After two seasons of disappointment and a month of hot seat talk, Kevin Stallings is out at Pitt. The intensely unpopular hire drew criticism the day it was announced, and fans never took to Stallings the way former Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes hoped they would.
Now, the time has come to search for a replacement, and there are plenty of talented coaches out there who could feasibly dig Pitt out of the hole Stallings dug and restore the program to its former glory. It’s unlikely to be a rapid turnaround, but several coaches who should be under consideration have done more with less in relatively short order.
The five coaches below could fit well at Pitt for a variety of reasons, including recruiting ability, major conference experience and the ability to quickly change a program’s fortunes.
Take a look.
Dan Hurley, Rhode Island
Dan Hurley has developed a reputation as a coach capable of building a program from the ground up, and he’s done so as a head coach at the high school, low-major and mid-major levels. He even has experience playing and coaching at major programs in the Northeast as a former Seton Hall point guard and Rutgers assistant.
Under Hurley, Rhode Island has not only become a winner in the Atlantic 10 again, it has become a nationally relevant program, breaking into the NCAA tournament and the Top 25.
Some believe Hurley can do better than Pitt, and that may be true. However, that depends on the timing of other developments during this year’s coaching carousel and what one’s definition of “better” is. For instance, the UConn and Louisville jobs might be opening up, and both could appeal to Hurley for a variety of reasons.
With that said, Pitt might be a happy medium between those two programs, as there’s more money to go around in the ACC than there is in the AAC, and Louisville is one of the programs that has been affected by the FBI investigation into potential NCAA recruiting violations.
Taking all that into account, Pitt could be an appealing landing spot for Hurley if he opts to move to a major conference.
Eric Musselman, Nevada
Eric Musselman hit the ground running upon arriving at Nevada, as he’s coached the Wolf Pack — which was coming off a 9-22 season when he came to Reno — to three consecutive seasons with 24 or more wins.
Aside from his impeccable record, Musselman’s big selling point is that he has NBA coaching experience with the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings, and player development is said to be one of his notable strengths.
During his career, he’s coached Jeremy Lin, Manute Bol, Avery Johnson and Gilbert Arenas. Arenas won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award under Musselman, and Lin credited the coach with helping him along his path to the professional ranks.
“I went to the D-League three times last year and once this year. Without that time, I definitely wouldn’t be the player I am right now,” Lin said in 2012, according to Ridiculous Upside. “Last year when I played with Coach Musselman, he gave me the opportunity to play through mistakes.”
Although he’s spent most of his career around the West Coast since 2002, his resume should be appealing enough to prospects that he could recruit anywhere. And in Pitt’s case, that appeal could translate to current players staying on the roster after Stalllings’ departure, which would likely expedite the process of returning the program to its winning ways.
Based on his work at Nevada, it seems Musselman represents Pitt’s best shot at making a quick turnaround. Of course, the ACC is a tougher riddle to solve than the Mountain West, and that could delay progress. But if anyone can do it, it’s probably Musselman — provided he’s willing to leave the West Coast.
Tom Crean, Indiana (formerly)
There’s a lot to like about Tom Crean, as he would check a lot of boxes for Pitt. He’s currently available because Indiana let him go one year after he won the Big Ten Coach of the Year award, and he regularly led the Hoosiers on decent tournament runs.
After initially getting the program off the ground, Crean won 20 games or more in four of his last six seasons and didn’t post a losing record in that span. Of course, the one potential issue is that it took him three years to get Indiana moving in the right direction. Pitt fans weren’t that patient with Stallings, but they would actually have reason to be with Crean.
Prior to his arrival in Bloomington, Crean coached at Marquette, where he saw even better results, as he never had a losing season and reached the Final Four. He’s also coached NBA talent like Dwyane Wade, Yogi Ferrell, Cody Zeller and Thomas Bryant, which gives him a leg up in recruiting over many other coaches.
In addition to that, he’s familiar with the program as a former Pitt assistant under Ralph Willard, but considering his stint ended in 1996, that detail is fairly negligible. What really makes him appealing is his resume, the timing of his availability and the fact that he may not be coveted by another blueblood after his exit from Indiana.
He also expressed interest in returning to the sidelines in a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune, noting he’s “never lost the drive to coach” and “absolutely” expects to coach again.
All of that could work out well for Pitt.
John Becker, Vermont
In seven seasons at Vermont, John Becker has never won fewer than 20 games and never finished lower than third in the America East Conference. His success has reached a new level over the last two seasons, as he’s trended closer to 30 wins per season and posted two comfortable first-place conference finishes in that span.
Of course, the knock against Becker is that all his success has come in the America East Conference, and he has no coaching experience in a major conference. That should be somewhat worrisome to Pitt, but the university might not have the luxury of heeding such concerns because of its current financial situation.
Pitt may find itself a bit cash-strapped after enduring a season of record-low attendance and parting ways with Stallings, and Becker may be available at a lower cost than Hurley or Crean. That could see his stock rise from athletic director Heather Lyke’s point of view.
T.J. Otzelberger, South Dakota State
South Dakota State is heading to the NCAA tournament for the second straight year, and that has everything to do with head coach T.J. Otzelberger’s impact on the program.
He joined the Jackrabbits after spending a decade as an assistant at major programs like Iowa State and Washington, and during those stops, he gained a reputation as a top recruiter, notably bringing Naz Long and Georges Niang into the fold at Iowa State.
One issue is that he doesn’t have a long track record of success as a head coach. South Dakota State is his first notable gig in a non-assistant capacity, and his first season consisted mostly of keeping his head above water as he got into the swing of things.
With that said, he succeeded in that endeavor and made it to the Big Dance by leading his team to a Summit League tournament championship — a feat he repeated this season.
This season has been more successful in general for Otzelberger, and his leap from an 18-17 record in his first go-round to his 28-6 record this year speaks to how quickly he can get a program moving in the right direction.
That’s a quality Pitt could benefit from right now.