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Gorman: Knight deserved better from Pitt

| Friday, April 1, 2016, 8:51 p.m.
Pitt great Brandin Knight was an assistant for eight seasons under Jamie Dixon. Knight passed on taking a position on new coach Kevin Stallings' staff.

Given the way its new athletic director treated him in the wake of Jamie Dixon's departure for TCU, Brandin Knight could have left Pitt bitter.

Instead, he left Pitt better.

Knight took the high road Thursday night in announcing on Twitter his decision to turn down the low-ball offer to stay on the staff as an assistant to new Panthers coach Kevin Stallings.

“Pitt will always hold a special place in my heart but after careful consideration I have decided to continue my career elsewhere. I can't thank the administration, fans, alums, the Oakland Zoo and the people of Pittsburgh enough for making my time here amazing.

“Coach Stallings and his staff will do a great job continuing the winning tradition of Pitt basketball. While it is difficult to say goodbye to a place that has been my home for the last 17 years, I am extremely excited about the opportunities that lie ahead!!! H2P.”

Now might be a good time to remind those at Pitt that its winning tradition was but a memory upon Knight's arrival as a freshman in 1999.

In Knight's four seasons as a player, Pitt won 89 games, its first Big East Tournament title, two regular-season conference titles and reached the NCAA Sweet 16 in back-to-back years.

In a decade on Dixon's staff, first as video coordinator and rising to top assistant, Knight helped the Panthers to their greatest success. Twice, they earned No. 1 NCAA seeds. They were within a Scottie Reynolds shot of their first Final Four in 2009.

Yet, Pitt allowed its best coach in school history to walk and then treated Knight like he was part of the problem.

And that's the problem.

When Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes announced that he would conduct a national search for a “successful, sitting Division I” head coach, it essentially ruled out Knight, who should have been treated as a serious candidate to succeed Dixon.

Not only was Knight an All-America point guard for the Panthers whose No. 20 jersey hangs from the rafters at Petersen Events Center, but he also was endorsed publicly by Dixon and Pitt players past and present.

But Barnes applied the Steve Pederson playbook for conducting a coaching search: Alienate the alums. Leave out the legends. Trample on tradition.

We all know how well that worked out for Pederson at Pitt and, previously, at Nebraska.

Problem is, Pitt also has a poor record of hiring minority head-coaching candidates for its revenue sports. The only black football coach it has hired, Mike Haywood, was fired 17 days later.

Given that Pitt is an inner-city school, having a black coach who is synonymous with Pitt's golden era as the face of the program wouldn't be a bad idea.

But it wasn't Barnes' idea, which made it irrelevant.

This isn't to suggest Pitt had to promote the 34-year-old Knight — though it did promote Dixon to replace Ben Howland — but its treatment of one of its all-time greats was shameful.

Some Pitt fans went so far as to say they would have preferred Knight if they had known they instead were getting Stallings.

Knight deserved better than receiving a courtesy interview, which is all it was.

Knight deserved better than a courtesy job offer to remain as an assistant, a move akin to a demotion after Stallings brought top assistant Tom Richardson with him from Vanderbilt.

When Pitt fans wonder why the school gets treated as a steppingstone job by outsiders, remember the lack of loyalty it showed to one of its legends.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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