Stalling’s Not Off Base By Sticking Up For Players

Kevin Stallings ruffled some feathers the other day during a game against Louisville where his team had falling way behind and was taking a beating on the court.  And from all that is being reported, he and the players on the bench were taking just as big a beating.   He responded to those who were doing the talking.  In most cases a coach barking at fans, is probably not the smartest play. Though, I believe he probably should have not said what was said, I think he was not off base for sticking up for his kids.  That is something we never saw from him last year, and there are reasons for that.  But let’s take a look back to really where all the trouble began.

Two years ago,( I know I know, I went way back but hear me out) Kevin Stallings was announced as the new Head Coach for the Pitt Panthers Mens Basketball Team.  Much of the Fan base, was disappointed in the choice believing that the University should have gotten a big name to take over after Jamie Dixon left.

To those who thought that, Pitt could bring in Sean Miller or his brothers for any dollar amount, could not be farther off base.  And for those that wanted an up and comer that has major risk and rish I don’t think the AD at the time wanted anything to do with.  Kevin Stallings has nearly 500 wins in his career, and has a history of success at a tough University to not only recruit but to win.

Unfortunately for Stallings, he was forced to tear down and rebuild by the end of his first year.  That would have happened regardless because of the amount of seniors on the team and change in coaching staff but it ended up just being one more thing for the fan base to pin on him.

With regards to Dixon, Many wanted to move on from a very stale situation with him, while others were frustrated but satisfied with Dixon’s  performance. Jamie Dixon was offered an opportunity at his alma mater TCU to take over as the Head coach and decided to make the move.  TCU competes  in a conference in which the play is similar to the old Big East Style of basketball.  The conference promotes a very tough, half court, and even at times lower scoring style of ball that plays into what Dixon believes in and teaches.

Dixon was never going to be a good fit in the ACC and when he decided to move on, he left  the keys to a vehicle that could no longer run on autopilot.  Why is that you ask?  There are many theories, but I believe there were real issues and lack of talent at the Guard position.  That was first and foremost a major problem.

During the Dixon Era, the guard position was held down by the likes of Brandon Knight, Carl Krauser, and Levance Fields.  That was followed by Brad Wanamaker, Travon Woodall, and Ashton Gibbs.  Most recently, we had the privilege to watch the likes of James Robinson who was the last of the great Pitt Guards.  What did that group of players  have that Pitt lacked last year?  A whole lot actually

All of those players were not only great distributors of the basketball and could score, but they were also great leaders on and off the court.   When Robinson graduated, it left the team without quality guard on the roster for Stallings.   He was forced to start Jamel Artis, who was a scoring option at guard but was never a real good option to facilitate a Stallings style of offense.  Not to mention, he lacked the leadership that Dixon had with those other guys.

For the most part last year, the players not only did not buy in to Stallings but they also did not have a stand up leader in that locker room to rally around.  In turn, Stallings did not have a guy in that locker room that was a leader for the other players to look to.   If they would have that, I believe the outcome of the season would have been a much different.   Instead we were able to watch the meltdown of a senior laden team that had no leadership and was visibly in transition.

While that melt down occurred, it gave the fan base even more reason to dislike the choice for Coach of the Basketball team.

At the end of the season, they were obviously losing seniors Jamel Artis, Michael Young, Chris Jones, and Sheldon Jeter.  There were also some players that were recruited or transferred in that had not played all that much, that watched the turmoil of a tough season and decided to leave.

Then there was the handling of Cameron Johnson’s graduate transfer to North Carolina.  First off, it was clear Coach Stallings did not want him to go at all, but Cam Johnson could see he was going to be here with Ryan Luther, Jonathan Milligan and a team full of freshmen.  He had graduated in just 3 season and wanted to  compete for a Championship and knew that he would not be able to do that in his final couple of seasons at Pitt as they rebuild.

