Stallings: They nearly fired my [behind]

In an extraordinary preseason interview, Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings talks candidly about his job security, his contract, and the enormous pressures that face Division I head coaches. <BR> <I>Vanderbilt opens the exhibition season Tuesday at 7 pm vs. Universidad Panamericana (Mexico). Tickets are available.

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Part Five of a series of interviews conducted Oct. 28 at SEC Media Days.

Q: Coach, have you ever felt any pressure to really make a jump, as far as-- well, last year you went to the Sweet 16. Are you feeling any pressure about your job security?

A: Did I feel it last year, or am I feeling it now?

Q: Last year.

A: Yes. I felt some last year. They told me they were going to fire my [derriere]... you'd feel some too!

Q: Because there are a couple of coaches in the league that are starting to turn their programs around in their second and third year. When did you start feeling that pressure. Was it just last year, or was it before last year?

A: It was when they told me they were going to fire me.

Q: Did they candy-coat it a little bit, or did they...?

A: Not really. They sent somebody else to tell me, but...

Q: How did you handle it? I know you had a great team last year.

A: Oh, sometimes better than others. I think that I would have gotten an A-plus if you talk about just the players. Handling it with the players and in front of the players... I don't give myself A-plusses for much, but I'd have given myself an A-plus for that part of it. But you know what? We're in a situation where with the amount of money they pay you, you need to provide some results, and I don't expect our administration to stick around for 11-18 very long. That's what we gave them [in 2002-03], and they're paying for better than that.

Q: How much is that on your mind as the season unfolds? "My [derriere] is on the line?"

A: To the point I was told, for the next few months, it was on my mind a lot. I think there's a point where you reach some calm, and you figure out... it's kind of like when you hit a golf ball. Is your target the pin, or is your target the ball? If your target is not the ball, your chances of hitting a good shot are not very good. When I finally realized what my target was, then I was able to forget about them and what was being said and all that, and focus my energy on what it needed to be focused on. And that was my real target, and that was my team and their experience. There were a few months there when it was quite difficult, but after that point it was really not difficult.

Q: Did you ever wonder how your players were going to react about the Ohio State search when you told them? Did they surprise you in any way with any of their reaction?

A: No. No.

Q: Did they extend you after last year?

A: I signed a new contract, I mean, yeah. But I had five years left on the other one. It wasn't like I was getting ready to run out of time. I would have had five years after this year on the other one.

Q: What message does that send... within a year you went from job on the line to pat on the back, new contract?

A: Um... just win, baby? Nah... I will say this... more than the results changed. The results changed, but there were other things that changed that improved our program as well. How did we get off on this? What a bunch of garbage this is. Why don't we talk about our team.

Q: One other thing, what other...

A: I just think it's like our Chancellor said. We became a victim of my standards. And he was right. When people come in the gym and I'm miserable and the players are miserable and the fans are miserable, then that's not good! So those things needed to change. That's not what I was told on the front end. I was told that later. Which is fine. Our Chancellor, he's very candid. He'll let you know. I'd very much rather have it that way than some guy who was hiding in the bushes. And again, our placed deserved better than what we gave them two years ago.

Q: Do you like the motivation of the Media Days voting, where you're picked sixth in the division?

A: I didn't know that, are we? Looks at voting results. Hmmm... that's where they picked us last year, too.

Q: Billy Donovan hired Larry Shyatt, who's a former Division I head coach. Do you think that's kind of a trend around the league?

A: Well, I've got two guys on my staff that were Division I head coaches, who have some understanding of what it is you go through as a head coach. If you've never been the head coach, you don't understand what the head coach goes through. I sat there for years and thought I knew perfectly well what Gene Keady and Roy Williams were going through. I didn't have any idea. When you have a guy that's been a Division I head coach, they understand what you deal with day in and day out, and that's very valuable.

Q: How does that help?

A: Your perspective just changes. It looks easy when you sit over there as an assistant. When you move over six inches into that chair where the decisions are made, you find out it's not easy, and everything always, ultimately ends up at your desk. You have demands pulling you all hours of the day, people that you're responsible for and decisions that have to be made, and problems that have to be solved. It never stops. It doesn't ever stop. When you're an assistant you go home, and you can put the television on, and it stops. When you're the head coach, it literally never stops. I would be surprised if most head coaches didn't sleep, like I do, with their cell phones about two feet from their ear. Because it never stops.

Q: Is it worse during the season, or better?

A: Neither. It's the same. It never stops. There are other demands and pressures during the season that are greater. But your accountability and your obligation to what you do is just always there. As for me, I go and ask a parent to essentially be the primary caretaker for their son for four years of his life. When I do that, I can't be that caretaker only on days I feel like it, only on days it's convenient. That's why my cell phone never gets turned off. Now it doesn't always get answered, but it never gets turned off. No offense, Bryan, Tony, but sometimes it doesn't get answered. But when a player's number comes up, it's going to get answered.

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