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).
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…
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.
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!”
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.”
Sean Miller (Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
Probably the worst feeling in the world when you are a beat reporter is when you are surfing on Twitter or listening to the radio or watching TV or surfing through some other new websites — and a huge breaking news story on your beat breaks and it was someone else who broke it.
That is bad enough, but generally if you are working on a story and are close to breaking it yourself, you can live with it because “well I was right there, at least I wasn’t caught in the dark, at least I can call my boss and say, ‘Hey, I didn’t get it but I knew about it and I have it.’”
A great example was Monday. Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports broke the actual news that Jamie Dixon had accepted the TCU job, but when the news broke, I was dialing the phone to tell my boss telling him I was going to file a short story that read “Dixon is leaning heavily towards accepting the job and barring a last-second change of heart, he’s expected to take it.”
In that case, I didn’t get the news first, but I wasn’t lost in it and so far behind that it caught me off guard. I was right on it, had followed it all day, and so, I could live with the fact that someone else beat me to the punch and got it out on the internet because he only beat me by a few minutes.
That’s not ideal (obviously you want to be first), but it happens, and these days there are so many outlets and so many leaks, it is getting more and more difficult to try to gather information and be the first to break the news.
And there is a competitive nature to all of this too – everybody wants to be first, to have the story, to be the guy who is seen as the authority on a story because you broke it.
So with that as the backdrop, I can honestly say that Tuesday — for about 15 minutes, maybe a little less — was the worst day of my professional career because I was 100 percent in the dark about one of the biggest breaking news stories involving Pitt athletics since I’ve been around and started covering the Panthers in 2001:
“KDKA-TV is reporting Sean Miller is in Pittsburgh and he has been offered the job and there is a 50 percent chance he will take it….”
My heart sank when it popped up on Twitter and I thought: “Good lord, this is the worst feeling ever. How could a guy with that many local ties come into town to interview and be offered the job and I didn’t know a thing about it….”
And this wasn’t some blog or some Internet site that has questionable sourcing or whatever — this was KDKA, which is a reputable news outlet with an impeccable reputation for doing things the right way.
And, again, if it is one of these other candidates from some mid-major or some other guy who has no ties to Pitt or Pittsburgh, again, it is tough, but the reality is I don’t have sources around (just throwing a name out) Stephen F. Austin so if Brad Underwood (I’ll use him because he already took another job so there won’t be any rumor that I am putting names out there) came through here and met with Pitt at the airport (or Nemacolin, where this Miller meeting allegedly took place), I might not get it first and I wouldn’t be happy, but I could live with it. I’d just have to do my best to catch up to the story, that’s all.
But Sean Miller, well, given how many people I have around me that run in those circles and from the basketball community, if he came in and interviewed and I had no clue it happened, well that would be a complete failure on my part....
So, because many of my followers on Twitter are Pitt fans, I retweeted the tweet with a link to the story, made a few comments about what an unbelievable development it is and then started to try and confirm it for myself.
My first phone call was going to be to my boss to say, “Um, I just got my ass whooped and I don’t have a good answer as to why…..”
But I figured I could soften the blow if I had some real information so I decided to try and confirm all this or some of it….
After about three phone calls this much became evident: I was completely in the dark about it all because the story wasn’t true, it didn’t happen and wasn’t ever going to happen.
You know the last time I had that absolute sinking feeling like “holy crap, I just got beat on THAT story” was when a different TV station reported “Tom Bradley to Pitt is a DONE DEAL”. Turns out there was a reason I was so far in the dark on that one, too…
Back to Tuesday — Best I can tell (again, everyone is lying to you — remember that motto as we go through this coaching search mess again) — Miller was never in Pittsburgh, he didn’t “interview for the job” and he never even considered the job and actually made it clear on multiple occasions he had no interest in the job.
Miller was in his office in Tucson and was seen at various points in Tucson by a number of different people at various stages of the day, and a reporter even took a picture of him walking outside his office and tweeted it.
