PITTSBURGH — There are hot seats, and then there is the one occupied by Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings.
The temperature of the first seat at the end of the Pitt bench is somewhere between the boiling point of water and the surface of the sun, and has certainly gotten warmer after Pitt’s latest loss — a 63-57 defeat at the hands of a nearly as hapless Wake Forest team on Wednesday night.
After the game, Stallings was asked if he thought his job was in jeopardy.
“I think coaches in general live on the hot seat,” Stallings said. “I have never spent a lot of time worrying about that and I try to do the best I can for my players every day, and I said when I took this job that it would be about the players and that is what it is about. I will work tonight and try to find a way to help them be better for Saturday and that starts tomorrow. This is not about me, it is about them and me doing what I am supposed to do and that is to be successful.”
That’s certainly a diplomatic answer, but there’s no question that Stallings’ seat is a hot one. The question is, how hot? Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke hasn’t given Stallings more than a cursory word of public support since the season began and also hasn’t done a single live interview with local media. In her one statement, she simply said it was in appropriate for her to comment during the season — hardly a vote of confidence.
NOWHERE IN SIGHT
In fact, Lyke wasn’t even in the building on Wednesday, instead choosing to attended the Dapper Dan Award banquet, despite Pitt not having an award winner this year. The Penguins’ Sidney Crosby and Robert Morris hockey forward Brittany Howard were selected as winners.
Her silence has left the rest of Pitt’s stakeholders to speculation, and Stallings is no different than most, but he refused to engage in any of that after the game.
“Those questions need to be asked of the athletic director. … I’m here to help these guys be successful and I’m not doing a good enough job of that right now. We need to get better. But I’m just not the right person to ask, because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what I think. We’ll keep coaching them and I’ll keep doing what I’m supposed to do until we’re told time’s up.”
No one asked Stallings if he wants to be Pitt’s coach in 2018-19, but the answer is pretty obvious. He and his staff feel like they have a real chance to make a big turnaround next season with the return of Ryan Luther, the addition of Malik Ellison, two incoming freshman, and possibly more, as Pittsburgh Sports Now has learned that Pitt is still recruiting for the 2018 class.
Pitt hosted 7-foot Argentine national team center Francisco Caffaro at the game, who would have gone a long way to helping Pitt battle Wake Forest in the paint.
The Pitt players still seem bought-in to the thought that they’re building something, even Jonathan Milligan, the Panthers’ lone senior that played on Wednesday.
“I’m looking at kind of the big-picture thing,” Milligan said. “I want guys to grow and continue to learn the things that we need to learn as a unit.”
The Panthers and Demon Deacons played in front of an intimate crowd of 2,404. That’s the smallest crowd for a home conference game in the history of the Petersen Events Center. The all-time regular season low mark was set on Dec. 5 against Mount St. Mary’s, when 2,333 attended. In 2012, 1,449 saw Pitt beat Wofford in the CBI.
ANOTHER LATE LOSS
For the second straight game, Pitt was within a few points down the stretch and was unable to come up with the shots or the stops they needed to pull away with a victory.
“We had a lot of mental lapses down the home stretch, similar to Florida State,” Milligan said. “That cost us the game.”
Stallings agreed with that contention, but didn’t want to get into detail.
“I could call out mistakes that were made in the last two or three minutes of this game that just completely go against what he teach, how we practice and how we work, but that wouldn’t do any good,” he said. “It’s an overall collective. We have to play better. We have to execute better. We have to execute better on defense. We have to have more discipline. We have to make better decisions on offense.”