Capel leaving Duke to take basketball coaching job at Pittsburgh

In other coaching news, High Point has hired high-profile alumnus Tubby Smith while Western Carolina turns to the son of former Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser

Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel has reportedly been hired as the next head coach at Pittsburgh (Rob Kinnan/USA TODAY Sports)

In the hours following Duke’s elimination from the NCAA tournament Sunday, Jon Scheyer emerged as a leading candidate for the basketball coaching job at ACC rival Pittsburgh.

Two days later, the Panthers have followed through and hired a Blue Devils’ assistant

Only it’s not Scheyer.

In a surprise move, Pitt has turned to Jeff Capel to fill the opening created when former coach Kevin Stallings was dismissed last week following an 0-18 conference season.

“My lifelong journey around the game of basketball has taught me to surround yourself with great people that you believe in,” Capel, who received a seven-year contract, said in a statement announcing his hiring. “My meetings with Director of Athletics Heather Lykes and Chancellor (Patrick) Gallagher made a huge impact in the decision process.

“I was thoroughly impressed with their vision for the University of Pittsburgh, the athletic department and our program. I look forward to building outstanding relationships with the leadership team at Pitt as well as with the numerous individuals who will help shape our program.”

Capel, a former Duke point guard who previously served head coaching tenures at Virginia Commonwealth and Oklahoma, has been mentioned for several head coaching jobs over the past few years — including those at Georgia Tech and Arizona State. But he has turned them all down, leading to speculation that he was the heir apparent to his mentor Mike Krzyzewski with the Blue Devils.

The 43-year-old Fayetteville native has earned a reputation for being one of the nation’s best recruiters, whose influence has helped Duke land a steady stream of five-star prospects since his return to his alma mater in 2011. The Blue Devils’ incoming 2018 class is their third straight to be ranked as the nation’s best.

At Pittsburgh, Capel inherits a program with a solid tradition of success, but has fallen off considerably in the two seasons since former coach Jamie Dixon left for TCU. Not only were the Panthers 24-41 overall (4-32 ACC) under Stallings, but after this season ended, seven of the Panthers’ players asked to be released from their scholarships. 

“Pittsburgh just made an amazing hire to lead its men’s basketball program,” Krzyzewski said in a statement. “Having come from a proud basketball family, Jeff Capel is one of the most dynamic coaches in the country. He possesses championship-level experience as both a head and assistant coach, as well as distinct knowledge of the Atlantic Coast Conference that will benefit Pitt immediately.

“On a personal note, I want to thank Jeff for being directly by my side for the past seven years and completely committed to our mission at Duke and with USA Basketball. His insight, passion for the game, relationships with our players, and most importantly, his friendship have meant the world to me and my family.”

In other coaching news, two state schools turned to familiar names Tuesday to fill their respective openings.

High Point has hired Tubby Smith, who played for the Panthers from 1969-73 and won a national championship at Kentucky, while Western Carolina filled its opening with Mark Prosser, the son of the late Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser.

Smith, 66, was recently fired by Memphis, where he went 40-26 in two seasons with the Tigers. He replaces former UNC player Scott Cherry, who was fired on March 7 after nine seasons with the Panthers.

High Point will be Smith’s seventh coaching stop and fourth since 2013. He has been to the NCAA Tournament with Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota and Texas Tech while compiling a 597-302 career record.

“I said to him: ‘We want you to come back home.’ We said the time is now. The person is you,'” High Point President Nido Qubein said, adding that the school will break ground this summer on a new basketball arena. “‘You have had a magnificent career. You have reached the epitome of what coaching is all about.'”

While Smith will be coming full circle in his basketball career, the WCU job represents a beginning for Prosser — who takes over the Catamounts from long-time coach Larry Hunter after spending the past six seasons as an assistant at Winthrop.

“This was a perfect situation for me and my family,” Prosser said at his introductory press conference Tuesday. “I feel very thankful for this opportunity. We knew this was the place for us almost immediately when we got here.”

Prosser follows in the footsteps of his father, who made eight NCAA Tournament appearances with Xavier and the Deacons, getting Wake Forest to No. 1 in the nation for the first time in school history, before suffering a fatal heart attack in 2007.
“I wish he could be here right now,” the younger Prosser said of his dad. “He would have been our biggest fan, he still will be. We hope we are making him proud. We are going to do everything we can to not ruin the good name he’s made for us in North Carolina.”