The Naismith Coach of the Year late-season watchlist came out this morning, and Pittsburgh Panthers coach Jeff Capel has found his name on that list. With only fifteen coaches nominated, Capel is truly amongst the sports’ elite coaching names.
It’s no shock to see Capel nominated for this award when you look at the results on paper. A Panthers team picked to finish 13th in the ACC before the season began currently sits tied atop the conference with perennial powerhouse Virginia thanks to his guidance. The Panthers have set a program record for wins in ACC play already, and with five more games to play, they can further entrench that record.
The Panthers are currently 19-7 (12-3 ACC) and have locked in their first winning season since the 2015-2016 season, Jamie Dixon’s last season in charge. That was also the last season the Panthers made the NCAA tournament, another drought likely to be ended thanks to Capel.
This dream season could not have been foreseen by anyone outside of the Panthers’ locker room, and it comes at the perfect time. This is Coach Capel’s fifth year in charge, the first four of which were marred by ugly out-of-conference losses, inconsistencies on the court, and performances not up to par with the expectations of a historic basketball program. With his back against the wall, Capel has saved his job while also reinvigorating a fanbase of Panther fans desperate for some success to latch on to.
If you’ve stepped foot in the Pete for a home game since the start of ACC play, you can tell from the energy buzzing throughout the crowd that something is different about this bunch. Crowds are electric, as seen by the sellout against Miami, Pitt’s first since Zion Williamson and Duke came to town in the 2018-19 season. Capel and a group of players pieced together from the transfer portal far and wide (or bought, as some have suggested) are to thank for this newly energized take on Pitt basketball, and how unexpected this success was has only made it more enjoyable.