Senior Pitt forward Ryan Luther became the first member of the team to comment publicly on Saturday with regards to the firing of head coach Kevin Stallings, and he had some strong words directed toward athletic director Heather Lyke and the Pitt administration.
In a message posted to his personal Twitter account, Luther wrote that he was “disappointed with the decision to fire Coach Stallings” and that decision was made by “people who are not involved with the program daily and influenced by the wrong things.”
Luther wrote appreciatively of the effort Stallings and his staff made in coaching up a team with seven freshmen, nine first-time NCAA players and 11 newcomers altogether in 2017-18.
“I believe I speak for our team by saying that Coach treated us extremely well and not only did what was best for the team but also what was best for each one of us,” he wrote. “Regardless of the circumstances, Coach always stood up for us as players and took responsibility for things that were often times out of his control. The relationships that our entire team and I have formed with his staff are truly special and something I will always be thankful for.
Luther, 22, was the lone regular from Pitt’s 2016-17 team that returned to play under Stallings, and he was off to a hot start in his senior year. He averaged 12.7 points per game and 10.1 rebounds per game over the team’s first 10 contests before he was lost for the rest of the season due to a stress reaction in his right foot.
Pitt initially thought Luther would return to action, but Stallings announced on Jan. 11 that Luther would miss the rest of the season and apply for a medical hardship waiver in order to return to action in 2018-19. In order to qualify for a medical redshirt, a player cannot play more than 30 percent of his team’s game, a number that Luther just barely qualified under.
Stallings frequently cited Luther’s absence for a reason that his team struggled. Pitt went 8-24 overall and was 3-19 without Luther in the lineup.
“I don’t have a crystal ball, but I firmly believe that we would not have gone winless with Ryan on our team,” Stallings said after his team’s ACC Tournament loss to Notre Dame on Tuesday. “I think that there were a few wins in there that we would have had with his presence, and not only do you lose your experience and your go-to guy and a guy that’s averaging a double-double, but you also lose the guy that everybody generates their confidence in when he’s on the court.”
“Ryan was definitely a key piece to our team,” added freshman point guard Marcus Carr. “Anybody who’s seen us play before since the beginning of the season knows he’s a great player who pretty much does everything, is steady, and does everything on the court for us. The loss of him was definitely pretty big and definitely affected our team, but he continued to be at practice with us and trying to help us grow as a team without him so that we could play our best without him. But looking forward to next year, I can’t wait to have him back, and I’m excited for what next year could be.”
Of course, next year is far from a certainty now that there’s been a coaching change. Luther has already been at Pitt for four years, so he has the ability to graduate and transfer wherever he’d like for next season if he chooses to. Luther reportedly visited West Virginia to see the Mountaineers’ home game against former Pitt coach Jamie Dixon and TCU in February.
Luther has not spoken publicly since his injury. He told Pittsburgh Sports Now in July that he intended to see things through at Pitt.
“When I chose to come here to Pitt, it was for a lot of reasons, it wasn’t just one,” he said. “I made a commitment and I’m sticking to it. … It’s my last go around. Especially being from here. I wanted to leave it all out there and have no regrets.”
The full text of Luther’s remarks follows.
“I am disappointed with the decision to fire Coach Stallings. I believe I speak for our team by saying that Coach treated us extremely well and not only did what was best for the team but also what was best for each one of us. Regardless of the circumstances, Coach always stood up for us as players and took responsibility for things that were often times out of his control. The relationships that our entire team and I have formed with his staff are truly special and something I will always be thankful for. Unfortunately, because of the decision from people who are not involved with the program daily and influenced by the wrong things, it has come to an end. Our team wanted to be here at Pitt and to play for Coach Stallings and his amazing staff. We believed as a whole we could have grown together and been a great team next year. #H2P”