And Scott Barnes couldn’t have interviewed him (again, this just goes to show the insanity that follows this stuff) either at the “Airport Marriott at 7:30” like one “source” said to KDKA nor at “Nemacolin” — where another ”source” said it took place — for a meeting that lasted all morning.
Do you know why?
Because he was at Pitt. More than one person confirmed this for me: by 8 a.m., Barnes did a radio interview with 93.7 The Fan morning show and shortly after 8:30 had a meeting, then conducted a couple of interviews for some administrative spots in the athletic department and apparently filled one of them.
So let’s do the math. For Miller to be in Pittsburgh for, let’s go with the 7:30 airport meeting, 7 a.m. — let’s do a 3-hour flight (which is probably aggressive) — he would have had to leave Arizona at 1 a.m. his time (because they are 3 hours behind).
He would have arrived at 7 and been in this meeting at 7:30 ... and Barnes was back in Oakland by about 8 a.m., give or take a couple of minutes.
So essentially, Barnes and Miller would have met for less than 5 minutes and Barnes would have done the near impossible — get from the airport to Oakland in about 25-30 minutes through morning rush hour traffic.
And to get to Nemacolin is even more ridiculous because it is, what, an hour, maybe 90 minutes from the airport?
Now, the only part of the timeline that could have worked is Miller sneaking back into Tucson before most people woke up — I mean, if he got on a plane at say 8:30 a.m. Eastern (again it is 3 hours ahead of Tucson and we are assuming a 3-hour flight) he could have gotten back to Tucson by 8:30 and been in his office by about 9:15 without anyone suspecting anything.
But here is the problem with that: why would he fly all the way across the country for a 5-minute meeting with Barnes for a job he had no interest in and wasn’t going to take?
None of it adds up or makes a lot of sense if you sit down and do the math and logically walk your way through it.
So, not only did I have at least four different people I trust and know tell me “this did not happen, it is fiction,” I sat down and tried to think “well, maybe it did and they are lying to me to cover for Miller.” But I couldn’t, because it just didn’t add up.
As an aside, that has happened, you know, in the past — a football head coach candidate once told me flat out he wasn’t in Indianapolis interviewing with Jeff Long and told me that he never left the campus he worked at that day and said, “Hundreds of kids and high school coaches saw me at the coaches clinic we had, I can put you in touch with them.”
That was interesting to me, considering two other coaches on the guy’s staff, well, they told me there wasn’t a coaches clinic, the dude wasn’t in the office and he told the one he was going to Indianapolis to look into a job. ... Oops.
The best part was that I called Long to see if he would answer the phone and give me the truth on it, and he actually answered and said, “How the hell do you find these things out?” And then gave me the “I cannot confirm or deny anything and won’t respond to speculation” nonsense.
Anyway, I don’t want to get side-tracked, but that’s just another one of those silly stories about how all these people — coaches, administrators, sources, people who think they are sources, agents, PR people — lie during coaching searches.
Once I established and confirmed that this Sean Miller story was false, I had to then try to clean up a bit of a mess and began to tweet that I had confirmed Miller wasn’t in Pittsburgh, hadn’t been offered the job and even confirmed that his brother, Archie, wasn’t interested either.
But then people started attacking my friend, Rich Walsh of KDKA, for breaking this story, and people accused him of lying and making things up and everything else. I don’t like that because he is a good dude, and he has some very good sources (he was the one who broke the Pat Narduzzi-to-Pitt story). So I asked myself, “How could this have happened?” And better yet, “How can I explain to people how something like this can happen?”
In this case, my guess is good sources gave him bad or incomplete info.
I did the best I could do on my radio show last night to explain how things like this can happen, but let me expand on these thoughts a little.
We have had, in the past 15 years, the following headlines. All of them were for different reasons and all taught reporters of all ilk many good lessons. But after going through 9,789,786 coaching searches in my 15 years covering Pitt, I completely understand how they could happen:
(Names of reporters/outlets withheld to protect the innocent)
• Tom Bradley: Done Deal at Pitt!!
