What was pretty much known was made official Friday night by Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke, when she announced that Jeff Capel will return for his fifth season as Pitt’s men’s basketball coach.
With his overall record and the current state of the basketball program, the majority of the basketball fanbase weren’t too happy with the university’s decision and felt that Capel needed to go and the program needed a new voice.
Putting aside financial or any other considerations, do you want Jeff Capel to return as men's basketball coach in 2022-23?
— Alan Saunders (@ASaunders_PGH) March 11, 2022
Although I don’t agree with that opinion, I completely understand why fans feel that way and heck, if you asked Capel, he wouldn’t be happy with the job and results of his first four seasons (51-69 record).
Pitt basketball fans are tired of losing, tired of not being able to watch meaningful games, tired of being a non-factor in college basketball. The fact that they still have this passion is a good thing because it means they care.
I’m not going to say the fan base was spoiled, but they became accustomed to tuning into the NCAA Selection Show and finding out what seed the Panthers were and debating about whether they had a chance to make it past the Sweet 16. Unfortunately for basketball fans in Pittsburgh, that won’t be happening this year and hasn’t happened since 2015.
If you spend any time on Twitter or read comments and posts on Facebook or message boards, the material isn’t kind for Capel or Pitt. While a large portion of the fans are civil and just voice their frustration of what they’ve watched the last four years, which is completely appropriate, another section is the opposite and have gotten personal with both Capel and Lyke. As I tweeted last night, it’s sad and scary how obsessed some fans have gotten with this situation.
When people become this unhinged, it always means they’re spouting out opinions and narratives that aren’t factual, instead its garbage to support their dissatisfaction of the current situation under Capel.
Since we know that no coaching change is happening, I figured it was time to lay out some facts about Jeff Capel and the Pitt basketball program.
People Underappreciated Jamie Dixon:
When we talk about the current state of Pitt basketball, this point needs to be brought up first- too many people didn’t appreciate the job Jamie Dixon did and where he had the program. Since taking over for Ben Howland in 2003, Dixon never had a losing record as Panthers coach. Never. Granted he inherited a program that had gone 57-11 in the previous two seasons under Howland but to never have a losing record in that version of the Big East was impressive.
Pitt didn’t just have a winning record; they won a lot of games. In 8 of Dixon’s 13 seasons, Pitt won 25+ games and two 30-win seasons. When it came to March Madness, Pitt was a yearly participant. A Dixon-coached Pitt team only missed playing in the NCAA Tournament twice in 13 seasons.
That’s what started the frustration with fans and Dixon: they felt Pitt didn’t win enough in the tournament. In 11 NCAA tournament appearances under Dixon, Pitt lost in the first or second rounds six times. When you become accustomed to winning, it’s only natural to want to win more and that’s what caused problems and eventually was a factor in Dixon leaving for TCU. The other big reason for Dixon’s departure was that once Pitt made the decision to switch to the ACC, he wanted no part of that and that was well known throughout the athletic department. Dixon wanted to stay in the Big East and that wasn’t going to happen.
Bottom line is that while they didn’t value him towards the end of his tenure, Pitt fans today can’t help themselves from comparing Capel to Dixon. While it’s only natural, it’s also very, very unfair and in no way comparable. Different state of the program, different type of athletes and not coaching in the transfer portal era have to be factored in but aren’t by most fans.
Not Accurate That Capel Isn’t Recruiting Well
The factor that excited Pitt fans about Capel is now a big reason for the criticism that he receives. Capel arrived with the earned reputation of being one of the top recruiters in the country and everyone thought that success would automatically carry over with him from Duke. While Pitt has been a finalist for a number of high four-star recruits, they haven’t been able to close the deal and land them. However, that doesn’t mean that Capel has done a bad job of recruiting.
How do you think this starting five and bench rotation would look for Pitt this year?
PG- Xavier Johnson
SG- Trey McGowens
SF- Justin Champagnie
C- Efton Reid
PF- John Hugley
Bench – Au’Diese Toney, Mo Gueye, Femi Odukale, Jamarius Burton, Nike Sibande and Ithiel Horton.
I’d be pretty confident laying down some money that would be a team that would’ve competed in the top portion of the ACC and would have heard their name called tomorrow during the NCAA Basketball Selection Show. Eyeing talent and landing it hasn’t been a major problem, keeping it here is the issue.
Does Capel Deserve Blame For Transfers/Decommitments?
