Pittsburgh has severed ties with basketball coach Kevin Stallings after two seasons, the school announced Thursday.
“I want to express my appreciation to Coach Stallings for his commitment to our program,” athletic director Heather Lyke said in a statement. “In moving forward, we have tremendous expectations for our men’s basketball program at Pitt and I believe we can achieve great things within the Atlantic Coast Conference and nationally. A national search for the next Pitt head coach will begin immediately.”
Stallings was hired in 2016 by former athletic director Scott Barnes and signed a six-year deal after Jamie Dixon left for TCU. The Panthers went 16-17 (4-14 ACC) in Stallings’ first season and were 8-24 this season — including 0-19 in ACC games.
He previously spent 17 seasons as the coach at Vanderbilt, where he was 332-220 with seven NCAA tournament appearances.
Stallings restocked the roster heading into this season, bringing in 11 new players. Stallings expected a difficult transition, and whatever thin margin for error the Panthers had vanished when senior forward Ryan Luther was lost for the year with a foot injury in December.
Without its most experienced player, Pitt simply couldn’t keep up in arguably the nation’s toughest conference. Only four of the Panthers’ 19 ACC games were decided by less than 10 points, including a 67-64 setback to Notre Dame in the opening round of the ACC tournament that marked their narrowest loss of the season. It also assured Pitt of the second 0-19 mark in conference history. The Panthers were the only team out of the 351 Division I schools to not win a conference game this season.
Stallings defended his approach in the aftermath, stressing he didn’t feel he needed to sell the administration on his approach.
“I’m sure comfortable with how we’ve coached this group and how they responded to us,” Stallings said. “How we all held together and supported each other, and the one thing I don’t have any question about is they’ve got my back and I think they know I’ve got theirs.”
Former Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes raised eyebrows two years ago when — after stressing the program needed a “fresh” approach when Dixon left for TCU — he opted to go with Stallings. During the news conference in which he introduced Stallings, Barnes said the common denominator was a shared belief that the Panthers could reach the Final Four.
It’s a destination that’s never seemed so far away for Pitt.
Stallings is owed the final three years on his contract, which could make it difficult for Pitt to afford an experienced and established replacement. Sources said the two sides were working on buyout details.
Although Stallings offered a refreshingly blunt approach compared to the buttoned-down and often contrarian Dixon, support eroded quickly. Attendance at the typically rowdy Petersen Events Center plummeted this season as the losses piled up. Pitt averaged just 4,117 fans at The Pete this winter, a 50 percent drop from 2016-17.
There were even swaths of seats available in “The Oakland Zoo,” the raucous student section that made for one of the most daunting home-court advantages in the country when the Panthers were rolling under Dixon. When Pitt fell to Wake Forest on Feb. 21, the last legitimate shot at avoiding a winless conference season, only 2,420 bothered to show up.
There were some bright spots. Freshmen Marcus Carr, Parker Stewart, Terrell Brown and Shamiel Stevenson showed flashes at times. Junior forward Jared Wilson-Frame gave the Panthers a dash of toughness, and Luther is expected to return pending the approval of a medical redshirt.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.