In this case, a guy who should have been a very good and reliable source told a bit of a fib. And the reporter in question got burned because he didn’t double back with other sources to see if their stories matched. If he had done that, he would have found out that no other source was telling the story that Bradley was hired. That may have made him soften his words a bit. People actually were killing me yesterday because I was so cautious in the way I reported Dixon leaving and used a lot of qualifying words like ”likely,” ”perhaps” and ”expected to,” but that’s because you can’t put yourself out there until you are sure it is indeed a done deal.
Lesson learned: If only one source, no matter how good, is telling you something and it doesn’t match what any other source is telling you, it might not be true and you should be careful to use words like “done deal.”
• Rich Rodriguez: Next head coach at Alabama
In this case, the reporter wrote a true story but made one fundamental mistake. They forgot that it isn’t over until the news conference happens. And by the time the next morning rolled around, Rodriguez had a change of heart and boosters were able to convince him to stay.
Lesson learned: If ”an agreement is reached” but hasn’t been signed and the coach hasn’t gotten on a plane, then be very careful saying he will be the next guy at the new stop because he can always change his mind, have a change of heart or circumstances (like an AD coming to his senses and offering to give in to the coach’s demands to keep him) can change. It isn’t a done deal until he the contract is signed and he isn’t going to be the next guy at least until he is on his way to the next stop and even then use a softer phrase like ”expected to be...”
• Russ Grimm: Next Steelers coach
Not sure what happened here, I’ve heard various stories as to why it happened so I won’t speculate. One thing I will say: In many cases a story like this happens because a guy relies too heavily on what an agent or a family member says and gets burned. Again, not saying that happened here because I don’t know, but the lesson in that case is this: You can’t report something as done unless someone from the other side confirms it.
• Dave Wannstedt: Pulls name out of consideration for Pitt job
This one was actually true, 100 percent true. Wannstedt wasn’t happy with money for his assistants and some other issues and told Jeff Long, um, no, I am no longer interested. So, Long moved on. But after a few days of a semi-meandering search, chancellor Mark Nordenberg stepped in and made a call to Wannstedt and asked him to reconsider and told him he would sweeten the pot on some things. About five days after withdrawing from the job, Wannstedt was being introduced as the new coach.
Lesson learned: Circumstances change, so just because a guy is out of the search on Thursday doesn’t mean he can’t be hired on Saturday. It doesn’t mean people were lying or making up stories on Thursday, it may just mean things changed between Thursday and Saturday.
We have had countless examples of “Joe Blow is a candidate for Job X” followed by “Joe Blow said he never spoke to Job X” — and those things are far too many to count and try and figure out.
But in general, and before this Pitt coaching search really gets going, here is my best shot at trying to explain why this nonsense happens all the time and also why there are so many conflicting reports.
Again, go back to that story about the football candidate in Indy. The guy from the Rivals or Scout site that covered the coach’s team wrote a piece ridiculing “erroneous reports from Pittsburgh” because he talked to the candidate and the candidate said it all was speculation.
Problem for him is, it wasn’t speculation, it was true, and I had no doubt it was true. But he had the candidate on the record saying “I never spoke to them, I wasn’t even in Indianapolis.” That was enough to give fans on both sides, who didn’t want to believe it, ammunition to say: “That Zeise is making up stories again. Look, the candidate himself said he didn’t talk to them.”
But again, remember the motto: “Everyone is lying to you.”
So, without further adieu, here is my best shot at why do these things happen:
The four words that get stretched more than any words in the dictionary are “offer,” “interest,” “contact” and “interview” during a coaching search.
None of those four words mean anything, but they could mean everything depending on how you look at them. All have enough wiggle room for anal-retentive administrators who want to deny a report, or coaches who don’t want anyone to know they are sniffing around for other jobs. They can say, “No, no, no, there wasn’t any [fill in the blank with one of the four words].” And they wouldn’t be totally lying about it (even though they are being less than truthful).
