Mike Haywood Fired: Pitt Football Starting Over

Well, that was quick. In the words of Chris Rock - Grand Opening, Grand Closing.

Pitt now finds itself in the unenviable position of searching for a head football coach for the second time in less than a month.

Man, so many things to get to, so little time. Well, this has really blown up in Pitt's face. A questionable hire to begin with has officially turned sour and Pitt is back to the drawing board.

Regardless of what you thought about the hire initially, Pitt should have at least earned some respect today as it moved swiftly. Even if the school was confident Haywood would be cleared, it was in a tight spot. There's recruiting to think about and Spring practice will be here before you know it. Pitt couldn't allow the distractions to linger on and on. Worse yet, if Haywood ended up not being cleared, it would have been disastrous for the school to allow him to serve as coach and need to replace him in the coming months.

Make no mistake - this has nothing to do with innocent until proven guilty. Pitt may very well believe that he could be innocent, but it had to take into account the university's reputation, the parents of players, fans, students, and the community. Just the fact that Pitt is tied into this situation - whether Haywood is innocent or not - puts the school in a bad light. Pitt had to consider the future and in the end, they couldn't risk going further down this path with the possibility of having to start over again later on.

And as ESPN.com's blogger Brian Bennett points out, keeping Haywood would have been the height of hypocrisy.

So this brings us to athletic director Steve Pederson. Is his job safe? Well, earlier Saturday, Pete Thamel of the New York Times seemed to question his authority via Twitter:

Just talked to someone with Pitt knowledge and they said it was significant that statement came from chancellor, not the AD.

But it appears that Pederson has the full support of Chancellor Mark Nordenberg:

Pitt spokesman E.J. Borghetti later released another statement, this one affirming the university's support for Athletic Director Steve Pederson, who hired Mr. Haywood:

"Mr. Pederson has played a key role in elevating Pitt's athletics programs, remains an important member of the University's senior leadership team and continues to enjoy the full support of the Chancellor."

I've mentioned this before, but I think Pitt made a mistake in rehiring Pederson a second time. He left the school, affirming he didn't want to be here, failed miserably at Nebraska, and was allowed to return. I'm not saying Pitt had to have hard feelings against him for leaving. But when they allowed him to return, especially when he didn't succeed elsewhere, they were essentially saying they're perfectly fine with having a mediocre AD. If he couldn't succeed at Nebraska, why would he be able to take Pitt to the next level?
This latest botched hiring should have served as the door being opened for letting Pederson go.
So with that said, who is Pitt going to set its eyes on? Well, one thing I liked from Nordenberg's statement was that Pitt will apparently look at several more candidates than they did the first time:
"We will immediately re-open our search for a head football coach, expanding the process to include a larger pool of candidates.
That was one thing that annoyed me the first time, even more than the actual selection of Haywood. It didn't seem like there was a thorough process. So who's got a chance at landing the job?
Look, I'm a supporter of Dave Wannstedt, but I don't see any way that happens. Pitt was sure that he wasn't the guy to get the job done, so a failed hire probably won't (and shouldn't) change that. Plus, as much as Wannstedt likes Pitt, I don't know that he could go back right now. Remember, we're not talking about a coach coming back five or ten years down the road. It's been less than a month since Wannstedt was coach.
So Wannstedt's out.
There will probably be some of the usual names again and to be honest, I don't have the patience to rehash them again. Jay Norvell, Kevin Sumlin, Chris Petersen, etc. But there are two names I wanted to bring up.
Tom Bradley. I've said before that I'd favor bringing Bradley in. He reportedly would be interested in the job, he's a good recruiter, and more importantly - he has decades of success as a coordinator/top assistant at high-level D-I program ... not one good year at a MAC school. That's no slight to Haywood, but his experience was clearly limited.
Frank Cignetti. Cignetti would be the safe choice. Pitt is already familiar with him and he's familiar with the players. He knows the recruits coming in, knows the area, and has had a limited amount of success at Pitt. Again, I don't know that he'd be the best choice, but he'd be a relatively safe one that Pitt could install fairly quickly.
One more thing to note - as bad as this is (and trust me, it's real bad), it would be worse if Pitt were faced with this situation in a few months during or after Spring camp.
Whatever direction Pitt decides to take, the school's 2011 season is off to a rough start.
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