On Thursday night, ESPN helped show the rest of the sporting world what most Vanderbilt fans already knew. When Kevin Stallings is fired up, he's a cauldron of barely contained rage. A jerk. A bully. A real, to borrow the parlance of Dr. Tobias Funke, rude Gus.
Stallings earned about 10 straight minutes of SportsCenter analysis after cameras caught him chewing out Wade Baldwin IV in the post-game handshake line of the Vanderbilt's win over Tennessee. The freshman guard's excited victory claps earned the ire of a snitching UT assistant coach, who promptly informed the Commodores. Stallings lost his cool, pulled Wade out of the handshake line, and launched a passionate monologue towards the back of Baldwin's head. It wasn't just any rant, either. The coach peppered his tirade with about a half dozen curse words - most notably the bomb smack-dab in the middle of "I'll f---ing kill you!"
On an otherwise low-key Thursday night, Stallings's comments and subsequent apology made for easy media fodder. The longtime Vandy coach looked like an ogre screaming in Baldwin's ear. His threats reached Bobby Knight levels of coaching aggression. It was an absolute step over the line that brought Vanderbilt all the wrong headlines and alienated one of the players that had just led the Commodores to a road win over Tennessee.
You can't say what Kevin Stallings said, even if it wasn't a literal threat. Not on ESPN. It's a bad look for the school, it's a bad look for the program, and it's the sort of thing that reinforces the oft-debated idea that Stallings's lack of levity is the reason why players like A.J. Ogilvy, Kedren Johnson, Dai-Jon Parker, Sheldon Jeter, and John Jenkins ultimately left Vanderbilt before their eligibility was up. (EDIT: For clarification, this isn't an endorsement of that argument - just an acknowledgement that there's a non-negligible part of the fan base that thinks this) The veteran coach has never looked like a fun coach to play for. That has never been more evident than it was 45 seconds after this team's road win over their arch rivals.
Now, instead of celebrating Baldwin's swagger and the fact that he backed up every word he said about the Volunteers, we're focusing on a story that has nothing to do with the 40 minutes of court time that actually mattered. Instead of praising Stallings's ability to push through UT's zone defense despite a lack of production up front, we're left to debate whether or not he should start checking the classifieds.
But this isn't anything new. Stallings's passion and fluctuating ability to contain it has been a running team since he took over in Nashville. Remember this?
The coach's fire has never been a secret - but there are plenty of basketball fans that may not have noticed it before. Wade Baldwin isn't one of those people:
Coach Stallings is the best coach in America. I felt no offense to anything. We are both fiery people and that's why I chose Vandy ⚓️— Wade Baldwin IV (@The_Fourth_Wade) February 27, 2015
His teammate, Matthew Fisher-Davis, understands it too:
Yall tripping... Stallings is my mans— Matthew Fisher-Davis (@itseasyy5) February 27, 2015
And so does Vanderbilt legend Shan Foster:
Always interesting how media and fans are harder on coaches than the players are. Stallings means more to those guys than is ever portrayed.— Shan Foster (@shanfoster_32) February 27, 2015
But while Stallings's fire may have been expected, that doesn't mean it should be excused. Literal or not, you shouldn't threaten your players. You *especially* shouldn't do it on national television. The fact that Vandy's coach snapped on one of his own players just because of some hearsay from a Tennessee assistant makes this even worse.
Baldwin was convicted and sentenced before he even sniffed a fair trial. He ended up getting 20 years for the equivalent of stealing a couple of grapes. Stallings didn't just flip out, he failed to stand behind his team. That, combined with his words, deserve discipline. Whether it is in the form of a fine or a potential short suspension, CKS should be expecting a call from Athletic Director David Williams tomorrow.
It's not the end of the world. It's not even something that should be especially surprising for Vanderbilt basketball fans. Kevin Stallings's passion embarrassed Vanderbilt tonight. Before that, it helped lead Commodore casketball to an SEC Title, Sweet Sixteen appearances, and a handful of Memorial Gym wins over top-ranked teams. That's the trade-off, and the value of its return likely depends on how you feel about this team's recent rebuilding efforts.
Should Wade Baldwin have clapped in the general direction of Armani Moore after a win? Tough to say. That was a pretty tame taunt and Vanderbilt needed that swagger, but boasting after beating a team with a 6-9 SEC record is a Derek Dooley move. Should Kevin Stallings have reacted without knowing what Wade actually did? Absolutely not. Is this something that should blow over by next week? Yes.
Until then, Stallings has to do two things: exercise some self control and get right with his players. That means no more throwing kids under the bus after losses. Less screaming when a big man gets into foul trouble and more guidance. And definitely no threatening his own players. For at least a week.
If the Vanderbilt coach can do that, then the Commodores can continue their climb back to the upper tier of the SEC.