Let’s take them one at a time:
No school wants to offer the job to anyone who isn’t going to take it. So, there never is an “offer” until a school is sure that a guy is going to take it.
Of course, we all know this is BS because there are many ways to offer the job.
One thing I did tweet about Barnes is that he made the call to Sean Miller. And from what I’m told, he did his due diligence within the past week or so to hear Miller tell him no. He knew there was no chance Miller was coming here. He told a number of people this within the past two weeks. But he obviously had to make the call because, well, you never know.
So let’s put our speculation hats on as to how a conversation like that might go:
“Sean, Scott, how are you?”
“Good, how are you?”
“Look, I just need to do my due diligence, you know that, but do you have any interest at all here…?”
“OK, just had to make the call, you understand how it goes.”
“I appreciate you calling. I’ll help you any way I can. I know a few guys who are good coaches, but I’m good here.”
Now, obviously I didn’t bug the phone, but that is a very plausible description of how that conversation went. But here is my question: Is that a job offer?
Not technically, but an AD isn’t calling a high profile, big name coach to see if he wants to go through the interview process. He is calling on the chance that if the coach says “yes,” the next question is, “How much you need to make to seriously consider this?”
But this conversation leaves an out for the school. They can claim they didn’t offer him the job.
And that way, the next guy who comes through is “our first choice, the only guy we offered the job.”
This seems like semantics, but that’s exactly what all of this is.
I laugh when these schools issue these statements that this guy was “our first choice” when the guy they want finally gets hired because more often than not, it is nonsense.
I could give you at least three examples where I know for a fact a guy who was hired was not the “first choice,” but I won’t. I will again protect the innocent.
This is a meaningless word too because interest is so vague of a term.
I mean, do I have interest in dating Halle Berry? Yeah, I guess, and I’m sure many of the males out there reading this do too.
But what does that actually mean? And how much interest do I really have, seeing as I’m married? And obviously she has no interest in dating me, or 99.99 percent of the rest of the male population for that matter.
It is the same in coaching searches. I can write Sean Miller has interest in the Pitt job and be accurate despite his statement that he has no interest in it. Why? Because I didn’t say how much interest or define what interest means.
It could mean a lot of interest, it could be that he follows the box scores and sometimes thinks about what it would be like to coach there.
So, of these four words, interest is the weakest and most meaningless, which is why it is used so much.
“Coach A has interest in Job B” could mean anything from “he called once to inquire about it” all the way to “he is begging for an interview.”
And when someone says “I had no interest,” there is enough wiggle room in that word for someone else to say “well, that’s not true!” and neither are truly lying.
Now, let me say this: The No. 1 reason there is so much speculation, so much rumor and so many mistakes made these days is the rise of the “search firm” in coaching searches.
Before the search firms — and it wasn’t that long ago they weren’t used — it was very easy to connect the dots as to who was talking to whom, who was getting interviewed, who actually was a candidate.
But now, schools use them because they are, as Ray wrote, basically like a firewall between AD and candidate.
That’s why there is so little information leaking out in many searches and why coaches getting hired without anyone even knowing they are involved in a job is happening so often these days. Believe me, it used to be a heck of a lot easier to track these things. The past five or six years, the leaks and the information flow really have dried up.
The information is out there, but it is a lot more work to try to find it. And often, it isn’t complete or it is a few days late.
Search firms do all the leg work, make all the contacts, set up the interviews, etc. So, for instance: Barnes calls a search firm and tells them what he is looking for. The search firm finds a candidate and reaches out. If the candidate says “no thanks,” well, then there never was any contact between the school and the candidate.
That’s why contact — and all of the ways contact is denied — is another word that is hilarious to me.
One former football assistant was contacted by a school to interview for a similar job there. I found out about it and called him. He said to me: “That is not true. I was never contacted by that school. I don’t know where this stuff comes from.”
The problem he had was that he bragged to the guy one office down from him about it, and I found out. I wrote it, and, of course, shortly thereafter he was gone to the other school. I’m still waiting for an apology.
