Should Pitt Basketball Head Coach Jeff Capel Be on a Short Leash?


In the 2017 offseason, Pitt parted ways with head coach Kevin Stallings after a brutal two-year tenure. They brought in a new and exciting addition from Duke — Jeff Capel.

Although they have never really thrived on the court during Capel’s three seasons, there was a certain degree of excitement that he would set the Panthers on the right foot. This was especially evident when Capel’s first recruiting class ranked top five in the ACC, the first time Pitt has reached this feat since joining the conference.

However, things have gone downhill over the last several months. Key players Xavier Johnson and Au’Diese Toney entered the transfer portal in the middle of the season. Then, All-ACC caliber forward Justin Champagnie decided to keep his name in the NBA draft. The only hope for Panthers fans was prized five-star recruit Efton Reid to pledge but he seemingly changed his mind from Pitt to LSU at the last minute.

This leaves Capel at essentially year one once again as far as roster personnel is concerned. Given his struggles, it is natural that we have this pressing question: should the Panthers look to explore other options, pending unexpected success in this upcoming season?

The General Expectations of a Pitt Coach

Before coming to a conclusion, let’s do a brief history lesson on the Pittsburgh program.

Their past is not stacked with Hall-of-Famers or national championships but they were a consistent Big East threat in the 2000s. The end of Ben Howland’s tenure featured multiple seasons with top three NCAA tournament seeds early in the decade before Jamie Dixon took the helm and continued their surge. Then, the throne was handed to Kevin Stallings and for the sake of the Panther fans reading this…well, we don’t have to go over that again.

Head Coach Years at Pitt Win Percentage
Ben Howland 2000-03 .690
Jamie Dixon 2004-16 .727
Kevin Stallings 2017-18 .369
Jeff Capel 2019-Present .455


But the overall point is that success is possible in the program, even though it has generally had underwhelming results. In my opinion, that should mean that coaches should be held to a higher standard. But obviously, it is not that simple.

Where Would the Panthers Stand on the Coaching Market?

Considering Pitt has had just one winning season in ACC play, it is not as if up-and-coming mid-major coaches or premier power conference school assistants will be anxious to join the program.

And we have seen mixed results when it comes to bottom tier ACC schools hiring their first choice in the recent past. Over the last two off-seasons, Wake Forest had close to a home run hire with Steve Forbes, but Boston College’s Earl Grant has received mixed reviews.

The Pitt job may be valued slightly more than those two but it may not pay to be impatient.

Perhaps, Capel has proven to be a failed experiment and things will only go more downhill from here. On the other hand, it may be beneficial to give him another chance with a fresh group of players.

The answer to the question likely lies in between those two perspectives. Very few think he should be fired right now, but most would agree that he needs to give signs of hope for the fanbase.

What Do We Need to See out of Capel Next Season?

In terms of roster talent, it is unrealistic to expect any coach to bring Pitt to an NCAA tournament next year, per se. Even if they finish in the bottom third of the conference again, we need to see a reason that they will eventually get out of the dump.

The primary thing that Capel teams are known for is physicality, and the results can be seen through their relatively high rebounding rates. However, we would also expect interior defense to follow but the Panthers have been exploited in this respect.

Pitt (navy) vs the rest of the conference (red) – graph via

Something this can be attributed to is their inability to keep teams off the line. In each of Capel’s seasons at Pitt, the Panthers have ranked 12th or worse in the ACC in free throw rate against. As he changes the focus on the new recruiting classes to put more emphasis on length and athleticism, a slight adjustment to the Panthers’ style of play may be necessary.

The Bottom Line

At this point, Capel should be given another developmental year for 2021-22 season  because it would be unrealistic not to. But we need to see adjustments defensively as well as the fact that recruits are still willing to buy into the program.