even if it sometimes takes a little longer than I’d like to get back to you.
This is a devout sports town that, contrary to how some view it, has a lot of smart, dedicated basketball fans. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to get started.
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG
AND ON THE 6TH DAY, OUR LONG NATIONAL NIGHTMARE WAS OVER….
Well, at least MY nightmare is over because the coaching search is over.
So I will try to wrap up the search in a nice bow, then sign off for the night and relax and crack open a few adult beverages on my couch as I watch basketball games….
As you know, Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings is now Pitt’s head basketball coach. I could give you a long look at his resume but instead, here is the official announcement from Pitt.
Now then, Stallings’ name didn’t emerge in the search until Saturday afternoon and that has raised some questions about the search firm, who was a candidate and who was interviewed.
Look, we are never going to get the truth from anyone, that’s the nature of these things. Refer back to one of my first blog posts where I attempted to define the words offer, interview, contact and interest, if you are still confused as to why that always is.
I will say this – I know of at least one other of the candidates that was offered the job (and that doesn’t even include the Miller brothers), but this will never be on the record and I’m sure we will be told Stallings was the only candidate and the first choice and all that stuff tomorrow.
So there is no need to dwell on it, but the reality is Barnes interviewed several candidates, at least one said no, and he turned his attention to hiring Stallings and got it done pretty quickly.
Again, I’m sure they will say he was their first choice and blah blah blah – but there is plenty of reason to believe he wasn’t. In the end that doesn’t matter because he is the guy, and now we can move forward with dissecting the hire and what it means.
*** First, conspiracy theorists were alive and well Saturday when all of this broke, and for obvious reasons. Stallings was reported to have been fired at Vanderbilt on Thursday by several outlets, the SID issues a statement saying that isn’t true and less than 48 hours later he is negotiating with Pitt.
Now, what conspiracy you ask?
Well, the conspiracy of cronyism and the questionable ethics of search firms for college searches …
The search firm that was used was Collegiate Sports Athletics and the CEO is Todd Turner, who used to be the athletic director at Vanderbilt and also at Washington.
Turner hired Stallings at Vanderbilt in 1999, Stallings was a client of the search firm and Barnes was Turner’s deputy athletic director at Washington from 2005-08.
So there is a legit question of whether this was a case of an “old buddies network” scratching each other’s back or if Barnes really had Stallings in mind from the start of the search.
I mean, if Vandy was on the verge of firing Stallings – and Barnes had struck out with a few candidates – could Turner have said to Vandy “I have a solution” to Stallings “I have a solution” and to Barnes “I have a solution” to make this work?
As I first reported Saturday, they were negotiating Stallings’ buyout and my source told me it was not seen as even a little bit of an obstacle.
It would be real easy to see these dots getting connected – Turner brokers a deal with Vandy to get Stallings hired elsewhere so they don’t have to pay his buyout for firing him and delivers him to Pitt for a reduced number to buy him out of his Vanderbilt contract.
So problem solved – Vandy gets rid of a coach it wanted to fire and not only doesn’t have to pay him to leave but gets a few bucks back from Pitt; Pitt gets an experienced and somewhat successful coach to come for cheap; and Turner collects fees from both sides because he has successfully helped one of his clients find a job while helping another client to fill a vacancy.
Again, I stress, I am NOT reporting that this is what happened because I don’t know and obviously, again, we will never know – but this scenario, these questions that arise, these seemingly conflicts of interest, are exactly why a lot of people question the ethics of colleges using these search firms.
It may – all of it – have been completely a coincidence that there are these connections and Pitt ended up with Stallings, but these are questions already being asked by a lot of people because it just doesn’t look right on certain levels.
I’m willing to give Pitt the benefit of the doubt on this one until I see solid evidence (not speculation and connecting dots) that Turner and his crew hooked up old friends to help out another old friend.
But it really does raise serious questions about search firms because most that I’ve come across or heard of are run by former athletic directors and coaches, and that’s begging for conflicts of interest to occur.
