Now that people can maybe look at things more rationally, including me, let's look at how this whole thing went down.
First, I will talk about the dear departed Jamie Dixon. I often got accused of being a Dixon apologist, but that's mostly because I wouldn't say "he sucks", which I heard multiple times a day from fans. One of the best things about doing this is that I've been around long enough that I've gotten to know a lot of coaches, and because I never burned them, they trust me with their real thoughts. And they thought what Dixon did at Pitt was nothing less than a miracle. I know a lot of people don't want to hear that because they think Pitt is supposed to be in the Final Four every year, but Pitt is not considered an easy place to win big. I emphasized that because Pitt does have a lot more going for it than most programs around the nation, but it doesn't have everything it takes to win big. And I think if Pitt fans can get it out of their head that they're not one of the blue blood programs, they will be much happier. That does not mean you shouldn't want to get the absolute most out of your program, but I heard names like John Calipari, Billy Donovan, and Gregg Marshall during the recruiting search, and with all due respect that shows just how out of touch many Pitt fans are. I can't stress this enough- coaches are NOT falling all over themselves to get to Pitt.
These are some of the quotes I've collected over the years from coaches, and how Pitt is perceived nationally:
"Do Pitt fans still think Miller will come? LOL"
"What are they smoking there? Don't they know what they have?
"If Dixon goes, they will realize."
"What are they thinking there?"
"When Dixon goes those Pitt fans of yours are screwed."
That's just some of them. I know many won't believe that because they still think Calipari and Miller secretly want to come to Pitt, but this is why I defended Dixon so much.
And I still had hope for Dixon up until the end of this year. I was warned that moving to the ACC will really hurt Pitt, and Dixon himself confided in people that it worried him, until he found a way to reinvent his program. And I had hoped that Dixon was strong enough to adapt and last out those last seven years of his contract. And I thought that if his team could get hot, beat Wisconsin and Xavier in the tournament, then follow it up with players like Justice Kithcart and Cory Manigault, Dixon could have the Panthers back on track. But when Pitt looked terrible in the first round I knew that was it. I even tweeted that that was the straw that broke the camel's back. Dixon, and the players, looked like they had enough.
The downside was that Dixon had seven years left on a very big contract. There's no way Pitt could fire him, and I didn't see him going just anywhere. His alma mater, TCU, didn't give a damn about basketball- until they did. Suddenly TCU wanted to invest in basketball, and who better than their golden boy, Dixon? He saved Dixon, TCU, and we assumed Pitt, all at once. Now Pitt can start fresh with a young up and comer. Pitt apparently thought that, too, since they didn't try to stop him.
But then things went downhill. Athletic Director Scott Barnes talked the talk and basically said he was looking for a young, fresh coach with a fast paced offense and who can recruit like hell. It sounded great and everybody was up for that. After thirteen years of very successful, but very bland, Dixon, a breath of fresh air was what was needed.
The problems started, however, when the coaching community that I've been hearing from for years were talking to national media guys, and the same thing came up. And that was that nobody with real options wanted to follow a coach that wasn't respected by his school, or the fans, despite being the most successful coach they ever had- by far. I know a lot of Pitt fans don't want to hear this either but not only did I hear it from coaches, but many national media guys repeated the same thing from coaches they've talked to. Nobody is making it up. Coaches want to be comfortable and Dixon never looked comfortable at Pitt. He overachieved at the program and the fans didn't appreciate that. And at the end, by letting him go, that told coaches around the country that the administration didn't care either. Whether all of this is true or not doesn't matter because perception is reality and that's what Barnes was up against.
But despite this fact, Barnes acted like it wasn't true. He acted like coaches would fall over themselves to come to Pitt. Not only did both Millers and Ben Howland say they weren't interested, I know for a fact from a source in the basketball department that two other P5 coaches (both in the same conference) and a non-P5 coach also said they had no interest. And that's just the ones I know of. The non-P5 coach was a less experienced coach that I thought Pitt may have a chance with. Both of the P5 coaches were a pipe dream, and the fact that Barnes didn't know that shows he may be out of touch.
Kevin Keatts wasn't even interviewed, and that's not a surprise. But would Will Wade be interested? And would he be better? Maybe. But the options weren't good. That led to Kevin Stallings who was on the hot seat after 17 seasons at Vanderbilt. His Vanderbilt team, led by three NBA draft picks, was favored to be win their division in the SEC, and they were a preseason top 25 team. Instead he went 11-7 in the SEC and barely squeaked into the tournament. His excuse was that his team was young and that he over scheduled because he thought they had the talent to compete.
It's no doubt that the Pitt fans who aren't really basketball fans would be outraged by Stallings. They think Pitt was destined for national championship by the boatload for some reason. And I can't speak for the rest of the people, but for me I was upset because of the type of coach Stallings is. He is cut from the same cloth as Dixon, Howland, Ralph Willard, and Paul Evans. Nothing fancy, on or off the court. Boring, in fact. It was time for that up and coming, hard recruiting, fast paced coach that Pitt needed, and that Barnes basically promised. The fact that he came up with Stallings after a very suspect search firm recommendation is especially troubling. To put it bluntly, this wasn't Barnes at his best (at least I hope).
But now that we acknowledge that let's look at Stallings in a rational way. He's considered one of the best offensive minds in college basketball. In fact, a recent poll by college coaches ranked him as the seventh best offensive coach in the country. That's impressive, as is the fact that he's averaged 20 wins a year at Illinois State and Vanderbilt, two places that are harder to win at than Pitt. Vanderbilt started playing basketball in 1900 and Stallings has half of their tournament appearances. That's another check in his favor. As a recruiter he's considered to be a very good one. Good enough that he's had seven NBA draft picks already, and will likely have three more this year. And that includes two first rounders this year. The downside is that despite having those NBA draft picks this year, and being a preseason top 25 team, he barely got into the tournament. One season does not mean everything, but of course there's always a chance that it could mean something.
To be honest, Stallings is really not below average at anything. In fact, he's pretty good at every aspect of coaching. Great at anything? Perhaps not, but not many are. Dixon certainly wasn't. I don't hide the fact that I think Dixon was an excellent coach, but Stallings is a better recruiter and a better offensive mind. Does that mean he will win 25 games a year like Dixon did? Highly unlikely. But that doesn't mean he can't get into a Sweet 16 or an Elite 8. Why couldn't he? He's a great offensive mind and he gets NBA type talent. Those two traits can make you successful in the tournament.
Stallings is 55, and has coached for 23 years. He hasn't hit it big yet, but that doesn't mean he still can't now that he's at the highest level he's ever been. Dana Altman was Oregon's third choice and didn't make the Sweet 16 until he was 54 and in his 24th year. He didn't get into the Elite 8 until this year, at 57 years old and in his 26th year. Bo Ryan bounced around for years in NAIA and D-3 before he made the Elite 8 at age 57. John Beilein was coaching for 25 years before he got hired by a major college- West Virginia- and he didn't make the Elite 8 until he was 54. The moral of the story is, you really don't know what a coach will do at a high level until he actually is there.
Bottom line, Stallings could flop, or Stallings could be wildly successful. I predict he'd be somewhere in between. Is that what Pitt fans want? Is that what I want? No. But he could conceivably do better than even I expect and it wouldn't surprise me. He is a very good coach, even if he wasn't the type of coach that I wanted.