Boytim: Time for Pitt to cut ties with Stallings
During the first half of Pittsburgh’s season-ending 67-64 loss to Notre Dame on Tuesday in the first round of the ACC Tournament, the ESPN2 announcers poked fun at Panthers coach Kevin Stallings, suggesting all he had to look forward to was his buyout check.
It’s certainly easy to make that assumption based on Pitt’s 8-24 overall record and 0-19 mark against conference foes this season.
But the decision won’t be as simple for Panthers athletic director Heather Lyke.
First of all, it’s important to note this entire mess was created by former athletic director Scott Barnes during his 18 months at Pitt.
Barnes hired an established coach in Stallings, who had a good track record of getting the most of out a Vanderbilt program without much history.
Stallings replaced Jamie Dixon, a coach many fans in Pittsburgh wanted out because of his inability to push the Panthers to the next level of college basketball’s elite.
Dixon already had Pitt beyond the ceiling of Stallings’ accomplishments at Vanderbilt, and that’s why Barnes’ hiring of the veteran coach was met with resistance.
Almost nothing from Dixon’s time with the program remains.
In just two years, there are only a couple players left from the roster Dixon coached.
The Panthers aren’t tough in the paint.
And they can’t beat Syracuse anymore — something the Panthers had a knack for, even in the Carrier Dome, during Dixon’s tenure.
So why is Lyke’s decision a tough one?
For starters, that buyout check the announcers referenced Tuesday would be for $10 million, an alarming number that further makes you wonder if Barnes was actually acting as part-time AD while also serving as Stallings’ agent.
There are, however, a few numbers that make you think the Panthers could improve.
They got more than 100 starts this season from freshmen. Marcus Carr had a decent freshman year after coming in as a Rivals Top 100 recruit, and St. John’s transfer Malik Ellison, a 6-foot-6 guard who started 26 games for the Red Storm as a sophomore, will join the team next year.
Parker Stewart set the Pitt record for most 3-pointers by a freshman, and Ryan Luther, who was Pitt’s best player before his foot injury, may return if he’s granted a medical redshirt.
Returning talent is always important, but as Pitt shifts its concentration onto the 2018-19 season, is it something to look forward to for this squad?
Stallings could never settle on a starting lineup, putting out 19 different ones in 32 games. Instead of sticking with his freshmen when the season was clearly lost, he went back to seniors like Jonathan Milligan, perhaps hoping to win a game or two to save his job.
This shows he isn’t really sure these guys can be the future of the program, and if they are, he isn’t sure which ones. That speaks to a lack of star power and talent.
Yes, Pitt is playing in a tough conference with a majority of players in their first go-around in Division I college basketball, but the Panthers have played more than 30 games and haven’t shown any signs of improvement.
The team doesn’t shoot well from beyond the arc, yet often becomes stagnant on offense and fires up 3-pointers early in the shot clock, which leads to bigger deficits.
The Panthers were the only team in Division I college basketball with no conference wins this season and lost their ACC games by an average of 19.1 points.
Less than 10 years ago, Pitt was the No. 1 ranked team in all of college basketball. Now attendance at the Petersen Events Center, once considered one of the toughest places to play in the sport, is at an all-time low.
The question becomes whether there’s a coach out there who can save the Panthers. Or has the program deteriorated so much in the two years under Stallings that the best course of action is to keep the embattled coach and see if he can get things straightened out with more time?
The belief here is that Stallings had a plan and a vision for Pitt, but it isn’t coming to fruition. The players he brought in aren’t doing what he expected, and he wasn’t ready for the challenge the ACC brings.
It’s time to move on and eat the $10 million.
If that means cleaning out and starting from scratch, just remember it can’t get much worse than 0-19 and, like the Panthers did in a Feb. 24 home loss to Virginia, scoring seven points in a half.
Michael Boytim can be reached at 946-7521 and firstname.lastname@example.org