I will say one more time, I am NOT accusing Pitt of doing anything unethical; I am just saying these are questions a lot of people are asking today and I spelled out exactly why.
*** I’m willing to give Scott Barnes the benefit of the doubt and say that he does know what he is doing, and this was a case of him hiring a guy he thought was best fit to move the Panthers forward. And that’s because I have had plenty of interactions with him and have gotten to know him well and he seems to be very bright, a guy with vision, he is driven and he is no nonsense.
There isn’t a lot of BS with him. He knows where he wants to go, he believes he has a plan to get there and he believes his track record will get people on board to follow him. Time will tell, as I wrote, but this hire will be a big part of his legacy and he is smart enough to know that.
**** I don’t want to be THAT guy, but the outrage over this hiring -- while understandable when more exciting names like Enfield and Drew were involved with this discussion – is a little bit over the top. Actually, the outrage is a lot over the top.
I know Stallings feels a bit like a retread hire, and I know that he isn’t a young “up and comer” -- he is an established guy who has been around a long time. That profile is often times not quite as sexy as the risky, unknown guy, but the safe hire has worked out in the past.
And this isn’t like Pitt hired the worst basketball coach on the planet.
The guy has 38 years of experience, he coached under Roy Williams, he coached under Gene Keady, he played for Keady – he has been around the block a few times.
He is known as a very good offensive coach, a good X’s and O’s guy and he has had seven of his players get drafted in the NBA – and that number will grow to at least nine and maybe 10 once a couple of his current players graduate or put their names in the hat.
I know, I know – “but he had two or three legitimate NBA guys and only got to the First Four and then got waxed by Wichita State,” and maybe they underachieved a bit this year.
And yep, the last few years haven’t been great --- but think Jamie Dixon’s last few years and why almost everyone involved thought this was the perfect time for him to leave: Maybe it was a little burnout and time for him to go find a new challenge.
Same thing with Stallings – maybe it was time for a new challenge.
I am not saying it is going to work out, nobody knows, but I am saying that it COULD work out and there are a lot of things to like about this hire if you (a) wanted a guy who has experience recruiting to a major conference in the South and (b) wanted a guy who runs a lot of good offense based on guards who can really score.
Yes, a mid-major guy such as Drew or Will Wade would get people excited at the press conference – but there is risk there. Ben Howland was a mid-major guy and it was a home run; Ralph Willard, not so much.
In this case, you know what you are getting and he has proven he can win in a major conference at a place where it is tougher to win at than Pitt because of the academic/admissions standards.
Now, you can counter that the ACC is much better than the SEC, and that is true – but wouldn’t you agree Vanderbilt is probably the toughest job in the SEC because it is so much different than the other schools in that conference?
Only time will tell if it is going to work and I do appreciate the sense of disappointment from Pitt fans because y’all had visions of Enfield bringing Dunk City to the Pete or whatever.
But my two cents are to at least give this one a chance because I do think Kevin Stallings has been better – at a tough place to win – than you think, and I do think he will be able to recruit good players to Pitt.
*** In fact – he just made his first offer a few hours ago, to 2017 point guard Aaron Thompson of Paul VI in Virginia. Thompson announced that he got an offer from Stallings on Twitter –he plays AAU for Team Takeover. He has offers from VCU, DePaul, Temple, Penn State, Miami, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and a bunch of other schools as well. He is 6-foot-2, 175 pounds and is a four-star recruit by Scout and ESPN.
*** Speaking of players, it is well documented that things didn’t end well at Vanderbilt for Sheldon Jeter.
He left the school after his freshman year in 2013 and said he wanted to play closer his to home, and Stallings said publicly that he gave him his blessing to leave and transfer.
But then Stallings blocked Jeter from going to Pitt, there were rumors of tampering, and Jeter had some hard feelings and ended up having to go to Polk Junior College for a year before arriving at Pitt for the 2014-15 season.
