As we ponder the current (awful) state of the Vanderbilt basketball program in January 2020, we are reminded that hindsight is always 20/20.
Vanderbilt fans have endured back-to-back losing seasons, including an ugly 9-23 2018-19 season that came complete with a 20-game losing streak to end the season and an 0-18 SEC record, and the team as currently comprised looks to be well on its way to a third. That, by the way, has basically nothing to do with the current head coach, because he inherited this situation from his predecessor, Bryce Drew, who was hired to replace Kevin Stallings after the latter took a preseason Top 25 team to a hideous loss to Wichita State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in Dayton, Ohio.
Anyway. Here is commenter westboundnup’s summation of the Bryce Drew tenure, from the comments section of this morning’s Anchor Drop:
“And then there’s the unforgivable sin of making it appear that VU made a mistake in parting ways with CKS.”
Ah, yes, it may appear that way. But appearances can be deceiving.
So, let’s talk about this. Here is what I wrote in February 2016 about why Stallings needed to go, and I’m not biased at all, but I would say that that article has aged well. There is nothing that I thought about Stallings in February 2016 that I disagree with, or think has turned out differently than I expected, almost four years after the fact. If anything, the decision to move on — in a vacuum — looks like a better decision in hindsight. Stallings’ 2015 and 2016 recruiting classes — which would have formed the core of last year’s team — do not look better than they did at the time and might actually look worse. You can argue that he might have done a better job at developing and deploying some of the players, but the trajectory after the 2014 class (recruited, mostly, by Yanni Hufnagel) filtered its way out of the program was unmistakable. And Stallings’ two-year tenure at Pittsburgh certainly doesn’t give anyone the impression that he was the same coach he was in 2007.
What’s more, retaining Stallings after 2015-16 would have gone over about as well with the fan base as retaining Derek Mason after 2019. There are times when the Athletic Director can’t just tell the fans that he knows better than them and that what they are seeing with their own eyes is, in fact, something that they just have to accept.
Now, here’s where the hindsight is correct. Had Stallings held on for another two or three years (because I see no reason to think he’d have done any worse than Bryce Drew with the 2016-17 team, which would have bought him another year at minimum), the program probably would not have completely bottomed out the way it did in 2018-19. (We’d have also had the severe annoyance of Darius Garland, UCLA Bruin, but that’s a minor detail in all this.) Jerry Stackhouse would be rebuilding from a 15-16 team instead of the actual crater he’s trying to dig out of right now. We also would have zero evidence that Vanderbilt is a school capable of landing five-star recruits.
This reminds me of the common criticism of Tennessee for getting rid of Philip Fulmer in 2008, only Philip Fulmer was a better coach than Kevin Stallings and their situation is hilarious to us. That Lane Kiffin jumped to USC after a year and Tennessee then hired Derek Dooley and, later, Butch Jones are independent variables that don’t make the initial decision wrong. It’s more to say that sometimes, when you change coaches, the guy you hire is worse than the one you fired. But that doesn’t always mean that you should have kept the previous coach.