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Steigerwald: Capel Press Conference ‘A Grand Slam’ But Plenty of Work to be Done



You know the first thing I noticed about Pitt’s new basketball coach, Jeff Capel yesterday? I noticed that I hadn’t noticed that he was black.

Okay, I’m sure I had to have noticed the color of his skin as he stood during his introductory press conference yesterday, but I didn’t spend a tenth of a second thinking about it until, two or three questions in, he was asked by a black reporter if it meant anything special to be Pitt’s first African-American coach.

Capel said it meant a lot and went on to hit a home run in his first appearance before the Pittsburgh media. It was actually a grand slam.

He said all the right things about what a perfect fit the job was for him and his family. The players, most of whom have asked for their release, had to be impressed.

But, as everybody at Pitt should know, winning the press conference means little or nothing. Dave Wannstedt won his.

So did Todd Graham.

Winning the press conference is better than losing it. Michael Haywood lost his and then lasted about an hour and a half as Pitt’s football coach.

The only way this was going to look like a questionable hire by AD Heather Lyke was if Capel laid a gigantic Easter egg in front of the media and the players he may try to talk into staying.

This is a guy who couldn’t be more prepared to be a head coach in the ACC. He played for Coach K at Duke and he has been his assistant for the last seven years.

He has a reputation as a great recruiter and he’s been a head coach for a major program–Oklahoma.

And despite the long resume, Capel’s only 43 years old. He was a head coach at Virginia Commonwealth when he was 27. You have to be a pretty impressive guy to get a he’d coaching job in your mid-twenties.

Okay, so he got fired by Oklahoma, but coaches get fired all the time. Ben Howland was fired by UCLA if I’m not mistaken and he built a pretty good program at Pitt before he left for the coast.

After he was fired in 2010, Oklahoma had to vacate 13 wins from the previous season and had a scholarship taken away because of recruiting violations.

An assistant coach took all the blame for the violations and Capel wasn’t implicated.

College basketball is a dirty business and if you want to believe that Capel had no idea what his assistant coaches were doing, go right ahead.

I don’t.

I also don’t believe it matters. It was a long time ago and Capel paid a price. Assistants at Duke may be paid well but they’re not paid as much as a head coach at a major program.

He knows his way around college basketball. You can only be a great recruiter if you maintain contacts with the high school coaches who crank out future college basketball stars and he was given credit for landing some of Coach K’s best players.

Pitt ain’t Duke and he’s going to find it a little tougher to close the deal now. But he said during his press conference that he believes he’ll still be able to get his foot in the front doors of the top recruits.

As I’ve said here before, Pitt needs to cheat a little more to compete with the big boys. Coach K and his assistants may not have to cheat much because he’s Coach K, but most of the rest of the guys have to know how to bend the rules to become fixtures in the Top 10 or even Top 20.

Ask Rick Pitino.

It may be hard to face up to that fact when you watch a guy as likable and sincere as Capel, but the FBI appears to be in the possession of lots of evidence that shows, to win in major college basketball, you have to cheat at least a little bit.

Don’t think for a minute that Capel’s bosses aren’t aware of that.

A few days ago I had a conversation with a guy who has been around coaching and recruiting for over 40 years. He told me that football and basketball players have been and still are being paid and that one of the important things for head coaches is knowing how to insulate themselves, which means letting the assistants take the fall.

That doesn’t change the fact that, if winning basketball games in the ACC is the goal, Capel is a good hire.

And it doesn’t mean he isn’t a good guy.

And his seven-year contract doesn’t mean that he won’t be offered a chance to replace Coach K at Duke long before it’s fulfilled.

Pitt fans should hope that Capel does a good enough job that he’d be first in line to replace him.

Coach K is 71.

Job number one is returning Pitt basketball to respectability and Capel seems like a guy who can handle that and maybe handle it quickly.

Today was a good day for Pitt basketball and there haven’t been too many of those lately.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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