From the moment Heather Lyke walked in the door, the Pitt men’s basketball team has been a mess. Pitt’s first season under Kevin Stallings ended just before Lyke took over, at it was, at best, a disappointment.
Since then, Pitt had a half-dozen player departures, including an extremely public battle with local guard Cameron Johnson over his decision to transfer to North Carolina that Pitt ultimately lost, a recruiting class that ranked No. 51 and in the country and 11th in the ACC according to 247Sports.com.
In the non-conference portion of the schedule, Pitt lost to Navy and Montana, lost to West Virginia in front of a mostly pro-Mountaineers crowd and lost Ryan Luther, the team’s only marketable player and only legitimate threat in the ACC, to injury for the season.
Somehow, things kept getting worse. Fans stayed away in droves as Pitt set record after record for poor attendance. The Panthers lost every single ACC game, most of them uncompetitively. The Panthers finished the season on a 19-game losing streak. They’ve lost 22 straight ACC regular season games and 21 straight games against major conference opponents.
But through all that mess, and that’s a lot of it, none of the angst of fans, boosters or analysts has been directed at Lyke. That was fair. It wasn’t as if she had anything to do with the situation.
Lyke fired Stallings on Thursday. It wasn’t an unexpected move. After all, Pitt did just lose 19 straight games.
But on some levels, it was a norm-breaking move. Pitt fired Stallings after two seasons on the job without any hint of scandal or sanction. That’s extremely rare in college basketball. Pitt also is on the hook for almost $10 million of buyout money. For a program that’s been loathe to spend big money on coaches over the years, paying Stallings nearly $2.5 million a year to sit at home is a bold step and it’s fair to question how much that will affect Pitt’s ability to pay top dollar for a replacement coach and do other things within the the athletics budget.
Those questions will have to wait for another day, as a Pitt spokesperson told Pittsburgh Sports Now that Lyke will not be immediately made available.
The new hire himself will be facing long odds for quick improvement, and if he isn’t afforded the kind of honeymoon period that Stallings was never given, things could quickly get ugly again between the Pitt fanbase and the Panthers’ head coach.
In order to prevent that from happening, Lyke will have to make a good hire, that fits in her budget and sell the fanbase on both the merits of the new hire and that he’ll need time to do his job.
That won’t be an easy job, but it’ll be the job that Lyke will be judged on. Scott Barnes did a lot of good things during his time at Pitt. He brought back the script logo and throwback colors, he created a ton of new fan initiatives, made a fantastic men’s soccer hire and renewed series against West Virginia in basketball and football. No one cares about any of that. Barnes will be forever known as the guy that oversaw the decline of Pitt basketball.
What happens next, that will be on Lyke.