Stallings in the end, did not mind him leaving but did not want him to go somewhere he would be able to play against him every year.  The University had a policy that they could block a transfer to a program in the same conference. Honestly, it is easy to see both sides of this issue, but the fan base and National Media took it upon themselves to hammer away at Stallings and the University… although mostly Stallings. What made it a bigger issue is the fact that Kevin (while at Vanderbilt) had tried to block a transfer of Sheldon Jeter from Vanderbilt to Pitt, his home town.  Jeter had to take a year off, but would eventually join the program.

That brings us to this season.  A season in which most fans wrote off early. By all accounts, if you measure success only by wins then that would probably have been a safe bet.  The coach essentially had to retool the entire program.  He and his staff went out and brought in 7 freshmen, a couple of junior college transfers… a total of 11 new players.

The season started slow because of the youth of the team and the fact that they had not every played together.  If you had read any of my prior Basketball coverage, you will know that I have documented this well.  The Panthers started 1-4 which gave the fan base even more ammo.  Then they started to figure some things out.  Pitt would finish the non conference 8-5 with some momentum.

That momentum was short lived with the loss of their only established Senior Ryan Luther for what will end up being about 3-4 weeks.  Luther was averaging a double double before his injury.  The Panthers started ACC play against Miami and hung tight with them for about 17 minutes with what is the 4th or 5th youngest team in Division 1 basketball.  Miami would eventually pull away from the Panthers to beat them by double digit points at home.

Pitt then went on the road against Louisville on Tuesday where they would once again hang tight for nearly half the first half, but their offensive shortcomings and youth would prove to be too much to overcome.  That is when he and his players would start to get heckled heavily on the sidelines.

That is when Kevin Stallings responded.  For audio of what he said, click here for that and his post game response to the question.

His response was essentially this, At least I did not pay 100k for my players. During his post game press conference, he stated he PROBABLY should have picked something difference to say, but he was not going to let that continue without defending his kids.

I realize that was way more than just what was said at Louisville.  And  Yes I realize I included his hiring and everything that led up to this incident.  Make no mistake, what happened in Louisville and the response that Stallings has received was inspired by everything that has happened since his arrival.

I think I have said this before but it is worth mentioning.  Coach Stallings because of all of the venom aimed at him, his kids and this program has led him take a near bunker mentality.  Unfortunately for him, in the case at Louisville he was left with no other alternative. His team was getting beat and and the game was essentially over.  But his kids were still playing and putting forth effort which is what your looking for as a coach of a young team.

One of the the more encouraging things that came from the past week is a tweet that came out from Khameron Davis, one of the good young Freshmen on this team.

This is something no one was saying last season when things went south. Davis tweeted something else that was poignant…

Click the instagram image and you’ll understand.

Coach Stallings has said over and over that he loves coaching this group because they fight and work hard.  They listen and are coachable which is probably way more than what he had last season.  From what it sounds like, The Coach would go to the ends of the earth for his players, as long as they do the same.

Guess what?  It’s the same in life… your friends, family, or coworker that does for you, you return that favor.  Is this not what you want from your leader?  Maybe you want a more professional response, which I get.  But when your team is stacked full of underclassmen and your starting 5 freshmen, not even redshirt freshmen, the coach is not only the coach but the defacto floor leader.

That is until someone steps up.  Luther was moving into that role, then was injured.  That has taken him out of the lineup and off the floor where he is needed most.

On a humerous note…

Then, the king of all crooked coaches spoke out yesterday.

Rick Pitino, the pope of College Basketball and the saint Of all saints called Kevin Stallings a “Jackass.” Rick Pitino was a great coach, but he is a liar, an adulterer and most emphatically a failure in humanity.  He is the one coach on this planet that should never Criticize another coach or program for any reason. Pitino is a Vial disgusting cheater, and did I mention a bold-faced liar.

You get the gist, the issues started when Stallings was hired. The remarks just added fuel to the fire.  But in the end, what he did was not wrong. It may not have been perfect, but it was not wrong.  The intention was correct and in most cases, that is all you can ask for.  His players love  him and play hard for him and in a program that is rebuilding, that is all you can ask for.



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