Kevin Stallings unlikely to be the right choice to help Pitt ascend
When Jamie Dixon fled Pittsburgh for a fresh start at alma mater TCU last week, a surprising percentage of Panthers fans weren't all that disappointed by his departure.
Dixon led Pittsburgh to an impressive 11 NCAA tournament berths in 13 seasons, yet the program hadn't reached the Sweet 16 since 2009 and declined in national relevance the past five years.
Those in Pittsburgh who weren't satisfied with Dixon may beg him to come back now that they know who the Panthers chose as his replacement. Pittsburgh has hired Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, a man who had exhausted the patience of his own fan base in recent years with a track record that doesn't come close to matching Dixon's.
Vanderbilt has made the NCAA tournament seven times in Stallings' 17 seasons and has only reached the second weekend in 2004 and 2007. Stallings is known as a capable tactician with a knack for finding and developing under-the-radar prospects, yet recently his most talented rosters haven't accomplished all that much.
The Festus Ezeli-Jeff Taylor-John Jenkins nucleus never contended for an SEC title and produced only one NCAA tournament win during their time at Vanderbilt. This season's Commodores boasted pro prospects at point guard and center and an array of shooters around them, yet Vanderbilt underachieved throughout the regular season, suffered an opening-round SEC tournament loss to Tennessee and lost to Wichita State by 20 in the First Four.
Pittsburgh's hire might be easier to fathom if Stallings had strong ties to the region or a history of mining the Northeast for talent, but this isn't even a logical fit in that regard.
For elite Northeast recruits, the allure of Pittsburgh is the opportunity to stay within a few hours of home yet still compete against name-brand programs like Duke, North Carolina and Louisville in the ACC. Nothing about Stallings' track record suggests he's the best choice to tap into that pool of players considering the prospects he was recruiting to Vanderbilt hailed from an entirely different background.
Stallings had to recruit coast-to-coast at Vanderbilt to find prospects who could meet the school's stringent academic requirements. In order to bring talent to Pitt, he'll need assistant coaches with longstanding ties to basketball hotbeds like New York, New Jersey or Baltimore.
Why would Pittsburgh hire Stallings when the fit is questionable and he has little momentum? The only logical tie is the search firm athletic director Scott Barnes hired. The head of College Sports Associates is Todd Turner, the former Vanderbilt athletic director who hired Stallings in 1999.
In Pittsburgh's release trumpeting the school's new coach, Barnes states that Stallings runs "a fun up-tempo style that players love and fans will enjoy." The only problem with that? While Stallings may prefer a faster pace than the plodding Dixon did, Vanderbilt's average tempo the past four years was 263rd nationally.
If Pittsburgh fans are perplexed by the hire of Stallings, imagine how Panthers forward Sheldon Jeter must feel.
Jeter intended to transfer from Vanderbilt to a school closer to home after his freshman season three years ago, but Stallings would not release the Pennsylvania native to Pittsburgh. An appeal to Vanderbilt to overturn Stallings' decision failed, so Jeter had to pay tuition for one year before being put on scholarship at Pittsburgh.
Now Jeter is entering his final season and Stallings is his coach again — for now anyway. Jeter has the option of exploring graduate transfer options if he can earn his diploma by the end of the summer.
One positive for Stallings at Pittsburgh is that Dixon left him with a Top 25-caliber roster. Guard James Robinson is out of eligibility, but talented forwards Michael Young and Jamel Artis both have a year left, as does Jeter if he chooses to return.
When it appeared Vanderbilt was destined to miss the NCAA tournament in February, the school's student newspaper ran a column with the headline, "We need to fire Stallings."
Against all odds, Stallings has instead parlayed a season of underachievement into a more attractive job.
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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter!