Tim Benz: Jeff Capel was tough to find but worth the search
It was hard to find but worth the lookin’ for.
I don’t know who first said that. In such a situation, I usually just assume it was Matthew McConaughey .
Regardless, it perfectly sums up the Pitt basketball coaching search.
Dan Hurley said, “No thanks.” Tom Crean leveraged Pitt for a gig he wanted more at Georgia. Thad Matta might not feel healthy yet.
Sean Miller, Nate Oats and Mark Schmidt publicly acted disinterested. Jon Scheyer was rumored.
All that led up to Wednesday morning, when former Duke assistant Jeff Capel was introduced as coach of the Pitt basketball team.
That sounds pretty good out loud, doesn’t it?
A Panthers team that just went winless in the ACC and, as of two days ago, basically had no players left on the roster just landed the top assistant coach from perhaps the most prestigious program in America.
They got a guy with name recognition, previous major conference head coaching experience, Elite Eight success and an impressive recruiting background.
Pretty good, right?
So why did it take so long to reach this apparent perfect match? And how did Pitt come out looking so good from a situation where — for about two weeks — it looked so very bad?
Between the moment Kevin Stallings was fired and the moment Capel was hired, the Pitt job was becoming the joke of the college basketball world.
“You have to keep a sense of humor,” Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke said. “You gotta have thick skin. And you need nerves like sewer pipes.”
Suddenly I have this image in my head of Capel triumphantly emerging from a sewer pipe outside of Cameron Indoor Stadium like Tim Robbins in “The Shawshank Redemption.”
It’s just that instead of winding up in Mexico, he came to Oakland.
Despite all those other names linked to the Pitt job, Lyke insisted the only person to receive an offer — besides Capel — was Hurley.
I can believe that. After Hurley declined, all the other names easily could have been exploratory interviews or mere discussions but not offers.
“You’ve got to go through the process,” Lyke said. “It’s not about speed. It’s about getting it right.”
If it couldn’t be Hurley, I believe Lyke got it right with Capel.
It’s not as if the process dragged as much as it seemed, by the way.
Consider the timeline. Lyke admitted making an offer to Hurley. Sometime between Wednesday night, March 21, and Thursday morning, March 22, Hurley accepted the UConn job over the Pitt offer.
Capel said his first call from Lyke came that same Thursday, and he requested to hold off speaking because Duke was still alive in the NCAA Tournament.
By Monday morning, Capel was interviewing. By Tuesday, he was the head coach. The days in between were PR murder for Pitt, with coaches seemingly staying away from the job like it was hopeless.
For many of them, it would’ve been. For Capel, it isn’t.
Schmidt, Oats, Ryan Odom, they never would have been able to keep some of the potential transfers who Capel might. The roster would have been barren.
Capel’s name has more cachet. His reputation is greater. His experience is significant.
Seeing Capel’s face feels like staring at the Duke logo.
Not only can he at least keep a functional roster in place, he’ll be able to rebuild the rest of it faster than any of those mid-major names could have.
Frankly, the finicky and previously disinterested Pitt fan base never would have given any of those secondary candidates the time to do so before they were asking for change as they did with Stallings.
They will for Capel. They have to. He has a seven-year contract. And he might need much of it to get Pitt back to contending status.
Maybe that’s the most important angle here. Pitt didn’t just buy itself a good coach. It bought itself something more important than that.
Time. And faith.
Time for Pitt to get better. And the fan base’s faith that Lyke properly replaced a mistake by a previous administrator.
Could Pitt have leaked that Capel was in their plans earlier? You know, drop a nugget to a media member that Capel was in the mix if Hurley jumps to Storrs?
“Psst! Off the record, keep an eye on Capel whenever Duke’s season ends.”
Yeah, that could’ve calmed those sewer pipes.
But when the pipes got flushed, Pitt came out looking squeaky clean.
You can do a lot worse than having one target — already coaching in New England — turn you down for a chance to rebuild UConn.
You also can do a lot worse than Jeff Capel as a second choice. In fact, I’d say Pitt ended up doing really well.
Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.