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Vanderbilt Commodores Basketball: What Vandy Is Losing in Kevin Stallings

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After 17 years in Nashville, the head basketball coach has moved on.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

In a rather quick and surprising chain of events, Pitt's Jamie Dixon left for his alma mater of TCU, and Pitt responded by pulling Kevin Stallings away from Vanderbilt after he spent 17 seasons there. Any time a coach has been around for as long as Stallings was in one place, it's worth taking a look at his legacy to see where he fits in history.

Stallings has a lot of accomplishments to his name. Half of Vandy's 14 NCAA Tournament bids came under his watch, and half of the program's four Sweet 16 appearances in the 64-team tournament era also belong to him. He guided the 2011-12 team to only the second SEC Tournament victory in Vandy's history.

At the same time, I saw a few people joking (I think they were joking) on Twitter after the news came out of Pitt offering Stallings the job that it was saving Vanderbilt the hard choice of whether or not to fire him. This year's NCAA Tournament bid was the program's first in four seasons. That SEC Tournament championship squad didn't make it past the Big Dance's first weekend, as Stallings hasn't been to the Sweet 16 since 2007. After that 2011-12 season, Vandy went two in a row with a losing record.

To put things in perspective, here are the records of the men who've coached Vanderbilt men's basketball since 1950. For the tournament, I kept it to just the 64-team tournament era (1985-present) to keep a fair comparison for Stallings with past coaches.

Coach Tenure Win Pct. SEC Win Pct. 64-Team NCAAT Pct.
Bob Polk 1947-58, 1959-61 .650 .538 -
Roy Skinner 1958-59, 1961-76 .673 .638 -
Wayne Dobbs 1977-79 .475 .426 -
Richard Schmidt 1979-81 .509 .389 -
C.M. Newton 1981-89 .529 .444 40.0%
Eddie Fogler 1989-93 .628 .559 50.0%
Jan van Breda Kolff 1993-99 .562 .448 16.7%
Kevin Stallings 1999-2016 .624 .493 41.2%

Essentially, Vandy has had a track record of being good but not great. The Commodores haven't been a consistent bottom feeder in the SEC, but they haven't been Kentucky either (not that anyone but UK has been). VU had a nice run under Polk and Skinner, but it had a more modest run under Dobbs, Schmidt, and in the early years under Newton. Newton's final two teams before he retired made the NCAA Tournament, and two of Fogler's four teams also went dancing before Vandy let him get away to South Carolina. There was a dip under van Breda Kolff, but then the Stallings era was another high period.

In overall win percentage, Stallings was in line with Polk, Skinner, and Fogler in the .600s. His SEC win percentage was below those guys' marks, though, but it was at least above those of Dobbs, Schmidt, and van Breda Kolff. His rate of making the tournament was right there with Newton's in his five years of coaching in the 64-team tournament era and not far off of Fogler's rate. Crucially, it was well above van Breda Kolff's rate.

So what about the last few years? Have things been tailing off for Stallings?

Coach Tenure Win Pct. SEC Win Pct. NCAAT Pct.
Stallings, Full Tenure 1999-2016 .624 .493 41.2%
Stallings, Last 10 Yrs. 2006-16 .631 .560 60.0%
Stallings, Last 5 Yrs. 2011-16 .575 .511 40.0%

In the last five, yes to an extent. It took him several years to rebuild after losing the core of the 2011-12 SEC Tournament Championship team, with the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons bringing two of his three teams to have losing records (one game under .500 both times). His tournament rate was still in line with his overall tenure, though, and his SEC record was better than his full tenure SEC record.

Stallings' time in Nashville had a clear arc. The first four years featured two NIT and no NCAA Tournament bids as he built up the program. The next nine seasons had six NCAA bids, two NIT bids, a pair of NCAA Sweet 16 appearances, and the SEC Tournament win. The last four years have been rebuilding after the 2011-12 peak, with last year's NIT and this year's NCAA bids building some momentum.

Looking at the big picture, Stallings had Vandy running at around the highest level the program has gotten to in the past. No coach in program history has done significantly better than Stallings did, which is a major reason why he was around for 17 seasons and might not have been fired despite that "last five years" row on the table above.

Of course after 17 seasons of being near the peak of what the program has been able to do historically, Stallings wasn't likely to be the person to take it to a new level. Vandy and David Williams weren't going to fire Stallings without a protracted dip in performance, so Commodore fans desiring a jump to the next level probably weren't going to get it until after Stallings left or retired.

Well, Stallings has now left. In 2003, Vandy found a baseball head coach in Tim Corbin who took the program to unprecedented heights. In 2011, Vandy found a football head coach in James Franklin who took the program to unprecedented heights. Now Williams will try to find a men's basketball head coach to try to beat what Stallings had done and reach unprecedented heights for that program.

It's an opportunity to reach new levels of success, but you never know with coaching searches. The wrong hire will mean that fans will miss the consistency that Stallings brought for so long.