As Pitt AD Heather Lyke took questions from reporters on Wednesday, she took time to address the job that basketball head coach Jeff Capel has done since taking over three years ago for the Panthers.
With losses of five players to the transfer portal as well as an interesting recent recruiting loss, many fans of the program have been calling for a new coach to lead the way. However, Lyke is still confident in the approach Capel has taken in recruiting, coaching and the job that he has done overall.
“There’s no question that we are going to do things right way under Coach Capel’s leadership, and so recruiting is going to be tough sometimes,” Lyke told reporters on Wednesday. “He is going to build it the right way. Sometimes those things take time. I think we have seen real positive strides.”
In Capel’s three seasons at Pitt, he has an overall record of 40-48 and is yet to have a winning season. However, with a highly-ranked recruiting class in 2020 that is yet to fully develop, there is still hope that this Panthers roster can make something happen in the ACC in the next few years under Capel.
“There has been a little bit of team chemistry, team issues that we’ve had to manage through, and you’ve got to grow from those, you’ve got to learn from those situations,” Lyke said about the Panthers’ season. “There is no question I think Jeff knows what that needs to look like and feel like with this team. We are going to have a new group of kids, I think we have eight core kids coming back next year, and that group is a great group that is committed to Pitt, and is committed to the team concept. I think that is a real positive for this program going forward. We obviously won some games, early on, that we were excited about. I think the trajectory was good. I think we had a little team chemistry issues that definitely hurt. But there is no doubt that I am confident that he can prepare this team, he can prepare our kids, he can develop our student athletes, and his whole staff can do that. He has a great staff alongside him.”
When she was went into further detail about recruiting in today’s game, she immediately pointed out that Capel has had a goal in mind since day one as Pitt’s head coach: to develop strong relationships with his players from the moment he started recruiting them.
“…I know Coach Capel, when he moved to Pittsburgh, he picked a home here in Shadyside just because he wanted to be able to have the team over to his house easily, and convenient for the student athletes. We couldn’t do that at all this year. There are some relationships during Covid that were strained all across the country and you weren’t able to build those kind of relationships that you normally do.”
During the season, when Capel was asked about recruiting during a pandemic, he was quick to bring up how special the city of Pittsburgh is when you come for the first time. On Wednesday, Lyke gave a very similar answer to Capel, emphasizing how not being allowed to bring recruits on campus this year hurt Pitt as much as anyone in the entire nation.
“We have lots of conversations, but I will say one of the things that has been challenging, one of the best things about Pittsburgh and the city of Pittsburgh is coming here and visiting it, she added. “Not allowing, not having the opportunity for recruits to come to Pittsburgh and see what Pitt is about, what the vibe of this city is, how much the city cares and supports sports in all different ways, I think that is a real asset for us and a real selling point. If you’ve never been to Pittsburgh, some of these recruits we get haven’t been on planes, haven’t been to Pittsburgh, so that opportunity being lost is challenging.”
With restrictions easing up as the spring and summer move along, Pitt will finally get that opportunity to bring recruits onto campus and show them around in the next few weeks and months.
“We’re excited,” Lyke added. “We are going to be able to bring recruits here this summer, and I know coach is focused on, you know, it has allowed him to focus on the relationship more than the stuff they recruit kids to see. I think an asset that Jeff brings is his ability to build relationships with kids. I am confident we’re going to get through this, and he and his staff are working hard at it.”