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An introduction

By Craig Meyer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 22 minutes ago

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 cmeyer@post-gazette.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: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG


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A Wild Ride Ends: Stallings hired, other Pitt basketball news and notes

By Paul Zeise 1 month ago

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.


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Is Kevin Stallings the guy?

By Paul Zeise 1 month ago

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?


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Pitt Coaching Search: A couple of interviews

By Paul Zeise 1 month ago

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).


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Coaching search Thursday news and notes

By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1 month ago


Brandin Knight, left, with Jamie Dixon (Keith Srakocic/Associated Press)

Here is some news, notes and thoughts about the coaching search and another candidate (though, well, read on)….

Let’s start with Brandin Knight, who I’m told will definitely interview for the job and will be a legitimate candidate. It won’t be a courtesy interview, and he will be thoughtfully considered for the job.

He has been endorsed by players, former players and Jamie Dixon. I’m sure if someone asked Ben Howland, he would give Knight an endorsement. And none of that is a surprise.

He is, probably more than Dixon or Howland, the face of this great era of Pitt basketball. He’s a guy who symbolizes everything this era has been about: Toughness, competitiveness, desire, onions. ... And on top of all that, he is one of the best players in school history.

I’ll go one step further: If you are going to compile a list of the best players in BIG EAST history and it doesn’t include Brandin Knight, then your list is not worth anything.

I know, I know. A bunch of lottery picks and high-level NBA guys played in the Big East, and Knight wasn’t one of those guys. But none of that has anything to do with a discussion of best players in Big East history, as it is a discussion of college basketball players, not pro prospects. And, by the way, take a look at the list of NBA guys that got their tail ends kicked by Knight and his teammates.

So that is a very, very long way of saying: It is easy to understand why the players want him, the guys who coached him want him and the players who played for him want him. If you want to talk about a guy whose competitive fire is burning, watch that guy on the sidelines when the other team is getting the best of Pitt and it is clear he wants to take his jacket and tie off and go out there and put in some work.

There are a lot of comparisons, also, to be made for when Dixon took over from Howland. Dixon had never been a head coach, he had been the top assistant at Pitt, he was a guy that was endorsed by players, former players and Howland — and it obviously worked out.

• But there are a few distinct differences that should be pointed out…

Dixon had been an assistant coach for 15 seasons before he was a head coach and was 38 years old. He had also worked at five different schools before he came to Pitt and worked under multiple head coaches.

Knight is 34, he has only been an assistant for eight years and only at Pitt and only under Dixon.

So there is a clear difference in their resume and experience level, and the only reason I point that out is because experience matters. And more importantly, just because the two situations on the surface seem the same, they aren’t really.

This is a different program now, a different challenge and a different era.

I am not saying that Brandin Knight couldn’t do the job or shouldn’t get the job — it is not my job to advocate for or against candidates — I’m just trying to look at the situation analytically as to why this isn’t exactly the same situation as when Dixon was hired.

• Pitt right now, I think, is a tougher job than it was in 2003 when Dixon took over because the program Dixon inherited was on the upswing and was really in good place.

This job, while still in a reasonably good place, needs a little bit of tender loving care. I mean, to put it in housing terms, this isn’t a total fixer-upper, but it is a house in a good neighborhood that you got for a little less than market value because the kitchen and bathroom need to be updated some.

There is a little bit of rebuilding that needs to be done, the transition to becoming an ACC has gotten started but isn’t completed and this group of players has an interesting personality that needs to be managed a certain way.

Again, I’m not saying Knight isn’t up to the job because I believe that guy can do anything he puts his mind to, but it is important to understand that is why Scott Barnes and company are considering other options. It also, I think, underscores why they are putting such a heavy importance on the new guy having head coaching experience or significant experience as a high-level assistant coach.

One last thing on this: I keep reading, hearing, having people email me, talk to me about how “if they don’t hire Knight, players will leave and they might lose their recruits!”

OK, I’m going to sound very callous here, but listen before you jump down my throat…

WHO CARES?

First off, a few players are going to leave even if Knight is hired, this is college athletics in the 2010s and beyond and every team has attrition and guys leaving every year.