But in that case, I suppose he wasn’t lying because I found out he wasn’t actually initially contacted by the school. It was a search firm that contacted his agent at the point when I asked him about it.
So let’s review: A school contacted a search firm, that contacted an agent, who contacted a coach.
Is this contact?
Technically, no, it isn’t, but what are we talking about here? I mean, to quote Bob Rager: “I’m thinking, c’mon, man...”
Give me a break. But these are the kinds of games these people play in these things.
So again, always remember the motto: “everyone is lying to you” in these things, and you will be a lot less frustrated and crazy.
Let’s take it one step further and try to figure out why...
For starters, every school wants to make sure the guy they hire is their first choice, even if he isn’t. And every coach who doesn’t get hired wants to make sure he isn’t known as the guy who didn’t get the job.
If a coach’s name is involved in 10 searches and he doesn’t get any of the jobs, it could hurt his candidacy for the 11th job because they’d say, “Wait, why didn’t the other 10 hire you?”
If a school has offered the job to seven guys and all said no, why would the eighth guy want to take the job?
That’s why all of this stuff is so silly and there is so much lying and spinning of these things. And that brings me to the granddaddy of the NONSENSICAL COACHING SEARCH WORDS...
This is my favorite because nobody has any idea what this word actually means.
I mean, is an interview a 45-minute conversation between an AD and a candidate on the phone, where the AD gets a feel for the guy and asks some questions about his background and his goals, but doesn’t get into salary, coaching staff hires, etc.?
And in that case above, about Barnes calling Miller: you don’t interview a guy like Miller if you are Pitt. You interview him after you already have the framework of a deal in place and he has agreed to come.
There is still an interview process in that case, but it is more of a formality.
And what if the search firm conducts the preliminary interviews for you to weed out candidates who don’t necessarily meet the parameters of what you are looking for? Is that an interview?
I can’t tell you how many times I have gone round for round with people, either over at Pitt, or with coaches, about what constitutes an interview and what doesn’t, but it is way too many.
Bottom line: Interviews in person, interviews on the phone, interviews through the search firm are all interviews, even if you don’t want to call them that.
But again, nobody wants to be the school that interviews 10 guys and didn’t hire any of them. Nobody wants to be the guy that interviewed for 10 jobs and didn’t get any of them.
These are all things to think about, and this just covers the part where people are playing word games and semantics as they try to issue non-denial denials. We haven’t even got to the point where we talk about guys who flat-out lie to you, which happens way too often.
I laugh when one outlet reports something citing sources and another has a quote that seems to refute it. In that case, based on experience, I almost always believe the sources and not the person speaking on the record for obvious reasons.
There are exceptions, of course, and not everyone lies, but it is amazing how many lie rather than just issuing a “no comment” or some weak non-denial denial. They don’t realize it doesn’t really serve them to lie because if I am calling you, it means I already know the truth.
If you are leaving for a job tomorrow, and a reporter says, “Are you leaving for a job tomorrow?”, it doesn’t serve any purpose for you to say, “No, absolutely not, that’s false. What are you talking about? You must be out of your mind.”
Just say, ”I can’t comment on that” or ”I’m happy here at this school but don’t know what the future holds” and move on.
This way you don’t look like a liar when you leave the next day.
One last example from the football beat way back...
I had a great source — the best I could have, actually — tell me an assistant coach was leaving for another job. I called the assistant and asked. He told me: “Nope, no way, not sure what you are talking about. I have not talked to anyone.”
My response: “OK, well I am writing it for tomorrow, I called you out of courtesy.”
His response: “Well, I wouldn’t do that because it isn’t accurate.”
I wrote it, used his quote that he had no idea what I was talking about, and about four days later he was introduced at the new school he claimed he didn’t have any idea about. And he got ripped on message boards for being a liar.
So once again, repeat and rinse: “Everybody is lying.”
I know this is a long post with a lot of tangents and anecdotes, but my hope was just to try and give some insight as to why these kinds of stories get put out there and also why a lot of times it is a good reporter getting led down the wrong path by a trusted source.
