February Provides Little Love for Pitt Panther Coach Jeff Capel

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In a month known for having love in the air, it is in short supply for Pitt Panther head coach, Jeff Capel.  There is no sugarcoating just how bad Capel’s teams have been in the month of February.  This is not just a trend with his Pitt Panther teams, but this dates back to when Capel was the head coach of VCU and Oklahoma as well. 

February is a very important month in sports, including college basketball.  The Super Bowl takes place in February, NHL and NBA teams start their playoff pushes, and college basketball programs are polishing their tournament resumes this month, with schedules mostly consisting of conference games.  Unfortunately, this is typically when Capel-led basketball teams perform the worst. 

It wasn’t always this way.  In 2002-03’ and 04-05’, Jeff Capel led the VCU Rams to many February victories.  In fact, his impressive 8-game win streak in February to end the 03-04’ season helped VCU earn the Colonial regular season title, the conference tournament title, and a spot in the NCAA tournament.  That was just a year after VCU had a 7-game win streak in February 02-03’, but fell short in their conference tournament.  Capel used this success at VCU to get a head coaching job at Oklahoma from 2006 through the 2010-11’ season.

However, since those two great February stretches in back-to-back years, Jeff Capel teams are 26-54 in games that are played in the second month of the year.  At Oklahoma, he was 13-25 in these critical games.  In 2006-07’, the Sooners ended the month on a 6-game losing streak.  In 07-08’, they would end February on a 3-game losing streak.  They were 3-5 in February in each of Capel’s first two seasons with Oklahoma.

There was finally some success in February of 2009.  Oklahoma started the month with a 4-game win streak, finishing February with a 5-2 record.  Their 30-6 overall record on the season earned the Sooners a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, where they would eventually lose in the Elite Eight.  Funny enough, Capel’s future employer, Pitt, would also lose in the Elite Eight to Villanova that year, but thinking about that game still makes my stomach turn.

The Elite Eight appearance also earned Capel two more seasons at Oklahoma.  Unfortunately, Capel could not recover that success as the Sooners would go 13-18 in 09-10’ followed by a 14-18 record in 10-11’.  These records were largely caused by absolute collapses in the month of February.  Oklahoma went 1-6 and 1-7 in the month of February, respectively, with a 9-game losing streak to end the 09-10’ season.  The Sooners would also end February of 2011 with a 7-game losing streak.  These collapses ultimately led to the end of Capel’s career at Oklahoma.

Fortunately, Jeff Capel would get another chance at head coaching with the Pitt Panthers.  Unfortunately, his Pitt career has been the least successful so far.  In addition to having poor overall records in his tenure, Capel’s Panther teams are just 3-22 in the month of February.  They are currently winless in February this season, in three games played so far.  It is just a brutal month for the coach when tournament resumes are supposed to be built.  Not only that, but typically February consists of all conference games which matter most.

In his last six seasons, Capel-led teams are just 5-35 in February, and this year's Pitt team is getting worse.  They have been outscored 193 – 241 this month and suffered a humiliating 27-point defeat at the hands of the Virginia Tech Hokies Monday night. 

This is not the recipe for success for college basketball programs.  A coach cannot continue to see his teams get worse when the games matter most and be considered suitable for the position.  I am level-head enough to understand the difficulties that Capel has faced at Pitt, and try not to call for his firing after each loss, but a lot of these difficulties were self-inflicted.  The conversation needs to be had following the season as to if Jeff Capel’s career at Pitt should continue.