Second, the list of players who would leave because of a new coach is not nearly as great as you think, no matter what they say right now. The new coach will come in, give his speech to them about what he wants and his vision, and most (because they are smart and know they are in a good spot) will come out and say, “Wow, he was impressive, we love him, I can’t wait to get started!”

How do I know this?

Because, again, I’ve been through about, well, too many to count, coaching searches. And only once — when Pitt hired Michael Haywood — have I ever heard players upset and not get on board quickly. Sure, guys leave because they don’t fit the style or don’t see themselves with a role, but all of that happens after practices. And, like I said, this happens after just about EVERY coaching search.

Let’s do the math:

This team has four juniors, who are also four of the five best players returning. And outside of maybe Chris Jones, who I think either has or will graduate, I don’t know that any of them can transfer somewhere else and play for their final year. So I’m thinking they will be back.

Every conversation I’ve had with Ryan Luther (and that includes early this season when he wasn’t getting much playing time) has been very consistent: He loves it at Pitt, loves the school, loves playing in front of his family and friends, grew up watching Pitt and he doesn’t want to go anywhere else.

I haven’t had the same conversation with Cam Johnson, but I’m fairly certain staying at Pitt is his first choice regardless of his coach.

As for the recruits, the new guy will try to keep the three guys coming in. But here is the reality: If they don’t want to come, it gives the new coach more open scholarships to find players that fit what he is looking for.

So, if three of the four juniors (and again, I’m not saying Jones will leave, just that he is the one who would have the option) and the two sophomores (I know, I know, Cam is a redshirt freshman eligibility-wise, but those two came in together) are almost locks to come back regardless of who is the coach, I’m thinking that the team will be in great shape.

• In today’s paper, I published the initial list of coaches that Pitt wants to contact.

It is — deep breath — just the initial list the school was working with and is probably not complete. Scott Barnes obviously has his short-list guys (like Sean Miller) but the list shows that this is going to be a thorough process. I was told yesterday that three of the guys they are really interested in are still coaching in the NIT or NCAA tournament.

As we have seen in countless coaching searches that involve a search firm, the initial list is often broad and may not even contain the guy who actually gets the job. But it is a starting point.

This was not a guess of who Pitt will hire as its new coach, it was a list of initial coaches Pitt will either have contacted or will contact.

What I do like about it is that it shows Barnes is willing to kick the tires on a lot of the hot names among mid-major coaches.

From what I can gather, Bryce Drew seems to be somewhat high on the wish list, but they will have competition for him from St. Louis, among some other schools.

The formal interview process for real candidates is expected to begin in the next day or two.

The reason Pitt has yet to hire a coach is because it’s just getting started with interviews, the real formal interviews. I want to clarify that because again “define interview” - Barnes hasn’t spent the last three days sitting on his thumbs, he has spoke to guys, had some conversations, got some things set up for next few days etc.,etc. You don’t want to wait too long, and Pitt isn’t but Barnes does want to go through a good process. He wants to make sure that he gets the right guy. 

• Maybe this is burying the lede, but here is another name to add to the list – and it is an intriguing one.

Pitt is interested in at least kicking the tires on North Carolina-Wilmington coach Kevin Keatts. And under normal circumstances, he might actually be at or very near the top of the list.

The 43-year-old is an up-and-comer with head coaching experience (Colonial Athletic Conference coach of the year twice in a row) and was the top assistant at a big time program.

He has experience winning recruiting battles in a power conference.

He is also from Lynchburg, Va., worked at Hargrave Military Academy for a bunch of years, meaning he has deep ties in the footprint of the ACC. And he is African-American, which, at an urban school like Pitt would be an added bonus. 

BUT there is just one issue — the “big-time program” he recruited for is Louisville, and he did it from 2011-14.

Yes, THAT Louisville. We’re talking about the Andre McGee years, which you may know from the stripper/prostitute/$10K bagmen scandal and as the reason Louisville is not in the NCAA tournament.

Keatts is a very good coach and probably would have a lot more teams coming to try and get him, but the risk is there. He is probably a bit to toxic until the scandal is fully investigated. It is hard to pull the trigger on hiring a guy today who was on a staff that is being investigated for a major recruiting scandal. Maybe he had nothing to do with it.

