Despite getting criticized and questioned by numerous people (including me) after Dan Hurley passed on the Pitt job to go to UConn, Heather Lyke has appeared to hit the nail on the head with the hire of Duke associate coach Jeff Capel as the schools new men’s basketball coach.
In her first major move as Pitt’s athletic director, the hire is getting universally praised, which doesn’t happen very often.
Capel is young, has coaching experience, comes from a blue-blood program and has the reputation and resume of a great national recruiter.
Unless you’re just a negative person, it’s nearly impossible not to be excited about Jeff Capel.
Speaking of negative, that was the feeling towards Lyke just 24 hours ago but that’s all gone now.
Prior to the big news yesterday, the Pitt coaching search had the appearance of a runaway truck. After getting rejected by Hurley, it appeared that Lyke had no other qualified candidates ready to talk to and that Pitt would be forced to hire a second tier coach.
As they say, appearances can be deceiving.
Regardless of how they got to this point and what was said and written about the process to hire him, on the surface, Lyke deserves an A for the end result of luring Capel to Pitt.
Capel is someone who’s had a few opportunities to leave Duke to become a head coach again, but in the end had always decided to stay with Coach K.
Credit Lyke and the university for doing what was necessary to attract Capel to Oakland. In the fast years, the financial commitment to the basketball program has been questioned, but not with this move. Capel wouldn’t have accepted the job if he didn’t financial assurances (salary, assistant coach salaries, recruiting budget, etc.) from the school.
Lyke and Pitt did their job, now the attention turns to Capel to see what he can do in his third stint as a head coach.
He’s already regarded as a great assistant coach, can he now also be referred to as a great head coach as well?
One reason to be optimistic about his chances is because of Capel’s number one strength.
He can recruit high level talent.
Unlike most of the other candidates mentioned for the job, Capel has the ability to get into the living room of any recruit in the country.
Is he going to land all of them? Of course not, but the ability to get yourself in position to land major talent is the key. If you can’t even get in their living room, you’ll never have a shot of getting a commitment.
It will no doubt be a bigger challenge for Capel to get the 5-star talent he’s accustomed to getting at Duke but he should be able to attract higher level to Pitt.
But maybe the most important aspect of this hire is the enthusiasm it’s pumped back into Pitt basketball.
For the first time in many years and even predating Kevin Stallings, Pitt fans will be excited about their basketball team.
Will Pitt become instant ACC contenders? Of course not, that’s silly. But the fans will be into it, the Oakland Zoo will be rocking and The Pete should look and sound like the old days.
I know this is a crazy thing to say and think but for the first time in a long time, both the Pitt basketball and football programs are surrounded by optimism and excitement.
When’s the last time we’ve felt that?
Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.
Day 1 of the Jeff Capel era starts now.