Stallings From Grace: Stallings hire draws ire from Pitt fan base

Pitt men's basketball head coach Kevin Stallings was considering sophomore guard Crisshawn Clark for the core group this season. (TNS)

John Enright has been a Pitt fan through and through.

He started watching Pitt football at the age of 10 in the 1970s. He cherished Pitt’s basketball teams, starting with the 1978-1979 team, and eventually went on to cover the squad for this very paper in 1989.

Enright has been a season ticket holder for Pitt basketball games ever since the Petersen Events Center opened in 2002.

But with the announcement that Pitt has hired Kevin Stallings as the program’s next head coach to replace Jamie Dixon, the Panthers likely can’t count on his patronship anymore.

While two friends tried to convince Enright that he was being rash, he, like many others, took to Twitter to voice their displeasure with Stallings’ hiring by pledging to not renew his tickets for the upcoming season.

Enright tweeted, “@PittChancellor You lost a lot of loyal Pitt basketball fans today…shame on your AD…you just lost 4 season tickets from me. #H2P.”

While Enright admits his tweet was “reactionary,” he leans toward keeping his word.

“I am seriously thinking about maybe not renewing this year coming up,” Enright said. “I want to see what direction the program takes.”

The hiring of Stallings “mystified” Enright, who said the coach didn’t fit any mold Pitt was looking for.

“I thought that they needed to make a logical good hire,” Enright said. “And some programs would try to make the sexy hire to win the press conference and re-energize the fanbase, and they didn’t do either thing. It’s not a sexy hire, it’s not a logical hire.”

Like Enright, 33-year-old Pitt alum Marty Jordanhazy also tweeted out in protest of Stallings’ hire. But unlike Enright, Jordanhazy is much more steadfast in his decision not to renew his season tickets.

“It definitely feels like a slap in a face,” Jordanhazy, who has held season tickets since graduating from Pitt Law School in 2007, said. “Since I went to Pitt, I went to every home game.”

Much of the frustration comes from the fact that Stallings sports a losing record in SEC play in his 17-year tenure at Vanderbilt. But one of his former players and Austin Peay State University assistant coach Julian Terrell, vouched for his former mentor.

“He adapts to everyone’s different personality. He grows players by being a mentor-slash-father figure to them,” Terrell said. “He’s got a great relationship with all his players. He wants the best out of everybody. So he expects that. He’ll let you know that from day one that he expects the best.”

Terrell, who played for Vanderbilt from 2002-2006 and served as the Commodores’ director of video operations from 2013 to 2015, also defended Stallings’ character.

That attribute most notably came into question when, on a nationally televised game, viewers could hear Stallings scream at guard Wade Baldwin, “I’m going to f***ing kill you!,” after his guard clapped in University of Tennessee players’ faces following a win.

Stallings apologized for the incident, and Baldwin tweeted out after the game that he was not offended by his coach’s actions. According to Terrell, he believes the incident was actually beneficial.

“He’s not the first person to let that happen, he’s not going to be the last person. It was one incident,” Terrell said. “Their relationship probably got stronger after that happened. Wade was a guy that, if you’ve got a problem with him, you’ve gotta tell him straight up.”

Terrell said he doesn’t think the incident should deter any players from committing to play for Stallings at Pitt.

Terrell wasn’t the only person to come out and defend the Stallings hire. ESPN’s Seth Greenberg, former Pitt and current Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland, CBS’ Doug Gottlieb and various former Vanderbilt players — including Baldwin — also tweeted their support.

Still, those positive vibes won’t mend fences so easily with fans like Enright or Jordanhazy. Both seem troubled by the entire process of the hire.

“After this I literally have no faith in him. As this was going on people were saying how bad of hire this is,” Jordanhazy said. “It’s not just Pitt fans, but national writers. I don’t know how you can mess up on something so much.”

Enright was more concerned by a particular quote Barnes uttered at his press conference announcing former head coach Jamie Dixon’s departure.

When discussing how prepared an administrator should be for a search like the one that was about to commence, Barnes said that, “If you’re an AD worth your salt, you better have a list [of potential head coaches] in your pocket.”

After Stallings’ hire, Enright is worried when looking back at the statement.

“I don’t know what frightens me more,” Enright said. “If Kevin Stallings was one of those names, or if Kevin Stallings was not one of those names.”

Even with Pitt fans voicing these concerns, Terrell has confidence that Stallings will succeed at Pitt, citing that Stallings is the winningest coach in Vanderbilt history.

“He’ll come in there and he’ll change things, he’ll run the program the way he wants to,” Terrell said. “I think it’ll be for the better.”

Still, the Pitt fan base will want to see proof. Both Enright and Jordanhazy have said they want to see Stallings compile a significant amount of wins before considering buying into him.

Jordanhazy even said that, while he’ll still pay attention to Pitt basketball, he’ll likely watch the Jamie Dixon-led TCU team more.

He admits that one person will be pleased with his surrendering of his season tickets.

“My wife’s pretty pumped,” Jordanhazy said. “Because I won’t be wasting as much time going to Pitt basketball games and spending money on it.”

Jeremy Tepper contributed reporting.

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