This has been a huge deal and brought up early and often by a lot of different people since last night when it broke that Stallings might be the coach.
“You can’t hire Stallings, he screwed over Sheldon Jeter, he isn’t an honorable guy and Jeter will leave…”
Well, here is the deal:
As it turns out, most of you are a lot more upset about all of that stuff than Jeter is himself.
Oh, there are still some things to work through I am sure but the truth is Stallings and Jeter talked today and apparently it went very well and both parties seem to be ready to put the past behind them and move forward and work together.
Does that mean Jeter isn’t going to transfer or there aren’t some more conversations that need to and will take place between Stallings and Jeter?
No, anything can happen, but it sounds like the two have taken a pretty good first step, and from what I have been told by two different sources, the “hard feelings” and whatnot between Jeter and Stallings was a little bit overstated.
Sure, it is easy to say now that circumstances have come together ,but I honestly will be surprised if Jeter transfers for his final year.
**** Stallings has a video he would love to see disappear from YouTube that shows him berating a player going through a handshake line and yelling “I will [expletive] kill you” because they kid was taunting the other team and showboating at the end of a game they were winning.
This has become the narrative that Stallings is a fiery guy, maybe a wacko and he is a yeller and a maniac that berates players.
One of his current players disagrees with that – former Plum star Nolan Cressler, a redshirt junior guard who transferred from Cornell to Vanderbilt to finish his last couple of years. Here is what he said to our own Mike White today about playing for Stallings.
“I liked him,” Cressler said. “I respect coach Stallings. I think he’s a man of value and he really values high character kids. I think he’s about doing the right thing and I think 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.”
Cressler said that Stallings’ style of play was indeed a draw, but not because he is some up-tempo run and gun coach, just that he has a proven track record of having his guards score a lot.
But as far as his actual style of play, Cressler said the big thing is that he adapts to his talent and this year, they were a lot more structured on offense than in the past – though the structure is not so rigid that players can’t make decisions and plays on their own.
“The past two years has been the same style basically with the same personnel,” Cressler said. “But talking to players in the past and two of our coaches who played for him, they said they played completely different than we are. Obviously, it’s up to [Stallings], but he doesn’t necessarily bring a set style. He develops his style around the pieces he has.
“The way we played this year was very structured. I can’t even name the number of plays we had. It was less kind of a go-play style and more structured. It was just about having different alternatives. If someone was denied a pass, you have different alternatives.”
One other thing Cressler said – the team had an idea the last few weeks that Stallings may be making a move, so this wasn’t a surprise to any of them and he did reach out to each of them via the phone because he was in Florida with his son, Jacob, who is a catcher in the Pirates organization.
*** Speaking of endorsements, I spoke with Ben Howland today and he had nothing but praise for Stallings and said that Pitt pulled off a real coup by hiring him. He said the two go back 30 years, and he called Stallings “one of the best offensive coaches in the country.”
Howland said that Stallings was able to recruit NBA players to Vanderbilt and that isn’t an easy thing to do “he has two first round draft picks on his team right now and that’s a credit to him and his ability to recruit but not only recruit but develop players.”
“This was a real coup for Pitt, a steal for them, an absolute no-brainer hire,” said Howland, who is the coach at Mississippi State. “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.
“Vanderbilt was the best defensive team in our league [the SEC], but he is also one of the very best offensive coaches in the country. As someone who loves Pitt basketball as much as I do and as someone who was honored to be a part of that program, I am truly excited about the future of the program.”
Howland, by the way, said he loves it at Mississippi State, has really fit in and been embraced by the community and has an excellent recruiting class coming in and he is focused on a future that he thinks is going to be really bright there.
I asked him about the culture shock of going from Los Angeles, Hollywood, etc., to Starkville, Miss., and he said it has been an easy transition because “the people here have been fantastic.”
He said Pitt fans should be excited about the hire of Stallings because he is far more experienced and accomplished than a lot of other coaches and he will be able to continue to build on what Jamie Dixon did.
