Much of Pitt’s fanbase was happy with the news of the firing of current head men’s basketball coach Kevin Stallings this week. That feeling, however, doesn’t seem to transferring over to the players.
Earlier, former player Sheldon Jeter commented on Twitter that he thought Stallings deserved more time. And on Saturday night, current player Ryan Luther delivered a message indicating that he as well as other players were disappointed by the decision:
How other players react will be interesting. I think that, as Luther indicates, he was liked by the players. But the key will be seeing if any are outraged enough to leave the program. An incoming recruit has already said he isn’t coming and I would probably be surprised if everyone was back. That just doesn’t always happen when new coaches come in.
There’s a lot there but I give Luther a lot of credit for sticking up for his coach. For one thing, that’s what a team should do and, even if Stallings is no longer the coach, it sounds like his players respected him a great deal.
The reaction from some, surely, will be that the players should shut up and play. But that couldn’t be more wrong. Players should not only have the right to be heard but I actually want to hear from them. I want to hear what they think Stallings did well. What they didn’t like. No, the players shouldn’t have the final say in hiring a coach. Players come and go and if you find the right coach, they outlast several classes of players. But the players’ opinions are valuable.
Stallings, by most accounts, was extremely personable. I mentioned before that he showed up at one of the Fan Experience Committee meetings last year before the season and came off as extremely affable. Others I’ve spoken with that had the chance to meet him echoed those sentiments.
All of that said, the players surely also understand that sometimes unpopular decisions have to be made. The reality is that Stallings was hired to succeed at Pitt and he simply didn’t do that. As I’ve recounted numerous times, I honestly feel like Stallings hurt himself the most by finishing under .500 last year with four returning starters. Had the team made the NCAAs last year, there would (and probably, should) have been more outrage over a firing. Instead, the team was bad, which in turn increased the amount of pressure on him. How did he get the team to respond this year? With a historically bad season. And considering he wasn’t the hire made by this athletics director, that sealed his fate even more.
I’ll never begrudge the players for sharing their experiences or having opinions as to who they want to see as their coach. They have that right. But this wasn’t just a bad situation. It had gotten downright ugly. Zero conference wins and awful attendance make for a poor case for getting a third year, it seems. Heather Lyke has a responsibility to get the ship turned around. Just as Stallings had the right to coach the team the way he saw fit, Lyke has an equal right to direct the basketball program as she sees fit.