While a lot of the dust has yet to settle, we know one thing for sure: Dave Wannstedt is out as Pitt's head coach. Gone. Fired. Resigned. Whatever it's officially being called, Wannstedt's time at the helm is over. I'm sure a lot of the details about this surprising--although not shocking--move will come to light in the next few days, but until then, here are my initial thoughts on the situation.
To put it bluntly, I'm very happy with the decision. Very surprised, but very happy. I've called for Wannstedt's head more than once, especially during this terribly underwhelming season, but I never actually thought that the university administration would fire him. I always got the sense that they were perfectly content with 2nd place Big East finishes and decent graduation rates--basically what Wannstedt's program was yielding. I'm thrilled to see they're not.
While I'm no huge fan of Steve Pederson, I admire his audacity to make this call. It's a bold move to be sure--Wannstedt is an affable native son with a Pitt background and nice recruiting skills--but it's the right move. ZERO Big East Titles in six years is simply unacceptable. In 2008, 2009, and 2010, Wannstedt's teams had the championship and a BCS berth in their hands, and every time they fell flat on their face. In six years, Wannstedt never showed an iota of proof that he could win the games that truly mattered. The games that were needed to take Pitt's program to the next level--the level that Wannstedt was hired to take Pitt to--always devastatingly eluded him. And he would just be dumbfounded. I can't handle that any longer. That alone, is justification to fire him.
To Wannstedt's credit he did some great things for the program. He brought in some excellent recruits, demanded academic achievement from his players, presided over Pitt's first 10-win season since 1981, and maybe most importantly, loved the University of Pittsburgh with all his heart. He really does seem like a fine man and I truly feel bad for him. He took the program to a respectable level that it hadn't reached since the days of Dan Marino. Now, it's time to go to the next level. Unfortunately, Wannstedt's not the man to do that. I wish him nothing but the best, but this, in my mind, was absolutely the right decision.
Where do we go from here? Well, I think the program will likely take a step back first, before it takes a step forward. With a new head coach, some players will likely experience feelings of trepidation or resentment, some recruits will defect to other schools, and an entirely new system will have to be put in place. This shake-up will take some time and likely cause Pitt to regress slightly in the short run. This should be expected, though. How smoothly this whole transition process goes depends on who Pitt hires. I'm not going to speculate and recklessly throw out names, but I will say one candidate who I would like to see be considered is Penn State's longtime defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. Bradley, the son of a former Pitt basketball player, has been an assistant at Penn State since 1980 after playing there. He's a Johnstown, PA native with exceptional recruiting skills, especially in the talent-rich area of western Pennsylvania, and has lured some great WPIAL recruits to Penn State over the years. If he's interested, he at least deserves an interview.
The coming days will be very interesting as more details about Wannstedt's dismissal and potential replacements become known. Until then...thank you Dave Wannstedt and best of luck.