So with Pitt's most recent disappointment, is it finally time to fire Dave Wannstedt?
I'll start by saying, if you're looking for a definitive position from me, you've come to the wrong place. I've got to admit I really don't know. Others are sure that they won't him gone, and I've seen little support out there for him to be retained. But I'm not completely sold it's time to let him go.
I've gone over the reasons to keep him before - great recruiter, Pitt guy, doesn't have any aspirations of leaving, etc. Is that all enough? Maybe, maybe not. I guess it depends on what you want.
Before I delve in, I'm going after Paul Zeise of the PG a bit. I think Paul is normally spot on, but I'm going to disagree with him a little. He claims that not wanting to hire a coach because he'd use the job as a stepping stone is one of the 'silliest arguments' for hiring a young coach. That may sound edgy and all, but is it true? Not really. To build any sort of program you need stability (to his credit, he does mention the argument for stability). Hiring someone who is guaranteed to leave at the drop of a hat isn't always the wisest thing. Sure you can have a few years of success, and even in some cases, extreme success. But unless you win a championship, is it really worth it? Cincinnati took a huge step back this season with a new coach and who knows what the future holds for them. At the end of the day, if they struggle over the next few years, are they really that much farther along as a program? Of course not. A few years of fleeting success does not equal a strong foundation for a program. So, please.
Do I want Pitt to take that next step to national champion contender? Sure. But let's not kid ourselves. Pitt isn't really that close to becoming that. This year proved that they're not even at the level below that, which is regularly churning out 9-10 win teams. And don't give me any crap about rebuilding. This team has NFL-quality talent on it right now and there was no reason the team didn't do better.
Regardless of where you stand about him, for Dave Wannstedt to be able to recruit as well as he has with the lack of success Pitt has had is remarkable. Pitt has been pretty good the past two seasons, but even before that, Wanny was somehow landing five-star recruits even in the midst of losing seasons. Now that they've had some success in 2008 and 2009, look at the talent that's slated to arrive next year. I'm not sure many other coaches can work that same type of magic. And before you downplay his recruiting ability, take a look around the NFL. Pitt's got guys on several rosters with more coming in the near future...Jon Baldwin, Dion Lewis, Greg Romeus, Jabaal Sheard. The school is building a reputation for churning out NFL talent and the more that happens, the more top-level recruits Pitt is going to get.
I know, I know - you've got to be able to coach that type of talent to win, right? Right. And that's where Dave falls the most short. He had a golden opportunity this year and Pitt couldn't cash in. But the fact is that if you want to knock him for doing poorly this season, you've got to give him credit for the past two where Pitt won 19 games.
Look, this is no time to be a Wannstedt apologist. To some who wanted him gone a long time ago, it's even less trendy now than it ever was. But have Wannstedt's teams been better as a whole over the last three years? Yes. Was this year a step back? Of course. But his past two seasons as well as the recruiting he's done this year are reasons enough for me to give him another season.
Does Wannstedt deserve to go? Maybe. And I wouldn't even be all that upset if Pitt went in that direction. At some point, enough has to be enough for the university and this may be the year for that. But if Pitt gives him another year, I think that's okay, too.