PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Kevin Stallings is in year No. 2 at Pitt, and if you ask many Panther fans, the returns have been minimal at best.
Fan support at home games has plunged to record lows. 2,399 attended Pitt’s eight-point victory over High Point Tuesday night, a Petersen Events Center low for a men’s basketball game.
However, the 57-year old coach does have one supporter in Pittsburgh, his counterpart on Friday: Keith Dambrot.
While speaking with the media for nearly 30 minutes Wednesday at Duquesne’s City Game press conference, Dambrot appeared to be campaigning for Stallings more than discussing his team’s preparation for the Panthers.
“You don’t coach as long as he has and not do some really good things,” Dambrot said of Stallings. “They’re very fluid offensively. He’s one of the best offensive coaches in the country.”
Dambrot said many of the problems plaguing Stallings this season at Pitt are the same issues he’s battling with the Dukes.
“Obviously, they’re having some struggles because of youth,” Dambrot said. “A lot like us in the sense of trying to who to play, when to play, who to shoot, who to pass, the same issues we have.”
Stallings has rolled out five different starting lineups this year, tinkering with combinations to jumpstart an offense that has failed to score more than 67 points in three of the team’s seven games.
Injuries have limited the Dukes to an eight-man rotation through the first four games, and players who have filled ancillary roles in the past are being asked to score the ball more frequently.
“He’s in the same predicament where you don’t know what you’re going to get from night to night,” Dambrot said. “That’s probably the worst thing as a coach. You’re better off to know exactly what you’re going to get every night then trying to flip a coin.”
Finding good players to build a program around is the key to eliminating the uncertainty Dambrot said.
“You can tell he’s a high-level, experienced coach,” Dambrot said of Stallings. “So if he doesn’t win, it’s not going to be because he’s not a good coach. It’s going to be because he doesn’t have good enough players.”
“He’s not going to get outcoached. He’s a good coach. Anybody that thinks he’s not a good coach doesn’t know anything about basketball.”
With 410 victories on his resume, Dambrot seems to have a grasp on this coaching thing. After accepting the Duquesne job back in March, the 59-year old coach made an emphasis to infuse the program with an influx of talent, adding five transfers and a recruiting class with four players pushing 6-foot-9 or taller. Stallings did the same, bringing in 10 new players this year.
“Overall, this comes down to putting your team together that allows you to win,” Dambrot said of building a program. “So when he gets good enough guys, he’ll win. And if he doesn’t get good enough guys, he won’t win. And if we don’t get good enough guys, we won’t win.”
Pitt has dominated the series with Duquesne since 2000, winning 15 of the last 16 matchups, yet the two programs are in nearly identical positions under new coaches. One coach has re-energized a dormant program. The other is still trying to win over fans.