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Pitt

Pitt coach Kevin Stallings refuses to flinch amid massive program rebuild

Jerry DiPaola
| Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, 9:15 p.m.

Pitt coach Kevin Stallings knows enough basketball after 25 years of teaching it that almost nothing he sees on the court confuses him.

But he is perplexed by a question he gets occasionally from people outside the program wondering if he really wants to tackle the massive rebuilding project at Pitt.

“If people knew the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would have said, maybe it would be clearer,” he said.

Speaking for the first time about his job transfer from Vanderbilt to Pitt 21 months ago — and the strain it has placed on his family — Stallings said he loves what's happening to his program in the present and is excited for the future.

“If you want to call it the worst, the worst is behind us,” he said. “I knew what I was getting into. I volunteered for it. I was excited about it. I'm more excited about it today than the day I took the job.”

The Stallings family consists of Kevin and his wife Lisa and three children — Jacob, a catcher in the Pirates farm system; Alexa, a recent graduate of North Carolina; and Jordyn, a high school junior in Nashville, Tenn.

Like many families whose chief breadwinner takes a job in another city, the Stallings decided to keep Jordyn in her familiar school while Kevin went to Pittsburgh.

“I think families all over do that,” he said. “I think people in all walks of life make decisions that are best for their children, and that's what we have done.

“That's been hard on our family because our family prefers to be together. We're making sacrifices for the betterment of our youngest child.

“But if you include the difficulties of the job and the strains it's created on the family, nobody in their right mind would say, ‘Do you want to be here?'

“There's no part of us that regrets it, but that doesn't make it any less difficult.”

The family has been together at various times since Stallings was hired in March 2016 — earlier this season at Thanksgiving, for example. And Stallings is looking forward to going back to Nashville for a three-day break before the ACC opener Dec. 30 against Miami.

No one could have predicted what has happened to Pitt in Stallings' first season on the job.

A team with four returning seniors never responded to a coach not named Jamie Dixon, and Pitt finished 16-17 (4-14 in the ACC).

With several transfers and the departure of the seniors — one of whom, Chris Jones, is a graduate manager this season — Stallings said he was forced to recruit what amounted to three classes in one year.

“I certainly didn't know what I would be confronted with in year one, in terms of the turnover and the rebuilding that would need to take place,” he said.

But he said the challenge in year two has been energizing, and he has set a goal to make Pitt basketball as good or better than it has been in the past. He isn't predicting when that will happen, but he said he just tries to make his team better every day.

He said he has been approached about other job opportunities, but the lure of coaching and building a program — even from the ground floor — was too strong.

“I've reached a point in my life where I don't have to continue doing this if I don't want,” the 57-year-old Stallings said. “There are a number of other things I could do, but I'm doing because I love to do it and I'm excited about the opportunity to do it here.”

He doesn't mind the adversity — although being 5-5 entering Saturday's game against McNeese State wasn't in his plan — because the players on his young roster have been responsive and eager to learn.

“Through those difficulties and those adversities most humans find more joy on the other side of that and I certainly have,” he said. “I have thoroughly enjoyed this team.

“And I thoroughly believe in the opportunity we have and what we're building.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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