This is the topic that has many sides to it and can get deservedly debated by fans. Who’s to blame for the high volume of transfers and a couple of major decommitments?
I’ll admit that ultimately it falls at the feet of Capel and his staff because they’re in charge but with any sort of objectivity, you’ll certainly see that all of this shouldn’t fall just on Capel. Players deserve blame, as does bad luck, along with the current state of unethical college recruiting.
I’m going to deal in facts and not in frustration, dislike, or opinions.
While Capel deserves his share of blame for certain things and I’m not going to excuse him from those things, I have a hard time and won’t blame him for certain players deciding to leave Pitt.
**McGowens was the first big name to transfer and was a talented member of Capel’s first recruiting class. In the end, the big factor in his decision was because of unhappiness with the position he was playing. He wanted to play point guard and felt that was his most natural position. However, Capel didn’t agree and was using Johnson as the point guard. Despite starting since he was a true freshman, McGowens averaged double-digit points while at Pitt and was a big loss. Having his leadership and talent would certainly have helped out Pitt this season. Blame Capel for this situation if you want but I won’t.
**The following season, Johnson and Toney made the similar decision to leave but it was for a different reason. The bottom line with this situation was the internal problems that existed with them being on the roster. The two couldn’t co-exist, both caused internal team issues which carried over to the court impacting wins and losses. Justin Champagnie was without a doubt Pitt’s best player and the focus of their offense which didn’t go over well with members of the team. This lack of harmony was also fueled by incidents involving personal relationships off the court. This all came to a head with multiple physical exchanges in the locker room. Following this incident and after trying to referee this situation all season, Capel didn’t believe this situation was able to be repaired and both Johnson and Toney were encouraged to move on from Pitt. Think those two would’ve helped Pitt out this season? They were major, major losses. Does Capel deserve all the blame for this?
**Talented players transferring haven’t been the only issue. Capel has had major four-star recruits de-commit and another not honor his verbal commitment. Both Jalen Hood-Schifino and Judah Mintz gave early commitments to Capel and later decided to not honor them, which is certainly their right. Hood-Schifino committed first and then made the decision to open up his recruitment after committing to Pitt early in his high school career. Hood-Schifino is an immensely talented player and would’ve started at Pitt on day one, but is now heading to Indiana. Almost the same scenario happened with Mintz, who would’ve taken Hood-Schifino’s spot in the starting lineup. Pitt has a hole at lead guard and either of those two would’ve filled that hole. Both players committed to Pitt despite their struggles and seemed happy throughout the time they were committed. Only those players and their families really know their reasons for de-committing from Pitt, but it certainly had nothing to do with their relationships with Capel. Recruiting is a crazy and complex business. Twice, Capel had what he believed was the center piece to his recruiting class and those players choose not to honor their commitments. Once again, blame Capel if you want, but I won’t.
**The next situation really summarizes what has happened to Capel and his recruitment. Remember the name Efton Reid? Of course you do. The Pitt staff did a tremendous job recruiting him for multiple years and for the longest time, it appeared all that hard work would be rewarded with a commitment. In fact, sources tell PSN that on the day he was to make his college decision, the family of the 5-star center contacted Capel and told them Reid would be committing and were sent papers for him to sign. Those papers were never signed and Reid ended up with Will Wade and LSU. Yes, the same Will Wade that is getting investigated by the NCAA for illegally paying recruits. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. How would this years Pitt team look with a front court of Reid, John Hugley and Mo Gueye? Capel was envisioning a starting lineup that included Mintz or Hood-Schifino, Hugley and Reid. How would that have worked out? Go ahead and criticize Capel for recruiting honestly if you want but I’ll choose not to.
I don’t believe anyone really knows the answer to this but once thing is pretty obvious and that’s if Pitt doesn’t make a big improvement next season, Capel will likely be replaced. Like nearly everyone at the time, I was excited with the hiring of Capel and still believe that he can have success at Pitt. Despite what Howland and Dixon were able to do, Pitt isn’t an easy job and Capel is finding that out, especially when you’re trying to resurrect a program from the dead and trying to do that as a member of the ACC. Capel is going to need to once again hit on a few transfers that can immediately contribute and to also get something he hasn’t gotten in his first four seasons- some good luck. Despite the vibe around Pitt basketball, with the amount of talent that will become available this off-season thru transfers, turning this around next season won’t be impossible to do. However, time isn’t on Capel’s side as visible results need to happen next season or fans will get their wish and Lyke will be looking to hire her second basketball coach.