Dunlap: Stallings Was Wrong Guy At Wrong Time

Colin Dunlap
March 01, 2018 - 12:09 pm

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Stallings isn't a bad coach. He isn't a bad man, either. He's actually quite the opposite on both accounts. He's a good coach and a good man -- I know this to be true.

What I also know is, in retrospect, he was the wrong man at the wrong time for the wrong situation at the University of Pittsburgh. Wednesday night's regular-season finale at Notre Dame in which the Panthers mercifully ended their conference season without a win has to be the final regular-season game of his Pitt career. Next week, Stallings will get to coach in an opening round ACC Tournament game and who knows from there, but when Pitt is bounced from that bracket, Stallings must go. It is just the way it is. No ill will, no malice and none of that; just a recognition and a realization that he was the wrong guy at the wrong time. 

But quick and clean like that isn't how sports works --- and especially not Pittsburgh sports. This is a rabid, incredible and passionate base here in Pittsburgh, people who get invested in sports teams like few other towns in this world do. With that said, they will want a fall guy; they will want to play the blame game. This one is simple: Blame Scott Barnes, the quickly-departed Pitt athletics director who hired Stallings (seemingly in unilateral fashion) and then bolted for the Pacific Northwest, leaving his wake here for Pitt fans to reconcile. That's the story and the whole story. And there is no more to the story. This one is squarely on Scott Barnes; his lasting stamp on the University of Pittsburgh will be that he hired a basketball coach who was questioned from the very beginning and ended up being a two-year experiment who failed most miserably. 

And now, new athletics director Heather Lyke has an incredibly difficult decision to make after she cuts ties with Stallings --- a decision I am 99 percent certain will happen from the prominent boosters I have spoken to. Lyke must hire a coach. And not just a coach, but her coach. There will no longer be the excuse that Scott Barnes made a flop that Lyke had to come in and clean up, but the next guy will be tethered to her and connected to her fully. That said, she better get it right. It doesn't need to be a 20-win season next year, but the person she brings in needs to inject life, excitement, a spike in attendance and most important wins back into the program in 2-3 years time or Lyke will be (rightly so) questioned in a big-time manner. She hasn't asked for my advice nor will she, but the simple route to take is to make a heavy run at Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley. Put together a strong financial package and see if you can appetize him to come to Pitt this time, even as it has been reported he spurned Pitt in the past.

If Hurley says no --- and I suspect it is a 50/50 proposition at best --- I know precisely who I would go at full bore. There is a man named Earl Grant doing wonderful things at the College of Charleston. He is 41 years old. He coaches with enthusiasm and zest. He is a former assistant at Clemson, in the ACC. He knows the territory and can relate.

So tell me exactly why he wouldn't fit at Pitt? 

On top of that, and probably most important, his win totals in his first four years at CofC have gone like this: 9, 17, 25 and now 23 and counting. He knows what it is a like to improve a program. If Hurley says no, Grant is your focus. 

I'm told by many in the know we have seen Stallings coach his final regular-season game at Pitt. That came on Wednesday at Notre Dame. In the coming days there will be time for reflection and blame, with all the blame falling right on Barnes' shoulders. More important, though, it will be high time for Heather Lyke to make the right decision. It will be one of the most important ones she makes in her career.