Flavell: Give Kevin Stallings a chance

Posted on Jan 12 2018 - 10:17am by Cody Flavell
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Kevin Stallings has become a hot topic among Pitt Panthers fans and whether he should continue to be the Panthers head coach. (Photo: Mark Humphrey/Associated Press)

That headline alone will make a lot of people’s heads spin. But let’s be real for a second: Kevin Stallings deserves more than a two year window before making any rash judgments.

The Pittsburgh Panthers are exactly 24-26 in the Stallings era which is a far cry from what used to be a pretty solid program that consistently went to the NCAA Tournament. They spent all of last season trudging through the ACC and getting stomped by many teams, one game in which I’d like to speak about in particular and you will all remember it big time.

Jan. 24, 2017, was the date of a murder handed out by the Louisville Cardinals. They beat Pitt by 55-points in what can easily be seen as the low point of the Stallings era so far. Players had given up. Stallings had been T’d up and ejected.

It got ugly.

It came out largely after that players had quit on Stallings during that game and were very unsatisfied with the current state of the program after Jamie Dixon had departed for his alma-mater in TCU. Why would this be the case?

Considering the entire roster was made up of guys Dixon had recruited and long been coaching before he bounced for TCU. They were obviously disappointed and frustrated and had enough of the losing culture that seemingly has crept in since Stallings took over. It was a bad game and a miserable rest of the season.

Fast forward to 2017 when his second season began. He had only two returning players from last season in Ryan Luther and Jonathan Milligan. The team was based on entirely on freshmen who came in and were thrust into vital roles.

The season has been a disaster ever since Luther went down to injury and now will miss the rest of the season. He was their leader in just about every statistical category. He was a senior leader and was the voice on the court that kind of kept the Panthers together. A team can’t recover from that, especially when playing a Duke team filled with five-tar freshmen to all of Pitt’s two and three-star freshmen.

When you hire a coach, you’re expecting it to be a long term solution. In pro sports, you can get away with making coaching changes on a semi-regular basis. In college sports, you have a culture. You have tons of young kids who are going into their freshmen year of college which is a life-changing experience for most.

You are recruited by a coach who attempts to get you to commit to his school all-the-while you are trying to make sure he’s not going to go anywhere.

There is nothing better than having stability within your program. The football team has it with head coach Pat Narduzzi’s long-term extension. Am I suggesting athletic director Heather Lyke do the same with Stallings? Not necessarily. What I am saying is that Stallings needs to be kept around through at least next season.

With Luther being out, this team is very inexperienced. They have started five freshmen in three straight games. Pitt has never started five freshmen in the same game once since their existence before this season. The team is growing and they will grow together.

Stallings has a group of guys who have proven they are willing to play for him. In return, he has shown the same fire, notably when they played Louisville last week and Stallings was caught engaging with hecklers. The players visibly have played hard under him which is something the since graduated and transferred players didn’t do last season.

A source of mine who has close ties to Pitt basketball and asked to stay unnamed gave their support of Stallings when I approached them about it.

“He is a great basketball mind which Pitt fans have failed to see due to unfaithful players and a lack of talent on the team,” the source said.

Stallings has a winning record over the course of his career so he isn’t a reject that’s never coached anything big in his life. He has been to multiple NCAA Tournaments in the past. He has a track record from Vanderbilt and his days back at Illinois State.

Next year can only be better for the Panthers. If you watch a game, you can already see the growth in players like Shamiel Stevenson, Parker Stewart, Marcus Carr, and a lot of the other young guys on the team. They likely will get Luther back as he will be applying for a medical red-shirt that will allow him to play next year.

Stallings will have his new recruits come in and play and they will begin to build chemistry and gel with the players who will be growing up even more next season.

Pitt fans have already seen what instability can do to a program. Pitt is no longer a feared team at home. They are getting blown out by superior ACC competition.

They are obviously over-matched and out-powered in mostly every conference game they will play. If they fire Stallings now, it’s just all the more chance players transfer out and Pitt is set back even more.

Call it what it is: a rebuild. With rebuilding comes a need for a sense of stability to allow the program and players to begin to grow. In college, a new coach deserves about 3-5 years to really begin to build his program. Stallings deserves that chance.

If Pitt comes back next season and falls hard despite being a year older and having one of the best big men in the ACC in Luther back on their squad, then I understand revisiting the idea of a coaching change.

This is far from Stallings’ program yet. He deserves a bit of a chance to truly make it his and that won’t happen without endorsement from the fans.

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