The #StackhouseEra on Life Support in Tuscaloosa

Following the departure after the 2015-16 season of the longest-tenured coach in its program’s history, Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt’s men’s basketball team turned for his replacement to a celebrated former player.

On April 6, 2016, the Commodores announced that they had hired Bryce Drew away from his alma matter, Valparaiso. Drew had made his head-coaching debut for the same school for which, as a player, he hit one of the most memorable shots in NCAA tournament history. In his five seasons as Valparaiso’s head coach, Drew’s teams were regular-season Horizon Conference champions four times, conference tournament champions two times, and made two NCAA tournament appearances.

The SEC proved to be a tougher test for Drew. His three seasons on West End began with a winning record and NCAA tournament, but the ‘Dores slouched to a 21-43 record over the next two seasons, notching just nine wins in Drew’s last season there.

On April 5, 2019, Vanderbilt again turned to a celebrated former player to helm its men’s basketball program when it announced the hiring of Jerry Stackhouse. A name-brand player from his days at North Carolina and eighteen seasons in the NBA, mostly with the Pistons and Mavericks, Stackhouse also was lauded as a development-oriented coach in the professional ranks.

While the Vanderbilt position would be Stackhouse’s first collegiate-level work as anything other than a player, on paper, the hiring seemed to make sense. In person, his sartorial style made for a visual match with the school’s projected self-image, and Vandy’s social-media hype machine pushed things into overdrive, incessantly pumping the #StackhouseEra tag on rigidly optimistic, high-frequency online content.

The first season of the #StackhouseEra underwhelmed. Paced by future pros Saben Lee, Scotty Pippen, Jr., and Aaron Nesmith, the Commodores started 8-4, including a win over Davidson. After that, they finished the season on a 3-17 run, with plenty of those losses by double digits. One of those losses, by twenty-one (and only scoring forty-five total) at home to ostensible rival Tennessee, was particularly memorable. Through that date, January 18, 2020, Vanderbilt was one of only three schools (joined by UNLV and Princeton) to have made at least one three-point basket in each of its games played since the NCAA incorporated the three-point line in 1986. In down seasons or bad games, at least Vanderbilt had that historic claim to uphold. But as the clock wound down on a blowout home loss to the Volunteers without a made Commodore trey, the Memorial Gym fans booed their team’s shot selection, and Stackhouse was defiantly indifferent. Vanderbilt’s 1,080-game streak was ended in bitter, seemingly purposely self-inflicted fashion.

The #StackhouseEra’s second season was similar to its first, only with fewer wins (nine total) and fewer premier players (the Celtics made Nesmith the fourteenth-overall pick, and Lee went to the Jazz in the second round). After finishing the regular season on a 3-3 run, a win over Texas A&M in the SEC tournament was a nice moment but nothing more.

The third season of the #StackhouseEra probably should’ve been dubbed the #PippenEra. Following the lead of a more mature Scotty Jr., Vanderbilt posted its first winning record– just barely, at 19-17– under Stackhouse, the last since Drew’s 19-16 Commodore debut. Wins over Georgia and Alabama in the SEC conference tournament were nice but, with the impending departure of Pippen Jr. (who received first-team All-SEC honors and, after going undrafted, signed a developmental contract with the Lakers), it was tough to see the modest improvement as a sign of real future growth. In a mark of wisdom, Vanderbilt’s social media team stopped using the #StackhouseEra tag in the middle of that season.

Now in its fourth season and stripped of its online branding, the Stackhouse Era approached what fans might hope will be its nadir last night in Tuscaloosa. Three-loss Alabama, consistently ranked in the top-twenty this season and as high as number two last week, absolutely destroyed the visiting Commodores. The halftime score was 43-15, and the final score was 101-44. (Weirdly, Vandy briefly led very early in the game, but, with 16:06 to go in the first half, Alabama tied the score at five and never again trailed.) By margin of victory, it was the biggest conference win in Alabama basketball history, and it matched the Crimson Tide’s prior record for game dominance against any opponent. Only one Vanderbilt player, Paul Lewis, scored in double digits.

Today, 10-12 Vanderbilt looks to be shifting from barely treading water to sinking like a stone. Even if the remaining conference schedule is marginally lighter, this is a team in crisis. Stackhouse’s .426 winning percentage essentially matches Drew’s .404. Both make Stallings (.601) look like John Wooden (fine: .808 at UCLA). In response to obvious media questions last night, Stackhouse’s defensive explanation was that his coaching messages over the past three seasons have not been resonating with his players. That’s something higher-ups usually say about a coach when they’re firing him.


1 thought on “The #StackhouseEra on Life Support in Tuscaloosa

  1. Pingback: Vanderbilt Basketball’s Abyss Stepback | ALDLAND

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