“Jamie Dixon is the best coach and most accomplished coach in Pitt history,” Howland said. “He did an unbelievable job at Pitt and deserves all the credit for everything he did because it is nothing short of amazing in many, many ways.
“And now I fully believe that Kevin will build on that. I really mean that, like I said, I love Pitt, I love that university and that program and that city – It really makes me happy to know that the program is in such capable hands.”
Obviously, Stallings is Howland’s friend, and he is going to say nice things about him but he raved about his X’s and O’s and how good of a coach he is.
So you can take it for what it is worth but I’m going to go out on a limb and say Howland knows a thing or two about good basketball coaches.
*** Speaking of Dixon, I asked Howland about him and he said that it was just a unique experience for Dixon to be able to go back to TCU, his alma mater, and is a firm believer that the timing was right.
“Jamie is my best friend, I talked to him all the time,” Howland said. “I think that the ability go back to a place he went to school, a place he loves, a place he has a lot of friends still at, that was really just too good to pass up.
“That team has struggled for the last few years and Jamie saw this as an opportunity to go back there and help rebuild it and finish his career at a place it started. He will get that program up and running again and sooner than people think because he has experience doing it and knows how to do it.”
**** I also spoke with ex-Purdue coach Gene Keady, who coached Stallings and then Stallings was his assistant for six years. That’s what I wrote before – talk about pedigree, Stallings coached under both Keady and Roy Williams (at Kansas) so he has some pretty good mentors.
Keady joked that he is just glad Stallings wanted to get into coaching and stuck with it “after dealing with me for so many years.”
But he said that the best thing that Stallings has done is that he has done things with integrity.
“He is a great X’s and O’s guy, he really knows and understands the game,” Keady said. “He will be a great fit in Pittsburgh, they like guys who work hard there, I love that city. And he won’t take short cuts, will do the right thing, he stands for the right things. It is a great hire for Pitt.”
*** The beauty of a coaching search is once it is over, everyone goes back to their normal lives and acts like nothing happened. Nobody contacted anyone, nobody talked to anyone and all of that other stuff I’ve written about…..
There are denials, non-denial denials and a lot of guys who will end up cashing in with contract extensions as a result.
One coach who was supposedly involved but apparently was not is UNC Wilmington’s Kevin Keatts. His agent, Myles B. Solomon, reached out to me this morning to say that Keatts had no contact with Pitt or with anyone on behalf of Pitt. So there’s that…
But Knight, Enfield, Drew and Lonergan all were involved and Wade was at least on the radar if things didn’t get done with Stallings. Interestingly enough Wade is already a coach whose name is surfacing at Vanderbilt so we shall see. None of it matters now nor will we ever get the whole truth about things but it is amazing to follow these things and see how they unfold.
I don’t know if Brandin Knight will have a chance to stay or will even want to stay, but he is a classic example of how this business works: “We love loyalty but we value people who have some variety on their resume.”
I’m obviously not his agent and he is much smarter than me so he doesn’t need my advice, but the best thing he could do is go get a job somewhere else, either as a top assistant in a major conference or as the head coach at a smaller school.
That will give him some diversity on his resume and make himself more marketable when he tries to land his first major conference head coaching job.
I think he is going to be a very good coach, by the way. He is smart, driven, competitive and I think he connects with players and they respect him. He will be able to recruit and he will be able to win.
But again, he just needs a little more experience and it would serve him to get it elsewhere.
*** Well that’s about it, time to relax and have a few, um, adult beverages and watch basketball. I hope you have found these blog posts both informative and entertaining during the search. It has been a bit of a grind, but Pitt has a coach now and a new era of Pitt basketball is underway. I’ll have another post tomorrow after the press conference, sort of setting up the scene and reacting to what is said from Barnes, Stallings and whoever else is available to talk. And then, I will take a long winter’s nap…..or something like that.
I was told and reported earlier this evening that this thing is closing in on being done and it will be announced Monday or Tuesday and now we at least have a good idea who Pitt has zeroed in on - emphasis on a good idea because while some people are fairly sure, nobody seems to be 100 percent sure......
