Jeff Capel Made The Pittsburgh Panthers Winners Again | Should Be Unanimous ACC Coach of the Year

Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Jeff Capel entered his sixth season with the program with a 51-69 record. There were rumors swirling that if he didn’t turn things around this season it could be his last despite a contract that runs through 2026-27. Capel’s $15M buyout also played a role in him not being let go after last season’s 11-21 finish. 

With the pressure mounting for Capel to turn the Panthers into the once formidable group they were under former head coach Jamie Dixon, Capel took a different approach. Following the team’s loss in last season’s ACC Tournament, Capel let his staff know that they needed an influx of talent. 

Jeff Capel. (Photo: Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

“From now until July 1, we need to have a lot of wins, and that’s going to be retention and recruiting,” Capel told his assistants in a staff meeting. 

Capel and his assistants attacked the transfer portal with a fervor, and it paid off, adding five starters and one key reserve. That formula has helped lead the Panthers to a 21-9 record and 14-5 in the ACC, tied with both Miami and Virginia for first place.

“I thought we were more prepared for it this year than we were the previous year.”

“I thought everyone on our staff did a good job of getting the right pieces,” Capel said. 

Two Key Hires Have Paid Dividends

Looking to upgrade the talent on his Pitt roster, Capel entrusted that to Kyle Cieplicki, his chief of staff who joined Pitt after leaving the Vermont Catamount program. Capel, the former Duke star, also leaned heavily on Jake Presutti, the assistant athletic director of scouting, who arrived after his time at Marquette. 

The two have become adept with finding key players in the portal. That ability in itself is something Capel relies on for his team. 

“They could really help us with the portal, to understand it, to have information,” Capel said.  “Before the season was over with, those guys had compiled a database of guys who could potentially go in the portal. Once names started going on, we had contacts right away.”

Capel’s dynamic portal duo monitored the portal happenings daily, and that helped bring in the likes of Greg Elliott, a sharpshooter who’s hitting 43 percent of his threes, point guard Nelly Cummings, who has 106 assists this season, big man Federiko Federiko, who has 45 blocks, and Nike Sibande who brings effort and energy off the bench. 

That, along with Capel’s newfound approach of more tempo and less halfcourt offense, has provided a huge boost for the once dormant Panthers program. 

Capel Should Be Unanimous ACC COY

The Panthers were picked to finish 14th in the 15-team ACC. But with them currently in first place and just one road win over No. 16 Miami from winning the conference, Capel has to be Coach of the Year. Not much was expected of the Panthers, but Capel’s formula has paid huge dividends.

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has the Panthers as a No. 9 seed in the tourney. That will change if they’re successful in their quest to win the ACC. 

The Panthers are about to break their six-year tourney drought, something Capel aimed to do when he arrived in 2018. 

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