When I gave my assessment of the job done by head men's basketball coach Kevin Stallings this season, I stated that I didn't want an entire offseason dedicated to the first-year coach's performance. But it's been a while since Pitt's basketball season officially ended with their ouster in the ACC Tournament and I'd been wanting to see/hear a little more from Stallings since then. Fortunately, Craig Mayer from the Post-Gazette provided that on Tuesday.
If you haven't yet read his article yet, check it out. Much of it reflects on Stallings' bench (or lack thereof) and how that contributed to the season.
Regardless of what you might blame him for, it's difficult to blame him for a lack of depth. He inherited this team and while we can all feel differently about the rest of the makeup of the team and if he should have done a better job with them, no one can look at the team and say it was a deep one. Beyond the depth, Stallings took the opportunity to again point to the failure of his players to buy in, but I don't want to focus on that because it's been beaten to death. The thing I wanted to mention was something else that came later in the article.
There, Stallings also delved into the subject of scholarships for players on last year's team. Stallings seemed to say that one thing he could have done was yank scholarships before the season after he was named as coach. But that he wanted to do the right thing. Here was the quote in its entirety from Mayer's article:
"I tried to do the ethically right thing, despite the fact maybe I could have made some changes," he said. "I didn't think it was the right thing to do. I try not to make short-term decisions. I try to make long-term decisions for what's in the best interest in the long-term and for the good of the program. Maybe it would have allowed me to have a better season or better start, but the institution awarded those scholarships and I believe they should be honored."
So, this one's really interesting.
For one, I'd be curious to know what types of moves Stallings would have considered making. Based on the guys that ended up transferring this season, the first players that come to mind here are Corey Manigault, Damon Wilson, and Crisshawn Clark. Then there's Justice Kithcart, who was dismissed in the middle of the season., so let's take those four along with reserve big man Rozelle Nix.
Three of those players (Manigault, Wilson, Kithcart) were rated as four-star recruits by at least one recruiting service upon coming to the program. Even if you personally may not have recruited any of them, booting one from the roster before not having played a single minute (or in Wilson's case, only a little last year) would have raised eyebrows and looked odd considering the players that would be available as replacements. Nix? Maybe that's the one exception and there's little doubt that he often does not look like he belongs in the ACC. But even in that case, ironically, Nix is the only one still left for now and was a player that Stallings actually used down the stretch.
I don't believe that Stallings was likely to make moves right away. Maybe Nix, but it's hard to see much beyond that and that wouldn't have significantly changed the team. Plus, even in the transfer and grad transfer game, something that's changed the way coaches assemble their rosters, there are no guarantees there. Pitt has had really next to no luck in that department and looking at a team that made the NCAA Tournament with four of five starters coming back, my guess is that, initially, anyway, he felt okay about the team.
At some point in the summer, though, he was probably a little more concerned about the talent here. By the preseason, he sounded like a coach somewhat of a panic mode based on what he'd seen to that point.
While I was digging for Stallings stuff to supplement Mayer's article, I came across this from before the start of the season. This was part of his assessment after the Blue-Gold game and is sort of telling about what he thought of the roster at that point:
"There were guys that played well to you guys that were disasters to me. I won't go into any names," Stallings said. "I mean disasters."
He also added:
"I didn't see much defense," Stallings said.
"I'll get to have fun in the film session because I'll get to show them what they really looked like. I won't have to say too much. I probably will, but I won't really have to."
That first part isn't just the typical coachspeak stuff where a coach will say things like, we have a lot of work to do, etc. Almost every coach says something along those lines after the first scrimmage of the season. But by coining players as 'disasters', it sort of gives you the sense that Stallings knew where this year could be headed. There's a difference between guys needing work, needing practice, etc., and being a flat out disaster.
And what I'll say will come as a surprise to some people, but perhaps, even, he is a better evaluator of talent than what Jamie Dixon was.
Stallings and the team had a bad year. There's no doubt about it. And as I've said before, I think he could have/should have gotten more out of these guys. But looking back at that quote, it's interesting that Stallings pretty quickly was able to identify that more talent was needed. Many of us felt pretty good about what the season would bring (including myself), but he did not.
Stallings very clearly felt by that point that he had a dearth of talent to win games. And given how effective guys like Manigault, Clark, and Wilson were this season, he's at least partially right there. Pitt could have won more games, I'm convinced, with a different style of play. But in terms of his style of play, he certainly needed different players. Much to his delight, the roster will turn almost completely over next season. Now it's up to him to manage the pieces he himself put into place.