Before Kevin Stallings’ introductory press conference on the Petersen Event Center floor, Roc (The Pitt Panther Mascot) tried climbing on a chair to clown around with a media member.

He fell flat on his ass.

This symbolism cannot be ignored.

It was that kind of event for Pitt. They tried to stage a party to celebrate a new basketball coach most of its fans don’t really want to celebrate. They did it in front of a media corp that largely doubts the best possible hire was made, and is skeptical of how the process played out.


And the school let it unfold in front of players who (according to alumnus Tray Woodall) prefered assistant Brand Knight. One of those players seated in fold out chairs, Sheldon Jeter, was initially blocked from coming here by the new coach while they were both still at Vanderbilt.

But there they sat, along with the band. The Cheerleaders. Every athletic official under the sun. And people that appeared to be donors or general university muckety-mucks.

And oh yeah, the new coach’s family. I felt sorry for them. And him. Because this is what happens when you try to mix a pep rally with a press conference featuring reporters who want answers: Awkwardness. Tension. And a general lack of pep.

Imagine attending the homecoming parade with 30 members of the student body asking why Tommy & Tammy got elected king & queen when Jimmy & Jane are clearly so much more of a cute couple. All this while their parents and the homecoming court looks on shifting in their shoes.

That’s what it felt like. But Jamie Dixon got a big party at TCU. So if Pitt didn’t roll out equal pomp and circumstance, it’d come off that they got the lesser of this swap, right? So, you know, optics n’at.

Well, if “the look” is what the Panther brass was going for…they missed. Any attempt to create a jubilant scene was gone before the echo of the final note from the fight song stopped in the rafters of the Pete. Any hope that the presence of all those friends and family members would mollify inquiries from the media was eliminated when the first questioner asked athletic director Scott Barnes to “come clean” about the decision to use a search firm to hire Stallings. And the second questioner probed with pointed follow ups on the now infamous Jeter-transfer block (with Jeter a sitting just a long chest pass away).

It didn’t get any easier from there. To paraphrase many of the next few questions:

“You say you want to run an up tempo offense. But the adjusted tempo statistics rank in the 200’s and 300’s…..”

“Last I checked, you could’ve made the Final four at Vanderbilt too. Why did you decided to come to Pitt now after 17 years of trying there. Were you told you’d return at Vandy or no?”

“Scott, you had a coach here that had a lot of success in the ACC. He had a better resume than the guy you are bringing in who came from a lesser league. What makes you think after talking to him that he will have success?”

“ESPN reported that Pitt was spurned by a number of candidates, was that accurate?”

“Do Brandin Knight and the rest of the assistants have a role going forward?”

“What are you going to do about recruits. You’ve already had two kids re-open their process?”

Not exactly cream puffs. Those questions were handled with various degrees of candor. Sometimes evasive. Sometime back tracking. Other times frank. At least both men handled themselves with poise.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say Barnes and Stallings “won the press conference”, as the cliche goes. But that’s only because it was lost before they were given a chance to speak. Maybe that is Barnes’ own fault for giving a green light to the dog and pony show.

The concerning part is how tone deaf the athletic department appears to be throughout this hire. Don’t create a party atmosphere and invite 30 people who don’t think they are attending a party. Don’t let Jamie Dixon walk out the door, just so you can replace him for a slightly lesser copy of Jamie Dixon. Don’t preach about giving the fans what they want, then just give them who the search firm tells you to hire.

Eventually Roc got off of his ass and dusted himself off. For the sake of the basketball program, I hope Stallings and Barnes can do the same.


Posted in College Sports