Four years ago, former Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes made one of the most unpopular and ill-conceived coaching hires in recent history when he chose Kevin Stallings as the successor to Jamie Dixon. The move hastened the collapse of Pitt’s most successful program since the turn of the century, but that was of no consequence to Barnes, who moved on to become the athletic director at Oregon State just a few months after the hire.
However, on Tuesday, Barnes’ decision, which came to define his brief and dimly viewed tenure in Pittsburgh, was revisited by Matt Norlander of CBS Sports. Norlander graded every college basketball coaching hire from 2016 upon the passing of four years, or one full recruiting cycle, and assigned each one a grade. Barnes’ hiring of Stallings received an F. It was the only failing grade Norlander gave to any of the 12 hires in college basketball’s seven major conferences that year.
“What a horrendous hire, among the three or four worst by a power-conference school in the past two decades,” Norlander wrote of the move. “It’s not just 24-41 overall record nor the fact that Pitt was 0-18 in the ACC in Stallings’ second and final season of his coaching career. No, Pitt was also subject to NCAA violations under Stallings’ watch and in fact the man was dealt a three-year show-cause penalty in February 2020 for wrongdoings that were largely tied to non-coaches performing duties only allowed by coaches."
“But Stallings going to Pitt to begin with befuddled plenty in college basketball,” he added. “His time at Vanderbilt did not end well, and he wasn’t viewed as a particularly strong candidate for the Panthers job. But he took it, torpedoed it, and that was that. Now, Jeff Capel has the whistle, and Pitt awaits a surge back into the top third off its conference.”
During Stallings’ tenure, Pitt posted two losing seasons, including an abysmal 8-24 mark that set a record for the highest loss total in program history. In addition, he led the team to a 106-51 loss to Louisville on Jan. 24, 2017, which stands as Pitt’s most lopsided defeat since 1906. Prior to his arrival, the program had posted a win total under 20 just once in the Dixon era, which ran from 2003 until 2016.
Today, Pitt is under the control of former Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel, and he has gradually improved the program's standing in the ACC and college basketball overall. Since Capel was hired by new Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke in 2018, he has added impactful recruits, like Xavier Johnson and John Hugley, and guided the team to 30 wins, including nine against ACC teams. Capel's record includes nine more wins than Stallings was able to post in the same time frame, and he has more than doubled Stallings' ACC win total.