PITTSBURGH — Kevin Stallings stressed that "the decision is not made by me" when asked whether he would return for an 18th season at Vanderbilt following a first-round NCAA Tournament flameout against Wichita State.
Turns out, it was.
Stallings abruptly left the Commodores for Pittsburgh on Sunday, trading a program that spent most of his tenure in the muddled middle of the SEC for one trying to forge a new identity in the stacked ACC after Jamie Dixon bolted last week for TCU.
"Coach Stallings and I share the same vision for Pitt — playing in the Final Four," Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes said in a statement. "Kevin has a successful track record recruiting the ACC footprint and beyond, and is one of the best coaches in the country at building an offense around his talent. He plays a fun up-tempo style that players love and fans will enjoy."
Stallings is 455-283 with nine appearances in the NCAAs while at Illinois State and Vanderbilt. The 55-year-old went 332-220 with the Commodores and is the winningest coach in the program's history. His tenure included seven NCAA berths and trips to the Sweet 16 in 2004 and 2007.
Yet sustained success, particularly in March, has proven elusive. Vanderbilt started this season ranked 18th and moved as high as 16th but finished 19-14 after getting blown out by Wichita State in the opening round of the tournament, the fourth time in Vanderbilt's last five NCAA trips it failed to win a single game. Athletic director David Williams said he would evaluate the state of the program heading into the offseason. Instead of trying to figure out whether to retain Stallings, Williams now finds himself in search of a head coach.
Stallings is expected to be introduced on Monday, a week after Dixon left the Panthers for his alma mater.Stallings said in a statement he's excited for the opportunity, one that came as a bit of a surprise following Vanderbilt's so-so season. Barnes called Pitt "a national job" when describing what he was looking for in Dixon's replacement.
"We're looking for high qualities, looking for a successful, sitting Division I (coach)," Barnes said. "We're looking for the things we look for in all our coaches, impeccable character, high motor, a guy that can absolutely recruit his tail off and ... someone who can connect with the student athletes."
Arizona coach Sean Miller, who played at Pitt from 1987-92, removed himself from contention last week and younger brother Archie, a Pittsburgh native, signed a new deal to remain at Dayton. Barnes then cast a wide net, though things came together quickly over the weekend when Stallings emerged as a candidate.
Stallings takes over a team that on the surface isn't much different than the one he is leaving. Pitt went 21-12 this season, falling to Wisconsin in an ugly 47-43 loss in the second round of the NCAAs. Less than three days after that stinging defeat, Dixon traded in 11 NCAA appearances with the Panthers for the chance to rebuild the Horned Frogs.
Now it's up to Stallings to do the same at Pitt, which spent the first decade of Dixon's tenure as one of the best teams in the Big East but has struggled replicating that level of success in the stacked ACC. The Panthers are just 28-26 in the league since moving over from the Big East at the start of the 2013-14 season.
Pitt does return six of its top seven scorers next fall, including forwards Michael Young and Jamel Artis. One of the players in that group is forward Sheldon Jeter, who played for Stallings at Vanderbilt before ultimately transferring to Pitt.