Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Reader mikeo90 comments about Pitt football:

Over the course of five weeks, the Pitt football program has been turned on its head.  Panther faithful have witnessed the abrupt, botched dismissal of Dave Wannstedt, the subsequent hiring, arrest, and firing of Mike Haywood, an impressive recruiting class completely self-destruct, a mounting coup d'état against athletic director Steve Pederson, and now, the introduction of new head coach Todd Graham...all while the top-5 ranked men's basketball team continues to plow through Big East play, almost as an afterthought.  It's been an interesting month to say the least. 

Looking back, so many things should have been done differently.  I was in favor of relieving Dave Wannstedt of his head coaching duties, because he couldn't win enough big games.  The program seemed to have hit a wall and new leadership was clearly needed.  I have no problem with Steve Pederson's decision to remove Wannstedt.  The way he did it was another story.  To force Wannstedt to "resign" as if it were his own choice, then run him out in front of the media for an awkward 30-second press conference was bad enough.  Then for Pederson to avoid questions about the "resignation" like the plague at his own press conference really made him look ridiculous.  Oh, and there was still that bowl game that needed a head coach.  Pederson tried to do the decent thing by giving Wannstedt the option to coach the game, but that blew up in his face when Wannstedt took nearly a month to announce his decision.  During that period of limbo, nobody knew who was in charge of the team and Steve Pederson looked like an assclown.  

A week later, after conducting a hasty, supposedly "nationwide" search by himself, Pederson was back up in front of the media, this time introducing Pitt's new head football coach Michael Haywood.  The press conference focused more on discipline and character than it did winning.  The response from fans, alumni, and players was tepid.  I tried to be as positive as I could about it, but even I was having trouble getting excited over the hire.  Pederson gushed about the former Miami (OH) head coach's high morals and virtue, saying "Coach Haywood is a man of integrity, a man of character, and a true inspirational leader for our football program."  Boy, it's almost comical how badly that blew up in his face.  Two weeks later, Haywood was arrested for domestic abuse after allegedly choking the mother of his bastard son, and immediately fired by Chancellor Mark Nordenberg.  The University became a laughingstock and once again, Steve Pederson looked like a fool. 

Look, none of us will ever know what kind of head coach Mike Haywood would have been at Pitt or why he was selected by Pederson so quickly (probably a combination of money and avoidance of embarrassment following Pederson's miss on other candidates), but the initial vibes surrounding his hiring weren't overwhelmingly good ones.  Pitt was forced back to the drawing board, looking for its third head coach in a month.  Chancellor Nordenberg, along with general counsel Jerry Cochran and associate athletic director Donna Sanft, became directly involved this time and the pool of candidates was expanded.  After a much more extensive process, Pitt decided to open the checkbook and Tulsa head coach Todd Graham was selected.  I was initially in Tom Bradley's camp, but after my initial disappointment faded, I warmed up to Graham quickly.

Unlike Haywood, Graham is exciting, likable, and passionate.  His enthusiasm and energy were palpable at his introductory press conference--so much so that afterwards, Cam Saddler and Ray Graham made an impromptu call to 93.7 The Fan to applaud the hiring.  Unlike Haywood's icy talk about running a boot camp-like program, Graham talked in his warming southern accent about building explosive offenses, putting together top recruiting classes, and winning championships.  I know this is a lot of rhetoric, but I'm still more pumped up now than I ever was about Haywood or even Wannstedt.  Looking ahead, I'm comfortable now with the direction of the team.  I'm already buzzing with excitement for next season.  Graham already seems to have won over the team and the student body, a great start for a school that's lacking a fanatical football following.  I'm more excited about the future of Pitt football now than I've ever been before.  

Now, contrary to what some doomsayers have been promulgating, Panther football is not ruined forever.  This month-long mess is not the equivalent of the SMU "death penalty".  The program has not been set back ten years.  However this all happened, through all the confusion, humiliation, and enmity, I believe the Pitt football program has come out ahead. 

This whole fiasco will simply go down in the annals of Pitt football as an ignominious footnote, with a picture of Steve Pederson next to it.  Hail to Pitt.  

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