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Heather Lyke and Kevin Stallings

Opinion

Steigerwald: Pitt Basketball’s Real Problem? The Program is Too Clean

Steigerwald: Pitt Basketball’s Real Problem? The Program is Too Clean

Quick, somebody call Rick Pitino.

Pitt needs a basketball coach and Rick is tan rested and ready to get back to coaching. And, after firing Kevin Stallings, it’s become more clear that, for Pitt to compete with the big boys they have to cheat with the big boys.

Pitino was fired in June when an FBI investigation turned up evidence that an Adidas executive had conspired to to pay the family of Louisville recruit Brian Bowen $100,000. Pitino says he had no idea. The kid said he was shocked by the news and the kid’s mother said she never saw a dime.

A few days ago Pitino claimed he was framed by the Louisville “Board of Traitors” and said he wants to coach again.

Somebody will hire him because major college basketball is a cesspool.

Pitt took a dip in the pool last week when Athletic Director Heather Lyke, probably at the direction of someone higher than she, tried to weasel out of paying Stallings the $9.4 million he’s owed on what’s left of his typically ridiculous college basketball coach contract.

Lyke, according to the Post-Gazette, after being pressured by prominent jock sniffers–sorry–boosters in January, had decided to fire Stallings at the end of the season.

Why didn’t she fire him then?

She would be two months further along in the search for Pitt’s next basketball coach.

After Lyke tried to save money on the buyout by threatening to fire Stallings for cause, based on his comment to a heckler in Louisville, it might not be easy to find a really good one willing to work for her.

Stallings telling the heckler, “At least we didn’t pay our kids a hundred thousand dollars” will last forever as the only highlight of his Pitt career. He should have been given a raise on the way back to Pittsburgh.

By the way, as a side note, I would listen to proposals that would allow NCAA basketball coaches the freedom to punch at least one heckling fan in the face every season without penalty.

But let’s get back to Pitt finding a basketball coach.

The job isn’t as attractive as it was four or five years ago but there are plenty of assistants in major programs who would love to have a shot at it and lots of head coaches with non-Power 5 programs who would jump at the opportunity.

Despite the big payout to Stallings and the putrid attendance at The Pete, it will pay well. And it is the ACC.

Depending on what happens with the FBI investigation, there could be a lot of successful head coaches out of work by the middle of Summer. The problem for Pitt is that it will also mean that there will be a lot of jobs more attractive than Pitt opening up.

You’ll be hearing a lot of names – Thad Matta for example – thrown around but, when the smoke settles, it’s still going to come down to how much Pitt will be willing to cheat.

You don’t think the FBI investigation is going to end cheating, do you?

Pitt is not going to hire Rick Pitino, but why would any clean program want him? Would Pitino have won as many games if he hadn’t brought in players who were recruited with the help of strippers and prostitutes and offered $100,000?

How many really successful basketball coaches, you know, the ones who have gone to the Final Four a time or two, have done it without cheating?

It’s only a matter of degrees and whether they got caught.

Pitt had a great run in the Big East with Ben Howland and Jamie Dixon without any major NCAA violations.

At least they didn’t get caught.

But Howland and Dixon were going up against Jim Calhoun at Connecticut and Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, neither of whom was shy about taking a dive in the cesspool.

Were/are Calhoun and Boeheim better coaches or were they just a little more willing to look the other way when NCAA rules were being violated?

Maybe there’s a coach out there who is so good that he can come to Pitt, be squeaky clean and at least get the program back to where it was for most of the early part of this century, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Pitt will soon be betting millions of dollars on it.

The cheating will still go on and the cheaters will still win. Coaches are willing to cheat because they believe they can make tons of money before they get caught and rarely have to pay it back. The university presidents will tolerate the cheating because of the money and because they stopped caring about the academic integrity of their institutions a long time ago.

Do you want to see a sign that the NCAA and its member schools really care about the sleaze? You’ll know when they decide to force players to wear sneakers with the logos covered.

Yep, generic basketball shoes.

How much of college basketball’s corruption can be traced to shoe company money and influence?

How hard would it be for the NCAA to come up with ways to end their influence? Too much money available. Never happen.

Kevin Stallings worked hard. We’ll never know what he could have done if he had been given more than two years. (Chuck Noll went 1-13 his first year and 6-22 in his first two.) Maybe he was a bad hire. Being the only coach in the country unable to win a conference game or beat a team from a major conference is pretty good evidence that it was.

But Pitt trying to claim he was fired for cause to make up for it is about as low rent as it gets.

If I were Stallings, I wouldn’t take a penny less than I’m owed.

Here’s hoping he doesn’t.

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