Heather Lyke pushed in all the chips — in excess of $3 million a year — to get Rhode Island’s Dan Hurley to be the new head coach of the Pitt men’s basketball team.
But Hurley chose to stay in New England, accepting Connecticut’s offer, reported to be less than Pitt’s, Thursday. Both teams showed their hands, and the Huskies’ was better — there’s no shame in that.
But unlike in Texas Hold’em, in a coaching search you aren’t done for when you go all in. You get to recoup and move forward unscathed.
The three rivers won’t stop flowing because Lyke didn’t land Hurley. Hurley’s a big name and would have been a flashy hire for a program in turmoil. He’s won 59 percent of his games as a head coach and more than 20 games a season in three of the past four years.
He’s a good coach, sure, but there are a lot of young up-and-coming coaches that just don’t have the name recognition right now.
It might do Pitt some good to find a coach based on merit and not guaranteed clickable headlines upon the announcement of his hiring. As we’ve all seen recently, having a big name doesn’t necessarily translate to wins.
Lyke’s offer to Hurley and the willingness to fire Kevin Stallings despite his reported $10 million buyout should encourage fans that Lyke and her team are willing to invest in the struggling program.
But Pitt doesn’t need to shell out a top-10 salary to hire a coach that would improve the program. How should Lyke and company determine best fit? It might be easier to examine what they shouldn’t do.
Don’t ignore the reaction the coach elicits among the fans and local media. While they aren’t experts, aren’t in the room and don’t know the coaches’ intentions, outward perception matters. If a coach’s current fan base is rambunctious and energized in the area, you can imagine the Pete will be rocking.
As we’ve seen, that’s certainly something the current administration is very concerned with.
Also, don’t look at a coach’s win percentage for his entire career — look at it after two or three years with any individual program. The Panthers are in need of a full overhaul and a coach that’s proven that with time their players show real improvement.
Look at Penn — the team had a great season and made it into the tournament. The Quakers’ fan base wasn’t disappointed they got bounced early, the fans were just happy to be there against a juggernaut like Kansas.
Consider a coach at a small school that dominates at recruiting in their area of the country. A coach that isn’t sending players to the NBA every other year and is still successful within their proper context, because that’s a coach that can really squeeze the proverbial lemon and make, at the very least, lemon water.
Take former Middle Tennessee State and new Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis, for example. Davis took the Blue Raiders to the NCAA tournament in two of his last three years with the program and maintained a high level of success in a non-Power Five conference.
Consider a young coach — someone who’s not close to their coaching prime, someone that can grow with the program.
Heck, maybe look overseas. Sure, it may be seen as a downgrade to go from coaching a pro team in the European league or the Chinese Basketball association, but one thing’s for sure — at three million a year, it can pay better.
There are around 350 Division I college basketball programs in America. That means there are, at least, 350 head coaches and countless more assistants and aspiring coaches. Just because Pitt struck out with one of the about 15 or 20 coaches a casual fan can name off the top of their head doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world.
Look at Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens. He was an assistant at Butler before taking over as Butler’s head coach in 2007. He was and is a wunderkind and is considered one of the brightest and most promising minds in basketball, period.
There are other successful and promising coaches around the globe other than Hurley. Not snagging the hire isn’t the end for Pitt basketball. Save those chips and be willing to throw them at the next hand — hopefully it’s as promising as the first.