Did Kevin Stallings' dalliance with Ohio State do any lasting damage, to the coach, or to the Vanderbilt basketball program? For all those wondering about that, I can give you the 100%-certain correct answer: "Only time will tell."
Stallings' decision to overtly pursue the Ohio State job, to "chase his Big Ten dream" as Vice Chancellor David Williams put it, left many Vanderbilt fans understandably disillusioned. As the search dragged on into the middle of last week, some fans expressed feelings of bitterness that Stallings would leave the program dangling for so long. Longtime hoops fans were having premonitions of 1993 all over again.
Hopefully, loyal fans will be able to set aside any feelings of bitterness and embrace the man who led Vandy to a memorable 23-10 season last year. The whole episode was unsettling, but there at least three things, yea four, in which all Commodore fans should be able to take comfort.
First, Vandy fans should all be grateful the Commodores had a good enough season that anyone would want to steal away their head man. (No one wanted to do that the last three years, and having a coach in demand sho 'nuff beats having your coach on the hot seat.)
Second, be eternally grateful Vandy does not have to go shopping for a new coach in July... in the middle of the recruiting evaluation period, no less. There could hardly have been a worse time.
Third, be glad that Stallings handled the episode with forthrightness. While Matta was roundly criticized by the national press for backtracking after his early "denials" of interest, Stallings, though he never commented on the matter, came out looking good.
Lastly, Commodore fans, thank your lucky stars for an administration that makes its coaches feel wanted and needed. As he had done in the Tim Corbin situation two weeks earlier, Williams acted quickly and proactively to let it be known that Vandy was willing to fight if necessary to retain Stallings.
In his only statement to the press and to the fans, Stallings thanked the administration for its "patience, understanding and support," and referred to his decision process as "a very personal, private and family matter." The letter accompanying the release made it very clear that Stallings would not be taking questions regarding this curious chapter of his tenure.
Stallings is an interesting character study. In a roomful of reporters, he can be witty, engaging, as well as candid and forthcoming. Though perhaps not a natural in the public eye, he is generally cooperative, good-natured and helpful to those who seek his time. He understands well what the press needs, and generally he gives it to them.
Yet on certain matters, usually regarding internal team affairs and his family, he reserves the right to close the curtain and withdraw from the cameras and public curiosity. Clearly, this was one of those times. Hopefully, that's something that Commodore fans can identify with and understand.
Williams said Thursday on the radio that Stallings and Vandy were close to signing a new agreement that would keep him on board more permanently. (Surely, he's no worse a coach now than he was the week before, when Williams was saying all those nice things about him?) With his status at Vanderbilt solidified, both he and the basketball program could emerge from this even stronger.
In the end, he's still Vandy's coach. And for loyal Memorial Maniacs, that's really all that should "Matta." (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
When a sitting coach decides to pursue another job opportunity, it may not be a good thing for the school... but it's absolutely great for Internet message boards. July is normally the deadest month of the year, but last week traffic on the VandyMania men's basketball board was up over 1000% of normal.
Which ex-Vanderbilt star was better... Matt Freije or Dan Langhi? It's been the topic of several good message board threads down through the years. Though similar in style and physique, the two Commodore stars never played on the same team (Langhi graduated the year before Freije arrived), and before Saturday had never faced each other.
On Saturday, the two former Commodores finally met up in Orlando in a Pepsi Pro Summer League game, with both players trying to impress their respective team's top brass. Freije, an as-yet unsigned draftee of the Miami Heat, faced a team of Cleveland Cavaliers that included Langhi, who is now a four-year NBA veteran. It was the last in a series of games that essentially served as auditions for players trying to secure roster spots.
And both did quite nicely, thank you. Freije, who had not scored more than ten points in any of the four previous games, put up a team-high 25 points (on 8-of-12 from the field) and was named Star of the Game. Not to be outdone, Langhi also poured in 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting to lead the Cavaliers in a 94-89 loss. It was easily the best performance of the week for both players.
Too bad the games were closed to the public... a lot of us Vandy fans would have paid good money to see that last one.
In Sacramento on Saturday, Vandy's Josie Hahn's dream of making the Olympic team ended, as the Clinton, Tenn. native finished 20th overall in the heptathlon. Former Vandy hurdler Ryan Tolbert-Jackson missed out as well, finishing 11th overall in the 400-meter hurdles.
Contact Brent at brent(at)vandymania.com