I know people think this is always speculation, making up stories and rumor mongering, but that’s not usually the case. More often than not, it is, like I wrote before, a bad source, a source with an agenda, a source with incomplete information who decides to take a leap of faith and fill in the blanks.
Barnes likely did talk to Miller over the past few days on the phone, and depending on the semantics of how you view the conversation, may have even offered him the job. But there was never a formal offer, and there wasn’t a conversation of any type between the two in Pittsburgh or anywhere in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
So let’s move on.
Miller to Pitt was always an extreme long shot
And most I’ve talked to over the past three years about it would tell you a more accurate way to characterize it is “no shot.”
However, those of you who read this blog know I have always tried to be realistic and a straight shooter.
As such, here is something that always bothers me when that conversation comes up. So, I am going to say something that might shock you, but I have to get it off of my chest:
Arizona is a tad bit overrated as this basketball Mecca and program of great, great tradition.
Yes, deep breath, there, I said it...
Is it a better job than Pitt?
Yep. It definitely is.
But how much better and where it ranks nationally is probably up for debate.
I went through this today with someone who wanted to tell me it was an absolute pipe dream that someone would leave one of the great programs in the country for a place like Pitt.
And of course, I asked him to please recite this great, great tradition and he talked about national titles, Final Fours, blue chips and lottery picks.
Of course, then I hit him with reality.
“How many national championships have the Wildcats won?”
Oh yeah, how about only one.
“Well, there must be a ton of Final Four appearances for such a big-time school right?”
Um, not really. Only four, or the same amount as noted blue blood powerhouses Kansas State, Utah and Wisconsin.
And just for comparison’s sake: North Carolina has 18 Final Fours; Kentucky and UCLA have 17. Louisville has 10, Michigan State has 9 and Indiana has 8.
Arizona has produced a fair amount of NBA first-round draft picks — 18 — but the reality is that many of them were developed by Lute Olson. They were not a bunch of blue chip five-star guys.
There were some, but Olson’s reputation was as a master of talent evaluation and a guy who was excellent at developing that talent.
All of Arizona’s high-level success was under Olson’s watch. In fact, the school hasn’t been to the Final Four without him on the bench, and the last time the Wildcats were in the Final Four is 2001. That’s 15 years.
Pick a program you think is a “big-time” program and tell me any that have not been to the Final Four in the past 15 years. Kansas? Duke? North Carolina? Indiana (though it has been almost as long, but this school has won national titles and been to Final Fours)? UCLA? Syracuse? Connecticut? Louisville? Kentucky? Georgetown? Michigan State? Ohio State?
Look, I am not trying to downplay that Arizona is a really good job or criticize it because it is a fantastic job. There are great facilities there, it is in a great location, there isn’t a lot of competition for players out there in the West, etc.
But when it comes to a tradition of winning, there is that as well. But let’s not lose our minds here.
One national title, four Final Fours (all with the same coach, none before 1983 and none since 2001) and zero trips to the Final Four in 15 years does not put this program on the same level of the other elite programs.
My point isn’t that Arizona isn’t a great job. My point is that all of this rhetoric I’ve heard for the past few days about that program doesn’t really match the reality of what the Wildcats have actually accomplished in their history.
Miller is great coach, Arizona is a great program and it makes complete sense that he’d have no interest in Pitt (because again, Arizona is better than Pitt). But aside from a decent list of NBA players, when I look at the Wildcats’ resume as a true “blue blood elite” program, I think of those old Wendy’s commercials and say to myself: “Where’s the beef?”
If there is anything good that came out of this fiasco Tuesday and everything that went on in the aftermath, it is this:
Tuesday officially ends any pipe dreams about one of the Millers riding through the Fort Pitt tunnel on a white horse to save the day for Pitt basketball. Now we can get down to trying to figure out who the real candidates are. Though, the use of that dadgum search firm will make it awfully tough to figure out who they are.