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Tim Benz

Tim Benz: Pitt had to fire Kevin Stallings, but he probably didn't deserve it

| Thursday, March 8, 2018, 7:39 p.m.
Former Pitt basketball coach Kevin Stallings looks on from the sidelines during his last game at Petersen Events Center on Saturday Feb. 24, 2018.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Former Pitt basketball coach Kevin Stallings looks on from the sidelines during his last game at Petersen Events Center on Saturday Feb. 24, 2018.
Former Pitt coach Kevin Stallings with athletic director Heather Lyke before Stalling's last home game against Virginia on Saturday Feb. 24, 2018, at Petersen Events Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Former Pitt coach Kevin Stallings with athletic director Heather Lyke before Stalling's last home game against Virginia on Saturday Feb. 24, 2018, at Petersen Events Center.
Former Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings during his last home game against Virginia Saturday Feb. 24, 2018 at Petersen Events Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Former Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings during his last home game against Virginia Saturday Feb. 24, 2018 at Petersen Events Center.

In the sports columnist/sports talk business you are supposed to “have a hot take” and stick to it.

Take a hard line. Embed an opinion and stand firm on it.

• The Steelers should franchise or get rid of Le'Veon Bell. (They should franchise him.)

• The Penguins should've traded for Derick Brassard or just kept Ian Cole. (They should've made the trade.)

• The Pirates are or aren't guilty of disingenuous PR spin about their offseason moves. (Do I really need to answer that one?)

I have to admit though, I had a really hard time with the discussion about Kevin Stallings potentially getting fired at Pitt.

As the weeks passed along toward his eventual dismissal Thursday, I found my opinion vacillating. Because you can easily see both sides of the argument.

On one hand, is it really fair to fire him?

He was given a bad situation for Year 2 the day he signed his contract. Not only was the lack of incoming talent after his first year on the job dubious, he later had the unexpected transfer of Cam Johnson and the injury to Ryan Luther, as well.

Plus, some Panthers backers appropriately fear that Stallings' ouster will create the perception the program is chronically unstable — that the rebuilding process will never end and that Stallings' replacement will start even further behind the eight-ball than his predecessor did.

Oh, and then there's flushing as much as $9 million down the toilet in a buyout.

I tried to talk myself into that. But I finally realized it for sure Thursday morning after Stallings was dismissed: Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke made the right move.

Firing Stallings was the right thing to do.

Is that fair to Stallings based on the reasons I outlined above? No.

But it's not Lyke's top priority to be fair to Stallings. It's her top priority to be fair to the program.

Also, she's not the one who hired Stallings in the first place. Scott Barnes' regrettable “Prestige World Wide”-esque search firm did.

And if it's her belief that the program is better off doing a control-alt-delete reboot now, I can't blame her.

Some people are saying: “Well, Stallings will make them better next year.”

Of course it'll be better. It can't be worse! They didn't win a single conference game.

Then you have to ask the question, if it does get better, even in a best case scenario, by how much? A hyper-optimistic 6-7 win ACC season would be a massive upgrade.

Yet that still probably wouldn't be good enough to re-engage the fan base or keep Stallings' job after 2019.

The truth is, for as bad as this season was going to be from the outset, it never had to be THIS bad.

At least don't blow that lead against N.C. State for goodness sake. Finish the ACC tournament comeback against Notre Dame. Maybe beat Wake Forest or steal a game at home versus Syracuse.

And by no means did last year need to be the train wreck that it was either. I know, I know, they didn't have a natural point guard. But they returned four starting seniors, and six major contributors from a tournament team the year before.

What coach falls into that kind of situation?

Let me rephrase. What coach falls into that kind of situation and only manages to win four conference games?

One that should be fired I guess.

The real tipping point for me, however, was remembering how Stallings got hired in the first place. That's what clinched my opinion on this. I just needed the reality of the firing to remember how that glad-handing, backslapping, good ole boy search firm redefined cronyism to get Stallings hired here to begin with.

This feels strange to write and may sound weird to read out loud, but it's not Stallings' fault he was a bad hire.

Unfortunately though, he was.

It certainly wasn't Lyke's fault.

So why should she have to wait another year to give someone else's error another chance to work itself out.

Stallings is getting a raw deal here. But Lyke and the program itself were dealt a bad hand, too.

That dealer (Scott Barnes) left the table and jumped out to Oregon State.

Lyke is making the right call by folding her current hand, taking a loss, and going for new buy-in next year.

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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