Gorman: 'Memorable' Selection Sunday for Stallings
On what could have been a Sunday to suffer in his sorrows, Kevin Stallings instead got a surprise that made a postseason tourney bid pale by comparison.
On the Sunday the Big Dance field was announced, the Pitt men's basketball coach was at a different dance competition. Stallings was in Atlanta to see his daughter, Jordyn, for the first time since Christmas.
Then Stallings got a text message from his son, Jacob, a catcher for the Pirates, that his wife was ready to go into labor. Jacob left spring training in Bradenton, and Kevin and his wife, Lisa, took a flight to Nashville.
By the time the NCAA brackets were unveiled, Kevin was the proud grandfather of a baby boy, Emmitt Campbell Stallings. He tweeted his arrival, #NewToTheZoo.
March Madness, anyone?
“The most depressing day, if you're not in the NCAA Tournament, is Selection Sunday,” Stallings said. “Obviously, that turned what can be a depressing day into a memorable, awesome family experience.”
It was a beautiful bookend to another, when Kevin got to see Jacob make his MLB debut last June at Wrigley Field.
In between, Kevin Stallings endured a tumultuous inaugural season with the Panthers. Pitt finished 16-17, suffering its first losing season since 1999-2000.
The juxtaposition of last weekend wasn't lost on Stallings, providing a fresh focus and a dose of perspective at a time when those lines could easily become blurred.
“As important as it is for our program and our teams to have success for me, that kind of pales in comparison to a child being born,” Stallings said. “It changes everything. It's been a topsy-turvy year, but there have certainly been some wonderful moments in it.”
Those moments, which included victories over NCAA qualifiers Marquette, Maryland, Virginia and Florida State, were too often overshadowed by adversity and the Panthers' poor response. Stallings takes responsibility for not convincing his players to completely buy into playing defense, let alone playing for and with each other.
True, he was coaching a team assembled by Jamie Dixon, one with little depth before injuries first to Crisshawn Clark, then to Ryan Luther and Mike Young in a 24-hour period.
“I really look at those as failures on my part,” Stallings said. “I can sit here and rationalize and make excuses and say, ‘I didn't recruit them, blah, blah, blah,' but it's still my job and my mission to get guys out of their own way and give themselves up for the team. That's what I have to do in order to make this program, to make any team as successful as it can be.”
Complicating matters was the abrupt departure of Scott Barnes, the athletic director whose hiring of Stallings through the connection of a search firm was highly criticized.
Barnes left last month for Oregon State.
“Chancellor (Patrick) Gallagher has been unbelievably awesome to me, so I have felt support and supported in every direction, at every turn,” Stallings said. “I was concerned when Scott left. Certainly, a new AD may come in and not want me to be his basketball coach.
“That's the thing you understand in this business: When your boss changes, sometimes your job can change. I'm very wide-eyed about that. You have to put on your big-boy pants and understand everything is not going to be perfect. In light of his leaving, it would be impossible for me to feel any more support.”
Stallings is optimistic about next season, even with the likelihood that Luther and Cameron Johnson will be the only returning players. Pitt has seven incoming recruits, and Stallings and his staff are still on the road recruiting.
“If you want the truth, next year will feel like year one in our program,” Stallings said. “It'll be our opportunity to begin to make it our program. It would have been nice to still be playing — you never want to see your season end — but at the same time it's also exciting to look forward to getting guys in here who want to be here because of you.”
After seeing Stallings leave a dance for a baby's birth on NCAA Selection Sunday, Pitt can only hope he oversees a basketball rebirth that has the Panthers going back to the Big Dance.