Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke has a decision to make, and it should happen sooner than later.
Lyke and other members of Pitt’s athletic staff are expected to meet with head coach Kevin Stallings on Thursday to discuss Stallings’ future with the team and what happens next if she’s made the decision to move on from Stallings after two years.
Stallings is owed a substantial buyout, between $9 million and $10 million, if he is fired, and despite reports to the contrary, Stallings is not expected to settle for a significant discount if he is fired.
The buyout was negotiated between Stallings, his agent, and then-athletic director Scott Barnes, in order to ensure that Stallings and his staff wouldn’t get railroaded after a second season that even then, looked like it would be a struggle.
But Barnes has since departed, and Lyke has had little to say publicly in support of Stallings, and according to Pittsburgh Sports Now sources, has had even less to say privately to Stallings. The two haven’t built much of a relationship during her tenure, and when Stallings said after Pitt’s loss to Notre Dame that he had “not the slightest idea what to expect,” there was likely a good bit of truth to it.
Regardless of what Stallings believes, the expectation is that Pitt will be in the market for a new basketball coach sooner rather than later. But that doesn’t mean the process is likely to play out smoothly.
As first reported by 93.7 The Fan’s Colin Dunlap, Pitt boosters believe that Stallings can and should take a reduced buyout and some have suggested that Pitt may threaten to fire him with cause if he refuses to negotiate.
Pitt would have to be able to prove that Stallings violated the terms of his contract, and there has been little to no public evidence that’s taken place. But there’s plenty of reason for Pitt to play hardball.
If Stallings receives his full buyout, that will mean that nearly a fifth of Pitt’s basketball budget will be tied up in paying a coach not to coach. That could be problematic when it comes to locking down a potential replacement, especially if the divorce between Pitt and Stallings gets ugly.
With many other potential major-conference jobs opening this offseason and a somewhat underwhelming pool of big-name coaches ready to move up from the lower levels, any competitive disadvantage for the Panthers could be harmful.
ON THE LIST?
One of the names that will invariably be placed near the top of many lists as Pitt candidates if Stallings is fired is former Ohio State head coach Thad Matta. Matta was fired at Ohio State last June after posting a 337-123 record with the Buckeyes and replaced by Chris Holtmann.
Lyke worked at Ohio State for the first nine years of Matta’s tenure, which saw him win multiple Big Ten titles, two trips to the Final Four and five Sweet 16’s. Matta failed to make it past the second weekend in his final four years with the Buckeyes and missed the tournament completely in 2015-16 and 2016-17 after going dancing nine of his first 11 years.
One of the reasons he was let go was his declining heath. Back issues kept him off the recruiting trail. Matta needs to continue to seek out work as part of his buyout with Ohio State, and he recently made a very public visit to Ole Miss before word breaking late on Thursday that he was no longer in the running.
Maybe Matta was just there to make a show of looking for a job, or maybe something happened to change his mind at the last minute.