Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

En Route to Becoming Pitt’s Basketball Savior, Capel Learned the Hard Way

Jeff Capel brings more than an impressive resume to the Pitt Panthers.

Embed from Getty Images

Jeff Capel has the resume.

But what might allow him to become Pitt’s long-awaited basketball savior, beyond his bonafides, is his perspective.

Former captain at Duke for Mike Krzyzewski? Check.

Seven years as an assistant under Coach K? Check.

Head coaching experience spanning a combined nine seasons at VCU and Oklahoma? Check.

Yet what separates Capel — what, potentially, makes him appear to be the right guy in the right place at the right time at Pitt is the step back he had to take before once again moving forward.

“Going from a head coach for nine years back to an assistant, it was interesting,” Capel acknowledged during his introductory press conference last week at the Petersen Events Center. “But it was necessary.”

Capel was once a hotshot, the youngest head coach in Division I. He achieved that designation when he was hired by VCU at 27 in 2002, following two years as an assistant at the school.

Capel’s only other experience at the time had been a season as an assistant under his father at Old Dominion.

“It wasn’t a very popular thing,” Capel recalled regarding his meteoric rise up the coaching ranks. “People thought that the people at VCU were crazy, and so I always coached with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder — to show ’em, ‘Hey, these people weren’t crazy, they did see something.’

“So there was always a little bit of fear there.”

Capel got VCU to an NCAA Tournament, which got him to Oklahoma, where he got the Sooners to the Elite Eight. But eventually he got fired, which necessitated a return to Duke for graduate-level studies under Krzyzewski.

Capel’s dissertation regarding the significance of that experience, snippets of which he revealed upon taking over at Pitt, suggest he couldn’t be more ready for such an undertaking.

“Duke was necessary for me,” Capel insisted. “It was something that had to happen. When you get fired from a program, which I did at Oklahoma, that’s not fun. It’s something that I probably always feared.

“I think I’ll have better balance now as a head coach. I think I’ve learned not to take myself as serious as I once did.”

A college basketball coach who doesn’t take himself too seriously? Sounds about 180 degrees from Rick Pitino and a bunch of self-absorbed others in the profession, doesn’t it?

Capel, at first glance, is a refreshing exception. He came to Pitt not to prove himself, but to do a job.

And the suspicion, this time, is that he’ll coach not with fear but with conviction.

That’s the difference when you have the type of understanding and self-awareness Capel exuded from the podium while addressing who he is — and why he sees such vast potential in Pitt.

He talked nuts-and-bolts basketball, too, emphasizing, among other things, his desire for the Panthers to play fast, his appreciation of man-to-man defense, the significance of the point guard position and the need for players to be able to defend more than one position.

But what should be most encouraging to Pitt fans is all that Capel absorbed beyond X’s & O’s during his second tenure at the right hand of Krzyzewski, a legend for what he’s done, how he’s done it and how long he’s been able to remain perched at the very top of the college game.

“I knew Duke as a player but I didn’t know the ins and outs,” Capel explained. “I think I’ve learned how to run a program better. I know I’ve become a better coach.

“I think the biggest thing is how to really run a program. I thought I was good before but I know I’ll be better now because I’ve had a chance to sit beside, and be with every day, and have these intimate conversations with a guy that I think is the best that’s ever done it.”

Pitt wasn’t going to get that with its admitted first choice, Rhode Island’s Danny Hurley (who has since taken over at Connecticut).

Capel was even comfortable enough in is own skin to admit he doesn’t yet have all the answers as it relates to Pitt’s intended resurrection.

His arrival was preceded by multiple reports of players asking for and being granted releases from their scholarships in the wake of the firing of predecessor Kevin Stallings, to the extent that it was unclear how many players were actually on the team Capel inherited.

“I don’t know,” he conceded. “That’s the nature of college basketball right now, unfortunately. I’d like for it to be different. And hopefully, as we build this thing and as we go forward, it will be different. But right now that’s something I’m not exactly sure of.

“Is it daunting? Yes, I knew that when I took the job.”

Capel took the job, anyway. Upon doing so, he couldn’t have come off as more genuine.

Don’t bet against the job getting done eventually.


Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

The 400-Word Review: The Lion King

Despite a great voice cast, the new version of "The Lion King" was a bad idea from the start.

Why These 6 Days in 1969 Were So Important to Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Magazine is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but we're not the only ones. We take a look at six notable events from 1969.

Women in Power: The Pros Changing Allegheny County

Allegheny County breaks the old boys’ club by placing women in key positions.

Growing Together: Farmers and Chefs Elevate Pittsburgh Dining

These seven farmer/chef pairings are leading the charge toward more vital vegetable dishes.

Afraid to Go to the Dentist? Consider the Sedation Solution

For some patients, dental work wouldn’t be possible if they were fully alert.

Restaurant Review: Spirits & Tales at the Oaklander Hotel

Executive chef Jessica Lewis’ strong voice is undermined by inconsistencies throughout the restaurant.

Perspectives: A Big Life

A former newspaper reporter's assignment leads to a lifelong friendship with a man who battled a food addiction.

Our 50 Years: Why This Movie Landed on Our Cover

Hollywood could be found on the Mon, quite literally, in 1993 — leading to some fawning coverage of the mostly forgotten (but very, very Pittsburgh-centric) action flick “Striking Distance.”

George S. Kaufman’s Sensational Scandal

The Pittsburgh-born playwright made tabloid headlines in the 1930s. (it didn’t slow him down a bit.)

You Can Ride a Roller Coaster Classic

Roller coaster history is hidden nearby — and not where you might think.

Tea, Cake and Death: A Safe Place to Discuss a Scary Subject

“Death Cafes” seek to reduce taboos around the act of dying.

How He Makes the Mundane Sound Magical

Experimental sound artist R. Weis creates otherworldly sonic compositions from everyday materials.

Uber’s New Service Puts Riders in the Driver’s Seat

Passengers in Pittsburgh now can pay for a most customized experience with Uber Comfort.

The 400-Word Review: Secret Obsession

Netflix is on a bit of a hot streak with its original thrillers. Unfortunately, this dud isn't part of it.

After Dark Hall of Fame: Primanti Bros.

The beloved bar-and-restaurant chain has become a Pittsburgh emblem. It's the 10th inductee in the After Dark Hall of Fame.