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Conversation with Kevin Stallings

October 13, 2003 Columns No Comments

A Conversation with Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings

by Adam Shandler

Have you heard the news? The media loves the Commodores! (Personally I thought they were better with Lionel Richie.)

Okay, no more Shecky Green impressions. Different Commodores.

Many preseason college hoops pundits are picking Vandy to win not only the SEC-East, but the whole SEC shootin’ match. And with seven upperclassmen, including preseason Player of the Year Matt Freije, who can blame them?

Photo courtesy Vanderbilt University
Kevin Stallings

But wait! What’s this? The Vanderbilt University administration has made a stunning declaration! Citing the iniquities that have plagued college athletics of recent note, including how emphasis on sports has riddled the integrity of academics, the Nashville school is dissolving their athletic department.

Now, before you get your nets in a knot, be informed that this motion does not eliminate intercollegiate sports at Vandy. The university is simply bundling sports into its division of student life, doing away with the “Mafia mentality” that some athletic departments have at certain schools.

In this edition of Conversations with Adam, I speak with Vanderbilt head basketball coach Kevin Stallings on the recent administrative changes and the preseason hype surrounding his team.

Adam Shandler: The media has dubbed this upcoming season as “The Year of the Commodore.” What do you think of all the hype?

Kevin Stallings: After you do this kind of thing for a while you start to realize that all the hype is just hype, and the only things that matter are what happen out on the court.

The guys have done a good job preparing themselves in the offseason. We went to Spain for ten days and had a great trip; we really played well in Spain. So we’re going to work to the best of our abilities to have a good year and I’m excited about their progress.

AS: What’s so remarkable about this team, as opposed to your Vanderbilt teams of the past?

KS: This is the first year that we’re coaching seniors that we’ve recruited. Something like that takes a lot longer at a place like Vandy. We don’t go out and recruit JUCO players and we don’t bring in the quick fix.

Matt Freije (6-9, 249 F) is the SEC preseason player of the year. Not that that means much, but if you have to have an award like that, he is certainly very deserving of it. So with a combo of younger kids being a year older combined with some very experienced seniors, like Matt, you have a program that has a very good chance to be successful.

AS: I wanted to get your thoughts on the elimination of the athletic department and the bundling of Vandy sports into the division of student life.

KS: I think the only negative – at least right now – was how the information was released. The information was not released in a manner that was effective and it was not extracted correctly by the media. The perception and the reality of the situation are very different.

Initially, the perception was that we’re doing away with athletics. But we’re not. We’re not getting rid of college sports at Vanderbilt and we’re not just playing intramurals. Some of the reporting lines have changed and some of the athletes will feel changes but they won’t know why they’re feeling them. But the changes are more administrative.

So the way the info was released was different than the intent.

AS: Do you see any future negatives stemming from the decision?

KS: I’m not too worried about that. There’s only so much I can control in my position. The move hasn’t hurt recruiting. Maybe we lost one kid because of the timing of it all, but this year was one of the best recruiting years we’ve had. So we’ve been able to weather the storm [of the initial announcement].

The proof is going to be in the pudding. Athletics is not going to be de-emphasized, but instead of reporting to an athletic director, I now report to a vice chancellor. My players don’t see, sense or feel any changes.

AS: Were you consulted on the move?

KS: No, I wasn’t.

AS: It seems Vanderbilt made this move to counter the negative turn college athletics has taken recently. Yet, Vanderbilt is known for having one of the cleanest programs in the country. In your opinion, was it necessary for a school like Vandy to go forth with such a move considering its one of the more well-behaved programs in the NCAA?

KS: Obviously it would not be in my best interest to opinionate on something that the administration decided on. Change is part of every working environment and we try to work within the guidelines of the institution.

I don’t think a lot will change at Vanderbilt as a result of this decision – like you said, we have one of the cleanest programs in the country – but this past winter, spring and fall were the ugliest in college athletics. We’re scraping the bottom of the barrel of integrity and morality so I do agree with the notion that there are things happening in college athletics that do need changing.

AS: If this move works, do you think other programs will consider trying out “The Vanderbilt Experiment”?

KS: I’ve heard that there are other schools – big-time programs – that were contemplating this model prior to our adopting it. I don’t think schools like Duke or Kentucky will do it just because we did. I don’t think we carry the weight on our back because we were the first.

AS: Are you proud of being part of a university that has publicly declared “academics first”?

KS: I’m not really any prouder than I was before [the decision]. We have not changed our emphasis on academics, we have not changed our emphasis on athletics and we have not changed our emphasis on integrity. And our integrity was strong to begin with. We’ve only changed how we are going to do our business.

I tell you what I am proud of. Our basketball team stands for the right things and our institution stands for the right things. Hopefully our athletics will continue to represent the integrity of the institution. This is something that needs to happen at a lot of institutions.

Vanderbilt opens its 2003-04 campaign on the road at Belmont, November 21st.


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