clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Kevin Stallings Hired: Recap of Pitt Press Conference

New, comments

Pitt held its introductory press conference for new men's basketball head coach Kevin Stallings and having the day off from work, I was actually available to follow along from home.

Before I get into the details, the overwhelming sense I got was that it was extremely uncomfortable. I'm interested to see what the media that were in the room felt. Watching remotely, it looked awkward and I have to believe that it felt that way there, too.

Many people on Twitter hoped that the media would come out swinging with some tough questions and that's exactly what happened. I thought that both Barnes and Stallings tried to make their way through an awkward situation, but it was clear that, Stallings at least wasn't expecting some of the type of questions, etc. The very first question was to Barnes about the search firm connection. There was a question about hiring a guy that had a lesser track record than Jamie Dixon. Lots of tough inquiries, I thought, and the media more than did their job.

Another overarching theme was that Stallings just didn't exude a ton of confidence to me. Now, that's probably being a bit unfair just because I thought he was completely caught off guard by some of the questions. But this wasn't a press conference where you watched and came away with the sense that Stallings exuded a great deal of confidence in that he would turn things around. He even alluded to the fact that Jamie Dixon would be a tough act to follow and that he hoped to achieve that kind of success and perhaps even build on it. I can see how some people thought he was likeable and for the record, I'm not saying he wasn't. Overall, I think he's a pretty genuine guy.

As I said this morning, Pitt fans need to be fair here and give him a chance. But I didn't get the feeling that he was supremely confident in getting Pitt basketball back on track from the small capsule of the presser.

So let's touch on some of the highlights.

Candidates

Barnes kicked things off and mentioned that Pitt's final four candidates were current D-I head coaches and three were head coaches at Power 5 Conferences. Obviously, he didn't name any names or discuss any that may have turned down the job. He later reiterated that and mentioned that an assistant had interviewed (he would not confirm it was Knight) giving them a total of five.

As I said, he didn't confirm the names, but he did go out of his way to suggest that all of the reports out there were incorrect in who Pitt had targeted. That seemingly mean no Andy Enfield, no Bryce Drew, etc. I don't particularly buy that, of course. Sources were able to dig up the fact that Stallings was a candidate before it was announced so I find it hard to believe that they swung and missed on every other guy they reported.

All of that said, though, that's part of Barnes' job. He can't give away sensitive information like that and he has to protect those that were a part of the process. A 'no comment' on the other guys involved may have been appropriate but I'm not going to split hairs here.

Finally, Barnes was later asked if Pitt was spurned by several other candidates and his answer was a very brief denial. He initially mentioned in the opening statement that Stallings was interviewed early and it soon became the standard of what everyone else had to match. Barnes has to do what he has to do there. My personal feeling is that if that really wasn't the case, he would have gone through great pains to go into depth in his answer and say that.

Final Four

Both talked again about being able to reach a Final Four here as was indicated in the initial press release. The reason I put this out there as something noteworthy is that, if nothing else, Barnes has set that as the goal for himself. For fans wanting an out to the Stallings hire, that's it. I have no doubt that if Stallings would get Pitt back to Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight that fans would be happy. But with so much emphasis on the Final Four, that's clearly something fans can certainly hold Barnes accountable on. The goal of a Final Four wasn't an arbitrary one decided by the fanbase - rather, Barnes and Stallings set that goal on their own.

Search Firm

The first question straight out of the gate was directly about the search firm stuff. As I was told on Twitter, it was basically asking Barnes if he was a crook. Barnes said that search firms were the standard today and that it gives schools an opportunity to extend feelers, gauge interest, etc. He indicated that 80%-90% of hires were probably conducted through search firms. Specifically to the Todd Turner connection, Barnes indicated he used him several times for searches and that he's found good candidates for him in the past.

Again, I get the search firm conspiracy stuff as I outlined in this morning's article. But it's also a reach to suggest that Barnes is intentionally making a bad hire here to do a friend a favor ... to me, anyway. I do think the connections played into them finding Stallings and Barnes acknowledged that by saying that Turner has helped him previously. But I'm still not quite sure that he puts his neck on the line when it comes to his own job just to make a bad hire and hope to be rewarded in the future. I get the mentality of athletic directors and search firms scratching each others backs and I don't doubt that it happens. But to me, it's still about hiring a guy the athletic director was comfortable with.

