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Archive for Monday, October 30, 2006

Vanderbilt’s Stallings on hot seat?

One NCAA bid in seven seasons not good enough, coach acknowledges he must do better

October 30, 2006

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As a lifelong fan of the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, Kevin Stallings knows a .143 batting average just won't cut it.

As a college basketball coach, Stallings recognizes that going 1-for-7 in making the NCAA Tournament field is below expectations - his expectations, the university's expectations, fans' expectations.

"Nowadays, that's how you're judged," he says.

Well, the jury is out. Former Kansas University assistant coach Stallings enters his eighth season at Vanderbilt with just one NCAA Tournament berth on his resume. There have been four NITs and a couple of stay-at-home postseasons in addition to that Sweet 16 run in 2004.

Is that good enough? Frankly, no.

From the outside looking in, it's reasonable to expect Vanderbilt to make the NCAAs at least every fourth year, thus assuring each recruit that he will sample at least one sip of March Madness.

Sure, it would be great to go more often. But when you consider the Commodores have been to six NCAAs since the field was expanded to 64 in 1985, a 1-for-4 benchmark seems fair.

In other words, Coach, you need to bat .250.

Stallings agrees : and then some.

"I don't want to 'expectation' myself out of a job," he says, "but my goal is certainly more than 1-out-of-4."

But first things first. In order to get back to .250, Stallings needs an NCAA hit this season. With that in mind, is this an NCAA-or-bust season for Stallings? It should be, but it probably isn't.

The CIA couldn't pry a copy of a coach's contract out of Vanderbilt, but it's pretty clear that Stallings leveraged the Sweet 16 season of '04 into a sweet deal and a big buyout.

Smart man.

Although the buyout doesn't make him untouchable, it does force his higher-ups to think twice before considering a move.

Vanderbilt is not in the habit of throwing money around when it comes to buyouts. It sends the wrong message.

As for the administration, Stallings says his bosses "have taken a more global view" of his performance than focusing entirely on his record and NCAA Tournament appearances.

"I have been told verbally, in writing and otherwise by my superiors here that they are pleased with what I'm doing," he said.

"Now, with that being said, at the end of the day our program still needs to be in the NCAA Tournament on a regular basis. We need that for our fan base and for the morale of our department."

Indeed, the Vanderbilt fan base could use a lift. Commodores basketball used to be the hot wintertime story in Nashville. Not now. There is far more competition.

Too, it should concern Stallings that the biggest basketball buzz around town right now centers not on his team but on the potential for a Tennessee-Belmont game in the second round of the Preseason NIT in a couple of weeks at the downtown arena.

Yes, there are a lot of hot hitters trying to crack the lineup.

And at Vanderbilt, you need to bat at least .250 to hold your spot.

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