I have multiple sources telling me Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings is heavily involved in this job search and is one of the leading candidates. I was also told by a very good source that his buyout has to be negotiated and that is not considered an obstacle, that it can be worked out.
Credit where it is due -—Matt Steinbrink of Pantherlair.com was the first to report he had interviewed for the job and since then the whole thing has blown up.
Several good sources confirmed to me Stallings as a candidate for me and also one told me they were negotiating his buyout.
And then ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported that he is a serious candidate for the job and then CBS Sports Jon Rothstein reported he was offered the job and is expected to accept the job and be introduced Monday or Tuesday.
I haven’t had anyone tell me he is absolutely the guy - just that he is indeed a very serious candidate and they are negotiating his buyout and expected to be able to get through any of those issues.
But.........(always a but, and this is an important but)
I have had at least three different sources, one who is fairly decent, tell me to be careful because schools negotiate the framework of deals with multiple candidates in all of these searches and so that doesn’t mean Stallings is the front runner or going to be hired.
The fact that there are some negotiations going on doesn’t mean one guy or the other is going to be hired, it means they are trying to put together the framework for a deal to see if a deal can be made and it if it can, then they ”offer” a guy the job....
Now, I had the same sources tell me that Stallings may be a smoke screen leaked by his agent or the search firm while Barnes negotiates with one of the other two guys we know that are linked with that search firm - Kevin Keatts and Will Wade.
That’s some heavy conspiracy theory stuff there so I really don’t know what to believe, other than to say the source that told me that they are negotiating Stallings buyout is one of the best and most reliable sources I have and I have two others I trust telling me the same thing.
I’ll go with what we do know -—here are the facts as we know them:
1) Barnes returned from the road today after interviewing a bunch of candidates.
2) Barnes informed candidates that they were not going to get the job —most notably Brandin Knight was told he was out.
3) Multiple sources confirm that Barnes had settled in on a candidate and was on his way towards hammering out a deal and that it could be announced as soon as Monday or Tuesday.
4) Kevin Stallings is involved on some level with the Pitt coaching search and there has been some level of negotiations going on.
Those are the only facts we absolutely know to be true.
Again, I’ll pause ——-—Please remember the first post of the week - “nothing is done until it is signed, sealed and delivered” and “guys can change minds and dollar amounts can differ enough that deals fall apart” and the thing goes back to square one.
Nobody reported that Stallings was hired (though Rothstein has gone the farthest and said he was offered and will accept) and for good reason —there is no evidence that he has been hired. There are some signs that things may be headed in that direction but nowhere have I seen evidence that suggests he is definitely been hired.
He was reported to be a serious candidate and maybe even the front runner by several outlets and he might still be one of those things but until he is signed, sealed and delivered relax a little bit. Again, my sources have told me he is definitely a candidate but what that actually means, well, again can be interpreted a number of ways.
So that brings us to the other, what I call, interview guys (guys who were interviewed, depending on your definition of interview of course) —
I would think that a timetable of Monday or Tuesday would mean Bryce Drew and Mike Lonergan would be out just because they are both still coaching in the NIT and their teams don’t play until Tuesday.
That would leave of the known interview guys USC’s Andy Enfield, Wade and Keatts.
All three would be “win the press conference guys”, but Keatts obviously would have lots of questions to answer.
Like Keatts, Wade is a client of that search firm Collegiate Sports Associates and so for the ”wrong leaked name” or ”smoke screen leaked name” conspiracy theories, there is that link with those two guys (and I am willing to bet Pitt fans could live with either).
I actually believe this based on all I know about what Barnes is looking for - if it weren’t for the Louisville mess, Keatts might very well be the guy. Barnes apparently really is intrigued by him, which is why he interviewed him even though it is very much in question whether he could hire him or not.
