PITTSBURGH — Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke reaffirmed her commitment to head men’s basketball coach Jeff Capel and his commitment to re-building the Panthers program, while stressing that changes to the team after four years will be up to Capel.
“There is no question that Coach Capel and his staff want to be here in Pittsburgh,” Lyke said. “His dream was to coach at an ACC school, so he’s in a dream job for him. He wants to build this program. He knows that it hasn’t happened yet. We’re working on it. He’s working very hard to build it and build a sense of pride back in Pittsburgh. Basketball is really important in this city and we understand that. It’s really important to our athletic department and it’s a huge priority for us.”
As far as the decision bring Capel back after his fourth season was the worst of his tenure, Lyke said it’s a matter of her belief in Capel’s abilities to turn things around at Pitt, and said that his contract buyout, while declining to confirm the amount, was not a factor.
“You don’t make personnel decisions based on buyouts at the end of then day,” Lyke said. “You do it based on the ability and the leadership qualities of that person and your confidence in them and their belief in what they’re doing. That’s why we kept Jeff.”
Lyke pointed to the success of the Pitt football program, which took a huge leap in 2021 — Pat Narduzzi’s eighth season — as a reason for continued patience with what Capel is doing on the hardwood.
“We all want immediate success,” she said. “The value of continuity is important and just changing for change’s sake is not necessarily the right decision at this time. …
“When Jeff first came, there was a lot of positivity and infusion of energy and excitement and belief in what he’s building. That has not waned from me. It may have waned publicly and with fanbase, but it has not waned internally.”
But she acknowledged that the apathy of the fanbase about Capel continuing in his role is a concern.
“Absolutely concerned,” Lyke said. “Because I think that the most important thing is building a sense of pride in what we do. That pride stems from the kids in the Oakland Zoo and the people that you meet that were part of the Oakland Zoo when they were students and just the connectivity in this community, it’s really important to us. I know there’s no one more disappointed than our coaching staff about not performing where they want to be right now. I’m hopeful that people still believe and do come back and have a positive experience.”
As far as what changes the program might make going forward in order to reverse the negative trend of the 2021 season, Lyke said that will be largely be up to Capel. She said that she did not demand a specific plan of attack from him in their post-season meeting, but simply wanted to affirm their mutual dedication to continue on the current path, despite frustration about the result of the 2021-22 season.
Lyke said that she and Capel will reconvene about his more specific plans for improving the team going forward, but emphasized that those decisions will largely be Capel’s, including potential changes to his coaching staff.
“Unless there’s serious integrity issues going on, that is not my job,” Lyke said. “That’s for Jeff to make that decision. I know that he’s focused on then team right now and recruiting and then he will talk with his staff.”