The worst case scenario would be if Pitt hires him, he hits the recruiting trail and then the facts of the investigation come out and he is named as one who handed money over to someone or knew what was going on and said nothing.

I’m not saying Pitt — or any school — can’t or won’t hire him, but they are certainly going to take a lot of time to go through the vetting process (more than usual) with him.

There are a lot of people freaking out about how bad it looks for Pitt that two native sons of Pittsburgh and the man responsible for building the program the first time (Ben Howland) have turned the job down.

I’ve heard this countless times from people in the past 24 hours: “If those three don’t want the job, nobody will want the job!”

Relax, please.

1) Sean Miller was never coming here. He said it many times over the past three years. Read yesterday’s blog post for more on this.

2) Archie Miller left Pittsburgh when he was 18 years old and never looked back. Yes, his family is still here, but I’ve talked to his dad, John Miller, in recent years and it is clear he is on the verge of becoming one of these snowbirds who maintains his house here and buys one in Arizona or Florida for the winters. And those people (I know, because my parents fit in that category) generally like the idea of two residences until they have to try to maintain them and eventually they become permanent residents of the place with better weather. ... In short, I don’t know how much longer Archie’s family is going to live here, and that is the ONLY connection he has to Pitt. He didn’t play here, he has never really expressed a desire to be the Pitt coach, and frankly there is something to be said about not wanting to have to come here and live in Sean’s shadow. AND on top of that he has a great job already and is holding out for one of the top jobs because he thinks he may have a shot if he keeps getting to the NCAA tournament and winning games. Pitt reached out to him because, again, they needed to, but I know this for a fact: Barnes knew he had no chance of getting Archie, either.

3) Ben Howland. I’ve had enough conversations to know that the idea of Ben Howland coming back was met with a lot of lukewarm response from the people that matter. Yes, he was on the initial contact list, but very few people at the university wanted to go this direction. And the idea that he “turned down” Pitt is WAY overstating things. Someone of influence (a very relative term, by the way) apparently reached out to him and asked if he’d have interest in the job, and he said no. So, here we go again: What does that actually mean? Did he turn down Pitt or did he decline to talk to Pitt? He was never offered the job, depending on what your definition of offer is, of course. ... At any rate, he has a great recruiting class coming in and he is at a place where he has a much better chance to get to the top of the league than he does in the ACC. Why would he leave? I mean, OK, Kentucky – but to get to the point where he finishes second or third in the SEC is not going to require a whole lot of heavy lifting. There isn’t a North Carolina, Virginia, Duke, Louisville, Syracuse and Notre Dame waiting behind Kentucky.

So, what is my point? Simple: These are three guys that nobody who was paying attention believed would even think about coming to Pitt for a variety of reasons, and most of them had nothing to do with how good or bad the Pitt job is. Sean has a great job. Ben is in a place he knows he can win pretty quickly and already has a great recruiting class (six 4-star recruits coming in) and this was never Archie’s dream job or anything close.

Now Scott Barnes can say to the old-timers around the program and other key influential people and fans in general who wanted a “Pitt Guy”, well, we tried, and they said no.

Pitt will be fine. Pitt will find a very good coach. Take a deep breath and relax.

• By the way, remember when I wrote that Barnes was in his office interviewing Tuesday and even filled a spot for some internal jobs (which is why it was impossible for him to be at Nemacolin or the airport Marriott), well here you go, here is the hire:

University of Pittsburgh athletic director Scott Barnes announced today the hiring of Julio Freire as deputy athletic director for external affairs.

The athletic director at the University of Tennessee at Martin the past two years, Freire’s oversight at Pitt will include fundraising, ticket sales, marketing, branding, multimedia rights, licensing and merchandising.

“Julio brings a fresh perspective as well as a tremendous work ethic to Pitt Athletics,” Barnes said. “He will provide key leadership as we continue our departmental reorganization. In addition to overseeing our external functions, Julio will have a particular focus on our athletic development operations. His overall experience and passion for collegiate athletics will be a great asset for our entire department.”

“I’m incredibly honored to join Scott Barnes’ team at the University of Pittsburgh,” Freire said. “So many exciting things are happening at Pitt, not only athletically but throughout the entire university. It is a great time to be a Panther and I’m thrilled and appreciative my family has been given this opportunity.”


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