As the 2017-18 Pitt basketball season winds down, the future of both Kevin Stallings and the entire program will be discussed and debated. Will Stallings and his staff be given another season or will Heather Lyke decide to make a change? This is a complicated issue so Pittsburgh Sports Now reached out to some respected national media members to get their opinion on this topic. Today, we talked with one of the most respected and knowledgeable college basketball writers in the country, Mike DeCourcy from the Sporting News and the Big Ten Network.
The departure of Jamie Dixon is something that’s still debated amongst Pitt basketball fans.
Whether he was pushed out by then athletic director Scott Barnes, whether Dixon wanted to leave or whether it was a combination of both, one thing that can’t be argued is that Dixon’s departure has had a drastic change on Pitt men’s basketball.
From 2003-2016, Pitt was one of the most consistent programs in college basketball. In his 13 seasons with the Panthers, Dixon compiled a record of 328-123 (.727) and qualified for the NCAA Tournament 11 times.
Pitt and Dixon were a perfect marriage until the school’s decision to move to the ACC. Dixon loved the Big East, had a perfect recruiting blueprint and knew that the move would drastically alter what he took years to built.
But going to the ACC was a no-brainer for Pitt considering they receive an annual check of approximately $20+ million.
It was a perfect storm of circumstances for Dixon: a new conference, a new athletic director and a head coaching opening at his alma matter.
So Dixon leaves and the basketball program is still trying to regain the success they experienced in that thirteen year span.
”I can’t say that any of this surprises me other than the lack of embrace for Jamie and his last few years in Pittsburgh. I don’t think it’s ever been totally appreciated why it worked and how it worked for Jamie,” said DeCourcy.
“I’ve said in the past that it was a delicate balance and that they’d found a formula that worked and that leaving for the ACC would wreck that formula and they’d have to find a new one and I’m not going to argue that they did the absolute best job of trying to find that new formula. I also know and realize that it’s just not that easy to reinvent this.”
”I just don’t think that the university properly appreciated how difficult it was going to be to find something else that was going to make Pitt basketball relevant. As a school they decided not to hang onto Jamie with both hands, he leaves and then you have an absolute disaster of a coaching search.”
That’s in the past and now the current administration has to determine where to go from here. Will it year three for Stallings or the program be looking for another head coach in a few weeks?
“The damage is done and the question now is who repairs it? That could certainly be the staff that’s in place. The difficult choice for Heather is calculating the amount of empty seats and what you’d normally generate from them and measure that with the amount you’d have to pay to make a change,” said DeCourcy.
“The third element to that decision is if you make a change can you do better? Can you do enough to make it worthwhile to make a change? In order to get a good coach, you’re going to have to convince him to take over at the absolute bottom. Some may look at that as I can’t do any worse and some may also say like those who are at successful programs now, I don’t want to deal with that. I want to go somewhere it’s not imploded and just needs repaired and not rebuilt.”
I asked DeCourcy the potential danger in making a change after giving Stallings just two seasons. Is it possible to do more damage?
”You can’t get worse than winless in your conference but you could be spending money that you don’t have to spend. You want it to be better and Kevin Stallings will tell you that it will be better next year with me and that’s certainly a defensible position.”
”Probably the most important factor that doesn’t get discussed enough is where does Heather Lyke get her ideas? Maybe she’ll have her own ideas. Usually athletic directors when they get in this circumstance, they want to consult somebody. Some people consult the right people and some people consult the convenient people. I think when you’re hiring a search firm you’re going with convenience and what you can defend and not necessarily who will give me the best ideas for making a replacement hire. I don’t know what her plan of attack would be but I know that there are people who could’ve helped them in the past that were not consulted,” said DeCourcy.
“Look, Kevin is a capable basketball coach and that’s always been true. He’s always been a skilled tactician especially at the offensive end. I’ve never argued against that and I never would.
The crowds at The Pete and interest in Pitt is at an all-time low. Some think that making a coaching change will fix it but DeCourcy isn’t buying that.
“The reality is that the only thing that’s going to bring fans back to the level that you want is winning basketball games regardless of who’s on that chair. … I would never argue to make a change especially in this circumstance because it requires abandoning the decision you made two years ago so quickly and because you’re abandoning it at the bottom without a chance to move forward.”
”I think the biggest factor will be what’s the cost/benefit analysis in whatever decision you make. If you do this, you’re not going to get people back because you do this, you don’t do it for that reason. You have to do it because you believe that that’s the way forward. You have to move forward with the person that you feel is absolutely right for Pitt basketball for the next five to seven years.”