Kevin Stallings shares at least one sentiment with followers of the Pitt men's basketball program; he isn't happy with Jamie Dixon. Extremely upset, Stallings went as far to say.
But Stallings, unlike many who made their opinions known after the Panthers' loss to Wisconsin 10 days prior to the new head coach's introduction, merely joked. He was tabbed by athletic director Scott Barnes as the man to take Pitt to the next level, and notes he has a "terribly tough" act to follow.
"His teams and he have set the bar very, very high," Stallings said. "Our goal, obviously, is to continue that standard of excellence with an eye on trying to do more and on trying to take the next step."
Barnes said the moment he knew he wanted Stallings, 55, as his new head men's basketball coach came during a discussion when he asked Stallings why he wanted the Pitt job. Stallings answered Barnes' question with another of his, wondering
"He said ‘I’m in,’" Barnes said. "That’s very, very important to him. That’s very important to us."
Stallings won 332 games in 17 years at Vanderbilt and led the Commodores to seven NCAA Tournament appearances in 17 years. Playing in the SEC, Stallings' teams finished with an overall losing record of 138-142 during his tenure in Nashville, Tenn.
While Stallings success in arguably the weakest basketball conference among Power 5 leagues, Barnes expressed confidence in Stallings' ability to help Pitt reach its goals because of the vision he shared with Barnes.
Stallings was reportedly on the verge of being fired at Vanderbilt before he earned interest from Pitt in the position vacated by Dixon. After losing to Wichita State by 20 in the First Four, Stallings said whether or not he would return to coach the Commodores for the 2016-17 season was "out of his hands."
Stallings denied any notion he was about to be relieved of his coaching duties at Vanderbilt, and said Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams told Stallings he wanted him to coach the Commodores as long as he wanted to.
Barnes said Pitt did not pay a buyout to Vanderbilt to hire Stallings. It is unknown what remained on Stallings' contract at Vanderbilt, if anything at all, as the university is a private institution and therefore not required to report its expenditures unlike a public university such as Pitt.
Stallings said he had not yet spoken to members of Pitt's existing staff but that he planned to meet with Brandin Knight Monday night, and other coaches soon. Stallings also says he hopes none of Pitt's players will seek to transfer, but that the program won't block anyone from leaving if a player decides that's what he wants to do.
Stallings also pointed out he was able to meet with the team for about 30 minutes this afternoon and called it the highlight of his day.
"I was energized by their energy," Stallings said, "I was fascinated, impressed with their togetherness and closeness, and I couldn’t be more excited to get out here on this court with them as soon as the rules will allow for.
-- Speaking of his players, Stallings and rising senior Sheldon Jeter have some history. As many have noted in the 36 hours since it became apparent Stalling would likely be Pitt's next head coach, Jeter played his freshman season at Vanderbilt and saw a good bit of time with a handful of starts to go alongside consistent minutes. But after that year, Jeter wanted to come back home.
When Jeter, a native of Beaver Falls, went to transfer to Pitt, the move was blocked by Vanderbilt. As a result, Jeter spent a year at a junior college in Florida--where he only attended classes and did not play basketball--before he returned to Pittsburgh.
Stallings confirmed Monday Pitt was the only school Jeter was blocked from transferring to when he was granted his release.
Barnes said Jeter was not consulted when Stallings became a candidate so as to not "disrupt the integrity" of Pitt's coaching search.
Stallings went on to say he and Jeter discussed their past relationship and made it sound as if the two have moved on and are willing to work together. However, as with everything else, time will tell.
Stallings' full comments on his situation with Jeter below:
"That’s something that Sheldon and I discussed and the details, quite frankly, are unimportant. I think if we had to do the situation again, things might have been handled a little bit differently. Honestly, that to me is something that’s in the past. I’ve spoken with Sheldon, I’ve spoken with his family and I think we’re all comfortable with what happened, I think we’re all comfortable with where we’re at right now and we’re all comfortable with what things look like going forward.
"Unfortunately, when you run a basketball program, you can’t share all the details of everything. It had nothing to do with character, it had nothing to do with...there were just details that...again, anybody that thinks that the head of any organization can stand up before people and give them all the details of anything is usually misguided because that’s just not the way it goes. I’m sure that’s not the way it goes in the media business either.
"There are things that all of us would differently if we had do-overs in our life. That might be one that I would do over but for me to go into specific detail about what happened, I think is useless and certainly not productive for Sheldon nor I and I’m really much more concerned about him than anything else."
-- Barnes on Stallings moving from the SEC to ACC:
"With no slight to Vanderbilt, there’s a lower ceiling at Vanderbilt. From the pool to recruit from, to the emphasis on basketball and likewise.
"You look at the job he’s done in that environment, he’s done very, very well. You look at the number of NBA draft picks that he’s recruited, you look at the success he’s had overall. Yes, it’s a different level of league but it also comes with challenges. One of the things coach and I talked about was, yes, there is a wide difference in getting to a Final Four from Vanderbilt or Pittsburgh because of some of those restraints."
-- Stallings mentioned multiple times he wants to play fast. However, according to KenPom.com, his last three teams ranked fairly low in adjusted tempo. The Commodores ranked no. 191 this past year, 214th in 2014 and worse than 300th in the previous two years.
Stallings went on to say that while he wants to play an uptempo style, he will construct his system to his players.
"We’re not going to run down and shoot the ball in four seconds if we don’t have a good shot," Stallings said. "To me that’s not a well-coached team. I hope that my team plays like it’s well-coached. If that means we shoot the ball in the last five secondsof the shot clock, I’m okay because I want the ball to go in."
-- Stallings on his recruiting philosophy:
"I think my recruiting approach, even when I was at Illinois State, was to think outside the box. It wasn’t just going to be high school players. We recruited junior college players, we recruited foreign kids there. I took that same philosophy to Vanderbilt, but the junior college portion of it had to be eliminated. We had to recruit high school kids, prep school kids and in some instances foreign kids. We will look globally. The basketball world has gotten smaller and smaller. We will look wherever we can look without losing sight on those things that are close to us, to where we need to take as good of an advantage as we can. We’ll be very expansive in what we do relative to our pool of players and who we try to draw from.
"We will look under every blanket to find what we need to find to make Pitt basketball successful."