Did Jankovich's abrupt departure adversely affect the team? Impossible to say, but the Commodores struggled to an 11-18 mark last season.
Stallings held the staff position open through the 2002-03 season. But the night his old coaching buddy Tom Richardson was released by Illinois State, Stallings called to offer Richardson the job.
Working together at ISU from 1993-99, Stallings and Richardson presided over one of the most successful periods in Redbird basketball history. Their teams went 123-63 with two Missouri Valley Conference regular-season titles, two post-season conference tournament crowns, two trips to the NCAA Tournament and two to the NIT.
The two seem to have a synergy together, as well as similar views and approaches to the game.
"We both work hard," Richardson said after a recent practice session. "I think we both have similar philosophies, so that helps. My job is to know what Kevin wants and what he's thinking. That's what I did [at Illinois State], and that's what I'll try to do here."
"Tom is just an outstanding basketball coach," said Stallings. "He's an outstanding teacher of the game. He's great with the players, and in every aspect, whether it be scouting, individual workouts, practice, games, recruiting, whatever. He does an outstanding job in every facet."
Stallings offered Richardson the job in March, but Richardson waited until July to accept it. The specifics of the position were not really discussed in detail, Richardson said. But having worked together so closely in the past, the two coaches instinctively knew the course their new working relationship would take.
"When I came here, I just said, Kevin, I'm just coming here to help in any capacity I need to," Richardson said. "We haven't really defined that too much yet. I'm just kind of feeling my way right now.
"I'd like to think that, after spending time as a head coach, I have a better understanding and feel for what the head coach needs. I hope that will be a strength.
"I'd also like to think that I'm encouraging and positive and have a good rapport with the players, and be able to make them feel good about basketball and themselves, and hopefully translate that into some good things on the court."
With two other assistants already involved in recruiting (Jeff Jackson and Brad Frederick), Stallings didn't register Richardson as one of Vandy's three coaches who are eligible to go on the road recruiting-- but that could change. Richardson has an established reputation as a fine recruiter, and had an excellent class lined up at Illinois State when he was dismissed there last March.
Richardson has taken a lead role in helping organize official visits. "[Recruiting] is something that he does very well when given the opportunity, and he has certainly helped us on campus with the kids we've brought in," says Stallings.
"Our guys have done a terrific job this year in recruiting," Richardson said. "I think they're setting themselves up for one of the biggest recruiting classes they've had-- at least that's what they're saying, and I'm just repeating it. When a kid makes a visit, we all try to assist and close the deal. I've enjoyed recruiting in the past."
"Tom and I work well together because philosophically we see the game the same way," Stallings said. "He's a very, very bright basketball coach and a guy who is very loyal and hard working. He has every ingredient you want in a person on your staff."
Richardson was dismissed by Illinois State earlier this year after posting a 56-64 record over the last four seasons. The high-water mark was a 21-9 mark in 2000-01; the low, an 8-21 record in 2002-03 which resulted in his contract not being extended and a subsequent messy legal dispute.
After those experiences, would Richardson ever want to go back to being a head coach?
"That's an interesting question," he replies with a chuckle. "Right now I'm kind of enjoying of the anonymity of being an assistant.
"We had some very good years at Illinois State, and I had a bad year last year, which essentially cost me my job. Any time you go through something like that, there's trepidation.
"Certainly, I'd like another shot at it, but not right away. I'm enjoying my role here, and want to give that a little time. But then, yeah, I'd eventually like to be a head coach again, at some level."
Before coming to Illinois State, Richardson was 193-146 in 13 seasons as head coach at Nazareth Academy High School in LaGrange, Ill. He began his coaching career at his high school alma mater, Marist, in Chicago, where he was an assistant from 1977-79.
Another current Stallings assistant, Dan Muller, played for both Stallings and Richardson at Illinois State.
Richardson is married, and has two college-age daughters who remained at Illinois State. He also has an 11-year-old son, Matt, who recently moved to Nashville with the Richardsons.
"My wife and Matt just got here Oct. 1, although they'd been up through here a couple of times before. I've been here off and on since July, and full time for a while. So my transition here is a little bit ahead of theirs.
"But it's been terrific. I'm really enjoying the city of Nashville. I'm from Chicago, and like the big city. I enjoyed my time in Bloomington, which is a nice city, but I really like the activity of Nashville.
"Right now we're into six months of 24/7 basketball, of course, but I'm sure outside of basketball there are some other things to do. So I'm enjoying it. The Vanderbilt community has been very welcoming."