Fan Reaction

Barnes had a question about the fan reaction but there wasn't much to see there. He talked a little about the search being above the 'noise' and he basically said that fans would come around to him.

Oh Yeah - that Sheldon Jeter Fellow

Stallings got a tough question about Sheldon Jeter and not allowing him to transfer from Vanderbilt to Pitt. He didn't go into details, but did say that things could have been handled differently if it happened again. He received a couple of follow-ups asking for details, but he declined to elaborate and that he thinks he and the family have hashed things out. That collaborates the story in the Beaver County Times with his father saying that Sheldon wouldn't be running from the situation, etc., and seemingly, staying at Pitt.

Jamie Dixon's Shadow

Paul Zeise brought up the fact that Stallings' resume wasn't as impressive as Dixon's and asked a question to Stallings about it and also to Barnes about why he hired a coach with a weaker track record. Barnes cited some of Stallings' restraints at Vanderbilt (a fair point, I thought) and Stallings, admittedly losing his train of thought, really fumbled through that question. I'm not sure if he was expecting Barnes to handle it completely or if his mind drifted, but he mentioned the ACC being stronger than the SEC and ... yeah, that was about it. One of several awkward moments in my book.

The Timing

If you thought that was uncomfortable, the most awkward situation was when Stallings was asked about the timing of being offered the job, etc. It became extremely evident (to me, anyway) that he was trying to cover his tracks here and not give out too much information. He eventually said he was offered the job late Friday with discussions going on into Saturday, but it was a very awkward sequence where he seemed to be working to not give away information he shouldn't have. Does that make sense? Just incredibly uncomfortable to watch.

Brandin Knight

Stallings said he was meeting with Brandin Knight today and the rest of the staff soon, but said that there was no determination yet if anyone would remain. He did say that his staff would be assembled quickly.

I'm not sure what to expect here, but my guess is that Stallings would clean house completely. Knight may be a good up-and-coming coach, but while he has ties to the program wasn't known as a great recruiter and learned in an offensive system that will be different to the one Stallings runs. He is a fine ambassador for the program and one of the school's best players, but I don't know that there's a home for him. We should know quickly as Stallings seemed to emphasize that he would have a staff together quickly.

Scheduling

Regarding his non-conference scheduling, Stallings said he and Barnes have already had discussions on that. He said that he tries to schedule those games based on the talent of his team - sometimes they've overscheduled and made things too difficult to win games. His philosophy is to develop a schedule that his players like, that fans enjoy, and that Barnes feels good about.

So what's the missing ingredient there? Scheduling easier games, of course. Stallings made it clear he doesn't schedule games for wins, which is obviously a pretty stark contrast to what Jamie Dixon has done in the past. Will that mean more non-conference losses? That would seem to be the case. After all, it's hard to imagine replacing some of the lightweights Pitt has scheduled before with Power 5 opponents and not lose a few more games.

I know this wasn't the popular opinion, but I've always believed that Jamie Dixon had mostly always gotten the scheduling stuff right. His general sense was that the ACC (and formerly, Big East) schedule was such a grind that you had to schedule winnable games. I agree with that since it's mostly the overall Strength of Schedule (SOS) that matters more as opposed to only the non-conference SOS. It will be interesting to see how Stallings handles this. Coaching in the SEC is much different than the ACC so will he double down on his press conference statements or come around and realize that he may need to schedule a few more early wins. Time will tell.

Conclusion

As I said initially, I don't think this was a strong press conference. The most a fan could take away from it is that Stallings seemed like a pretty genuine guy and I do think that him trying to make the best of a difficult situation with some really tough questions will earn him a few brownie points from fans. But again, I didn't get the sense of Stallings as a guy that is ready to conquer the world and restore Pitt to prominence.

He certainly could and it has to be said that we probably didn't get Stallings at his best today since he was ambushed a little. But in taking the press conference as its own individual unit, I didn't come away with a great sense that this is definitely the guy for the job.

What did you think? If you watched the press conference, weigh in below.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.