Kevin Stallings was the face of Vanderbilt basketball. That happens when you’ve been the head coach somewhere for 17 years.
But on Easter Sunday, the reign of Stallings officially ended.
After much speculation about his future in Nashville, Stallings was named the new coach of the Pittsburgh Panthers early Sunday morning.
While his destination was a bit shocking, the exit itself surprised few people after what could only be described as a disappointing season for the Commodores.
It became clear earlier in the week that Vandy seemed prepared to move in a direction. The only question was how the whole thing would play out. And from Vandy’s perspective, knowing that the sides were going to part ways, it turned out rather well from a financial standpoint.
Had Vandy fired Stallings straight up, they would have owed him a large buyout. But instead, him leaving for another job takes away the financial burden.
Sometimes, it’s best for both parties to start fresh and move in different directions. That was the case here between Stallings and Vandy.
17 years is a long time in one place. Fans start to perceive the product as stagnant and stale, especially if you aren’t consistently winning games in the NCAA tournament.
And there were a lot of tournament disappointments during the Stallings era. But at the end of the day, he left the program much better than he found it. He made the Vandy basketball job a very attractive one, and for that, he deserves a lot of credit.
Vandy is not an easy place to coach. There is an academic component that makes recruiting a challenging effort at times. Stallings was able to get outstanding players into the program despite the rigors on the academic side.
But that was then and this is now. The Vandy administration will turn its attention to finding his replacement in what is undoubtedly a massive turning point for this program.
There will be no shortage of interest for the position. This job is one of the top jobs in the SEC. It’s in a great city. It’s in a great conference. It also boasts a one of a kind academic experience.
Selling points like that will bring good candidates into the mix.
At the moment, the one candidate that everyone is talking about is VCU head coach Will Wade. He’s a Nashville native and is only 33 years old. Those two aspects would certainly appeal to a program based in Nashville that is looking for a fresh new face to lead the team into the future.
There’s also the energy and style of play. VCU’s havoc defense is something that no team wants any part of, and bringing a similar style to the SEC would give coaches around the league nightmares.
After Wade, names like Matt McCall (Chattanooga), King Rice (Monmouth), Tommy Amaker (Harvard) and Gregg Marshall (Wichita State) have been thrown around as coaches that Vandy could reach out to.
For obvious reasons, the latter is the most intriguing.
Marshall has turned down plenty of schools in the past, but from a pure resume perspective, he would have to be the top choice if he’s willing to listen. The Commodores saw first-hand this postseason what he’s been able to do as coach of the Shockers, as Wichita State eliminated Vandy in the First Four play-in game in Dayton a few weeks ago.
Even if Marshall turns Vandy down, there are still great candidates available. So it doesn’t hurt to ask.
This is a huge hire for the university. The expectations for Vandy basketball are high. The new coach will have a chance to win right away with a solid returning roster, which may or may not include Damian Jones and Wade Baldwin.
But with players like Matthew Fisher-Davis, Luke Kornet, Jeff Roberson, and Joe Toye all coming back, the Commodores can win games.
Of course, just winning won’t be all that comes with the job on the court. Stallings won a lot of games. But he didn’t win enough games in March.
The next guy has to win when it matters. That’s now the expectation for this Vandy program. In many ways, you can thank Stallings for that.
Fans will be waiting patiently to see how this all plays out. Because Vandy now has to find a new face of the program.
And there will be plenty of people willing to embrace that opportunity.