At last, the search is over.
Pitt will hire Duke assistant Jeff Capel as their new basketball coach, ending a nearly three-week search to find a replacement for fired coach Kevin Stallings.
The deal, which was first reported to be a 7-year contract by 247Sports, was confirmed by the school in a press release in the early afternoon. An introductory press conference will be held at noon Wednesday.
“We are excited to announce Jeff Capel as our head men’s basketball coach at the University of Pittsburgh,“ athletic director Heather Lyke said in the school's statement. “Coach Capel is a high-energy leader committed to being a part of our university and the city of Pittsburgh. He has a tremendous basketball pedigree and a strong track record of recruiting, developing and mentoring high-quality student-athletes."
Capel fits both bills for what appeared to be two battling interests in the Pitt coaching search. At age 43, he is a young enough coach to be a long-term solution for the Panthers, and he also has head coaching experience at VCU and Oklahoma, having once been the youngest head coach in Division I when he was hired by VCU at 27.
Perhaps most importantly for a Panthers program that could have to completely rebuild its roster, Capel is known as a strong recruiter who has been able to land NBA-caliber talent. Among the players he has recruited are former No. 1 pick Blake Griffin at Oklahoma and recent Duke players Harry Giles, Jabari Parker and Tyus Jones.
In the Pitt release, Capel said all the standard things, but he also dropped a small Pittsburgh connection that wasn't well known.
“I am honored to be named the head coach of the University of Pittsburgh men’s basketball program,” Capel said. “Pitt has a great tradition of success and I look forward to putting together a staff and team that will enable us to build on that tradition. As a lifelong Steelers fan, I know Pittsburgh as the ‘City of Champions,’ and our goal from day one will be to recruit, coach and develop champions on the court, in the classroom and in the community.”
Capel brings with him extensive knowledge of the ACC, having grown up in North Carolina and being a four-year starter for Duke. His Duke career began with a freshman season that ended with a loss to Arkansas in the 1994 national championship game, and he finished with 1,601 points — three of which came on a 40-foot buzzer-beater to force double overtime against rival North Carolina in 1995, arguably one of college basketball's most famous regular-season shots.
After a short professional career, Capel began his coaching career in 2000 as an assistant for his late father, also named Jeff, at Old Dominion. The next year, he took a job as an assistant at VCU, and in 2002, he was hired as the Rams' head coach.
After going 79-41 with an NCAA and NIT berth with the Rams, Capel was hired to replace Kelvin Sampson at Oklahoma, and his Griffin-led team reached the Elite Eight before losing to North Carolina in 2009 — the same weekend Pitt was toppled by Villanova on Scottie Reynolds' late basket.
Capel's last two seasons at Oklahoma were not as successful, and his record with the Sooners finished at 96-69 before being dropped to 83-69 after the school was forced to vacate wins during the 2009-10 season for use of an ineligible player, Tiny Gallon. Capel was not implicated in the violations.
After being fired at Oklahoma in 2011, Capel returned to Duke as the top assistant to Mike Krzyzewski, garnering the title associate head coach. Capel filled in for Krzyzewski as head coach in early 2017, after the Hall of Famer underwent back surgery.
Capel's first task at Pitt will be to see how many of last year's players he will keep, and he's already off to a good start in that area. Leading scorer Jared Wilson-Frame, a rising senior, and rising sophomore Shamiel Stevenson both indicated Tuesday they would return to Pitt. Capel will have a chance to speak with the remaining players who were released from their scholarships before meeting the press Wednesday.
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