And that brings up Enfield, the strange thing about him is his name has been out for a couple of days and there has been nothing at all out of USC, not even a non-denial denial type thing. So that tells me he is likely going to get an contract extension and raise from USC soon.....
Now I was told there was at least two other interviews of guys whose names we haven’t confirmed (could Linc Darner be one of them?) and now we come to find out that one of them was Stallings.
I will say this - I don’t think Barnes can hire Keatts but if he does it means this dude has, um, onions and ain’t afraid to roll the dice.
Oh and one other thing - Herb Sendek rumors are and were always silly. He reached out but Pitt never talked to him. All is not lost for him though as he is expected to be the next coach at Santa Clara.......
I will continue to update you with any nugget of information I can come up with and hopefully I’ll be able to solidify this thing with Stallings as quickly as possible......(Barnes, however, has done a great job of keeping all this stuff close to the vest and even people who would normally be in the know, don’t really know much of anything...)
And just for those keeping score...
Steinbrink first on Stallings interviewed, I was first on ”a deal is being negotiated and be announced on Monday or Tuesday” and Rothstein was first on ”offered and will accept”
That’s how a story advances and why it is so hard to get a clean break on a story these days.
Are we having fun yet?
Ok, the wheels are finally churning, at least in terms of some more information about the coaching search.
Obviously the Georgia Tech job opened up Friday and that complicates some things for the Pitt search because some of the same candidates will now have a second suitor from the same league.
I don’t know which job is actually better, though I will say the team coming back to Pitt is far better than the team coming back to Georgia Tech since they lost their four best players. Pitt has 7 of its top 9 scorers returning while Georgia Tech is a total rebuild job.
In fact, that’s one reason Brian Gregory was fired despite having a nice run in the NIT. If this was year one or two, a deep run in the NIT could be built on — but this was a team with a lot of seniors and a graduate transfer and so this was supposed to be the year of a breakthrough and it didn’t happen. Five years was enough.
But, that doesn’t matter right now because Pitt isn’t sitting on its hands, there have been a couple of interviews already and there are more interviews planned over the next few days....
Three guys that sources have told me Pitt is going to interview are Mike Lonergan from George Washington, Bryce Drew from Valparaiso and Andy Enfield from USC.
Those interviews should take place rather quickly, as in over the course of the next couple of days, and don’t bother driving around Oakland, going to the Airport Marriott or Nemacolin because they are all going to take place at undisclosed locations in different states.
We also know Brandin Knight is coach who is in the interview process and we have already covered that he is the choice of the players.
One other coach that I was told has been discussed a lot and may get an interview is Wisconsin-Green Bray coach Linc Darner, who has only year of Division I experience but his team averaged 83.7 points per game.
He is intriguing to Barnes because of his uptempo style and because his teams score a lot of points. He was a Division II head coach for 14 years before going to Green Bay and he made the NCAA Tournament, advanced in it pretty much annually and like I said the scoring and shooting numbers are impressive. He won a Division II National title at St. Joe’s Indiana (that team Pitt played this year) last year.
Like I said, I haven’t been able to confirm he is going to get an interview, but he is certainly being discussed at length. There is some concern about his lack of Division I experience, but his style of play and coaching experience at the Division II level makes him a coach they want to look at a little more closely.
Recruiting will be a question with Darner because that’s a big jump in a short time from Division II to mid-major for a year to the ACC - but Bo Ryan made a similar jump from Division III and that seemed to work out. Plus, I would think his system will recruit itself as guys will be able to let it fly and run ‘n gun.
Butler coach Chris Holtmann is another coach that Barnes likes but I haven’t been able to confirm an interview or pending interview with him and one source told me the feeling among Pitt’s leadership is that he isn’t leaving Butler this year.
And UAB’s Jerod Haas was high on the list and was going to get an interview but cross him off as you might have heard already - he is headed to Stanford.
There were some rumblings that perhaps Duke assistant Jeff Capel may be getting a look but apparently he is not in the mix (and may actually be a candidate at Georgia Tech).