Pitt introduces Jeff Capel as new head basketball coach


New head basketball coach Jeff Capel speaks at the Petersen Events Center Wednesday. (Photo by Mackenzie Rodrigues / Contributing Editor)

Pitt Athletic Director Heather Lyke introduced Jeff Capel as the next men’s basketball coach during a ceremony at the Petersen Events Center Wednesday.

The gym floor was packed with University students and staff, including Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, women’s head basketball coach Suzie McConnell-Serio, head football coach Pat Narduzzi and the players of the men’s basketball team — including those who put in transfer requests last week.

Capel, who previously worked as head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s assistant at Duke, highlighted the factors that made Pitt stand out. He’s received offers from other schools during his seven years at Duke, but described his meeting with Lyke, Gallagher and other University officials as being persuasive.

“When my wife and I walked out of the room,” Capel said, “after about three hours, we got to the car, and I just said to her, ‘What do you think?’ She said, ‘I was blown away.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, me too.’”

Although he felt a desire to take the job right away, Capel decided to sleep on it — his late father always advised him to sleep on a big decision before casting final judgment. Capel said that he was restless Monday night while weighing his options.

“I said a prayer, saying, ‘Hey, this is what I’m feeling, this is what I wanna do, but I want to make sure it’s right.’ All of a sudden, I felt something at the edge of the bed, it was like someone was pushing it down,” Capel said. “That’s when I knew my dad was there, telling me this was the right decision.”

When he woke up the next morning, Capel told his wife, Kanika, that he’d made his choice — they were going to Pittsburgh.

Capel, a self-professed Steelers fan, talked about how he was excited to live and work in the “City of Champions.” When Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin called to congratulate Capel on the new job, he originally thought it was fellow Duke assistant Jon Scheyer making a prank call.

Like Tomlin, Capel will be the first-ever African-American head coach for his respective Pittsburgh sports team.

“I’m honored to be the first African-American head coach here,” Capel said. “Hopefully, this opens doors for other young coaches out there who aspire to be in this position one day.”

During Lyke’s turn at the podium, she revealed some of the criteria that made Capel an attractive hire.

“Early on, a wise friend of mine told me that you need five characteristics in hiring anyone — integrity, character, culture, work ethic and talent — in that order,” she said. “And we found those characteristics in Jeff.”

Capel expressed gratitude to Duke — his alma mater — and Krzyzewski for guiding him to his current position.

“I didn’t realize that the guy that I chose to play for would become one of my dear friends,” Capel said. “Not just a mentor, but a friend — someone that I’ve laughed with, that I’ve cried with, that has been there for me in the greatest times, but also in the most difficult times.

Pitt’s new head basketball coach Jeff Capel embraces Dick Groat, a former Pittsburgh Pirate shortstop and Duke basketball star who has been a Pitt basketball broadcaster for 39 years. (Photo by Mackenzie Rodrigues | Contributing Editor)

With his new players in attendance, Capel also laid out the fundamentals that he will stress to the team — the same fundamentals that he learned from his father, who worked as head coach at Old Dominion University from 1994-2001 and as an assistant coach for the Charlotte Bobcats from 2004-2011.

“The very first thing that we will do, every day, is that we’ll show up,” Capel said, outlining one of his four priorities. “And when I say that, it doesn’t mean you just appear. It’s that you’re prepared.”

Second, Capel said, is that they’ll keep their promises.

“I promise you, the fans, the administration, everyone, that I will give you everything that I have, every day,” he said.

He added that the team will appreciate being part of “this great institution.”

“The last thing is that there will be no excuses. We will figure out a way, collectively, to get this done,” Capel said.

Capel succeeded former head coach Kevin Stallings, who Pitt fired on March 8. Stallings was with the Panthers for just two years, going 24-41 overall and just 4-32 in the ACC.

In his closing statements, Capel voiced his ambition to build the basketball program back up to its once-competitive nature — an optimistic outlook for a team that failed to win a conference game this past season.

“I stand here today honored, excited and ready to go — and to build this back into a championship program,” Capel said. “And I have absolutely no doubt that that’s something we will do.”