Pitt’s Jeff Capel leaves time for important things in life (including watching Steelers games)
Basketball is foremost on Jeff Capel’s mind this week while he prepares Pitt for Rutgers (6-1) on Tuesday and a trip to play Louisville, the No. 1 team in the nation, Friday.
But in one way, he was just like you Sunday. He spent part of the day preparing for the Scarlet Knights’ visit to Petersen Events Center and part of it watching the Pittsburgh Steelers defeat the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field.
How did he manage that? Actually, it would be easy for anyone who, like Capel, strives to create balance in your life.
“Look, I’m busy,” he said to reporters Monday afternoon. “But this is my job. It’s not my life.
“I make time to watch (the Steelers). I make time to spend time with my family, especially my kids, as much as I can. I try to spend time with my wife to do things fun.”
That image of coaches who watch tape until their eyes hurt is something Capel tries to avoid.
“I don’t watch tape 24 hours a day or do basketball 24 hours a day,” he said. “This is something I love, and I’m passionate about. It’s not my life.
“That’s something I learned from my dad (who was a basketball coach at multiple levels) and something I’ve really tried to be cognizant of.
“Family, friends, doing things that are fun. Those things are way more important than just wins and losses.”
Capel is slowly rebuilding the Pitt program, and he’s off to a good start this season. He will take a 6-2 record into the Rutgers game, with a four-game winning streak, including victories against Power 5 schools Kansas State and Northwestern at the Fort Myers Tip-Off Tournament last week.
It’s not an easy job, but Capel has the background to handle it. Aside from learning from his dad, he played and coached for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.
“One of the best pieces of advice I got was from (Krzyzewski) and he said to me, ‘Don’t try to be your dad and don’t try to be me. Be you. And be very comfortable with that because who you are is good enough.’
“I’ve really tried to lean on that. I’ve been fortunate to be in these amazing situations and these positions.”
Capel, 44, was named coach at VCU at the age of 27. “A job that people didn’t think I should have,” he said.
“At 31, I was at a Power 5 conference (coaching Oklahoma). At 33, I was in the Elite 8 and finished the season ranked fifth or sixth, depending on what poll you looked at.”
Two years later, Oklahoma fired him.
“I’ve been through a lot of different things in this profession,” he said, “even though I still consider myself young.”
So, Capel can empathize with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin when he is second-guessed and criticized by fans and reporters. Tomlin was one of the first to call Capel and congratulate him when he was hired at Pitt.
Capel said he is not surprised by Tomlin’s recent run of success with a roster compromised by injuries.
‘I guess people nationally and maybe locally are, but I’m not surprised,” he said.
“I think Mike thrives in these situations. I think he’s a really good coach and really good coaches, you figure out a way and you have to make adjustments.
“I think Mike has stayed positive and I think that permeates throughout the culture of their organization and especially their football team. He instills a belief in those guys because of the belief he has in himself and his system.
“Year in and year out, he’s been one of the best coaches in the NFL. It’s unfortunate that they’ve had to lose everyone for people to maybe appreciate that. Sometimes, you can take really good things for granted.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .