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Pitt hires Vanderbilt's Stallings as new men's basketball coach

Rob Amen
| Sunday, March 27, 2016, 10:18 a.m.

Amid a firestorm of criticism on social media, Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes on Sunday named Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings as the university's next men's basketball coach.

Pitt will introduce Stallings at a news conference Monday.

“Coach Stallings and I share the same vision for Pitt — playing in the Final Four,” Barnes said in a prepared statement released by the university Sunday afternoon. “Kevin has a successful track record recruiting the ACC footprint and beyond and is one of the best coaches in the country at building an offense around his talent. He plays a fun, up-tempo style that players love and fans will enjoy. Kevin runs his program with impeccable character and has a high care factor and connection with his student-athletes. He is a Power 5 conference coach whose experience and success will be immediate assets for our program.”

Stallings becomes the program's 15th coach. He compiled a 455-283 record with nine NCAA Tournament appearances over a 23-year head coaching career. He began his head coaching career at Illinois State in 1993 before taking control at Vanderbilt prior to the 1999-00 season.

“I am extremely excited to join the University of Pittsburgh family,” Stallings said in a statement. “Pitt has a tremendous basketball tradition, and I am looking forward to building on the excellent foundation that is in place on the court and in the classroom. The city of Pittsburgh is outstanding, and I have a great deal of respect for the people that make it such a special place. I look forward to seeing their support along with that of the Oakland Zoo next season at the Petersen Events Center.”

Surprise move?

A search that began, at least in the public's mind, with former Pitt guard and current Arizona coach Sean Miller ended with the unexpected in Stallings.

Stallings, 55, just completed his 17th season at Vanderbilt, going 19-14 and tying for third in the SEC at 11-7. He had a 332-220 record and made seven NCAA Tournament appearances during his time in Nashville, Tenn. He went 5-7 in the NCAA Tournament with two Sweet 16 appearances. He never led the Commodores to the Elite Eight.

Stallings was rumored to be on the hot seat and a candidate to be fired by the Vanderbilt administration as recently as a few days ago.

Fans and even national media reacted harshly on Twitter when Stallings' name surfaced late Saturday as a possible candidate.

Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy called the move “ludicrous.”

Breaking the mold?

At first blush, Stallings does not appear to fit the mold of what Barnes said he was looking for at a news conference last Monday after former coach Jamie Dixon left for Texas Christian University.

Barnes, who said Pitt was willing to “soften” Dixon's buyout, making it easier for him to leave for TCU, insisted the Panthers offered a “national job” despite admitting attendance had become an issue and that Pitt needed a jolt. He said he was looking for someone who could “move that needle,” run an up-tempo offense that would prove attractive for recruits and “recruit his tail off.”

“A fresh start and a fresh face and a fresh vision can do that and you've seen that in football, and I guarantee you you'll see that in basketball,” he said.

But Vanderbilt scored 75.9 points per game this season, ranking 108th out of 346 Division I teams. Pitt tied for 131st with 75.0 ppg.

According to college basketball analyst Ken Pomeroy, Vanderbilt's adjusted tempo — possessions per 40 minutes — ranked 192nd at 68.6. Pitt came in at 66.0 to rank 312nd. In comparison, West Virginia was 96th at 70.5.

The Commodores fared even worse during the previous three seasons, according to Pomeroy. Vanderbilt's adjusted tempo ranked 214th in 2015 (64.0 possessions per 450 minutes), 312nd in 2014 (63.4) and 335th in 2013 (60.8).

Many observers thought Barnes would target a young, up-and-comer such as Valparaiso's Bryce Drew or USC's Andy Enfield. Others believed Barnes, who made a splash hire in men's soccer circles when he hired Jay Vidovich — that sport's equivalent of a Mike Krzyzewski — would try to do the same with men's basketball.

While Stallings' name didn't surface in connection with the Pitt vacancy until late Saturday, it wouldn't be surprising if he was a top candidate all along.

ESPN reported Pitt hired the search firm Collegiate Sports Associates to assist in the finding Dixon's successor.

Todd Turner is the president of that firm. Turner hired Stallings in 1999 while Turner was athletic director at Vanderbilt. In 2005, while athletic director at Washington, Turner hired Barnes as senior associate athletic director for advancement.

What's ahead

Stallings has sizeable shoes to fill.

Dixon led Pitt to the NCAA Tournament in 11 of 13 seasons, won two Big East regular-season titles and a Big East Tournament title.

Stallings, though, could be up to the task. He is known for being a solid recruiter. He coached three SEC Players of the Year in Dan Langhi, Derrick Byars and Shan Foster and seven NBA Draft picks. He counts 37 All-SEC performers to his resume and coached the top three scorers (Foster, Jeffrey Taylor and Matt Freije) in Vanderbilt history.

Stallings was named SEC Coach of the Year in 2007 and 2010.

If everyone who is eligible returns next season, Pitt would have six of its top seven scorers back from a team that went 21-12. That includes top scorers Michael Young and Jamel Artis.

Those returnees, however, are not guaranteed. Former Pitt guard Tray Woodall told the Tribune-Review last week that he expected many players to leave the program if assistant Brandin Knight was bypassed for the job. Knight interviewed last week.

Rob Amen is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at ramen@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobAmenTrib.

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings communicates with his team during the first half Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Columbia, S.C.
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings communicates with his team during the first half Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Columbia, S.C.
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings communicates with his team during the first half against South Carolina on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Columbia, S.C.
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings communicates with his team during the first half against South Carolina on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Columbia, S.C.
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings gestures to his players during the second half against the Rutgers on November 28, 2014, in New York.
Getty Images
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings gestures to his players during the second half against the Rutgers on November 28, 2014, in New York.
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