Tough part begins now for Pitt

PITTSBURGH — Heather Lyke’s first major decision as Pitt’s athletic director turned out to be easy.

Kevin Stallings had to go.

He was fired as basketball coach not long after his team concluded an unprecedented 0-19 season in the ACC.

The ineptitude spoke for itself, but was there a larger issue, too. Did anyone think Stallings had a viable plan to reverse the sudden slide of Pitt basketball? Gone are the days when the games were a hot ticket whose price could be negotiated on the street outside the Petersen Event Center.

The press conference announcing Stallings’ hiring two years ago was a flop, and things went downhill from there. Stallings clashed with the players he inherited, didn’t bring in adequate replacements and found himself in the awkward position of working for an AD who didn’t hire him.

The program is a mess, and triggering Stallings’ buyout will dent the budget, no matter what the final amount is.

So what does Pitt do now?

When a coach is fired, the hiring process usually heads in the completely opposite direction.

That would have Pitt looking for someone younger and less experienced, an assistant who is anxious for that first opportunity to run his own program.

The job will attract capable candidates. There’s a quality conference affiliation and a recent history of success. Pay will be competitive, especially for a first-time head coach.

If someone can reverse the momentum at Pitt, that coach can write his own ticket for a bigger and better job.

Filling the job looms as a huge decision for Pitt. Creating the vacancy was the easy part.

Sweet deal

Instead of fighting with Stallings about the size of his buyout, Pitt ought to launch an in-house investigation to find out how he wound up with such a generous deal.

It wasn’t like Stallings had a ton of leverage when he came to Pitt from Vanderbilt.

Ducking out

Stallings was fired by news release, which was lame on Pitt’s part.

If a change of that magnitude is going to be made, someone from the university should have been available to answer questions about it.

Time to step up

The amount of success the Pirates have this season will largely be determined by the quality of their starting pitching.

That automatically makes Jameson Taillon the most important pitcher in the rotation.

His star-crossed career has been filled with injury-related interruptions, none more serious than the cancer surgery he endured last season.

The Pirates are in search of a No. 1 starter with Gerrit Cole gone. Taillon has both the physical ability and the mental makeup to take that job.

Not a fond farewell

Mike Mitchell will apparently be released by the Steelers, who are in a Texas Death Match against the NFL salary cap.

The Steelers need to get much better on defense, and jettisoning Mitchell probably won’t help with that goal. But he’s headed into the last year of his contract, he has injury history and his departure will wipe about $5 million off the Steelers’ cap number.

Mitchell was a hard hitter and an outspoken player, which seemed to irritate a lot of people. That’s too bad. His belligerent attitude would have fit in well with previous generations of Steelers defenses.

He deserved more respect than Steeler Nation ever seemed to give him.

Stay calm

A lot of people got edgy in a hurry when the Penguins had a mini-tailspin following the trade deadline.

Yes, they’ll miss Ian Cole, whose trade weakens a dubious group of defensemen.

But give the changes a chance to settle before declaring panic.

After his performance in the last two seasons, hasn’t general manager Jim Rutherford earned some degree of trust?

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com.