The University of Pittsburgh is about to conduct their fourth head football coaching search and subsequent hire since the year 2010. The tenures of Mike Haywood, Todd Graham, and Paul Chryst have since passed, and the program is no better off now than when the school let go of Dave Wannstedt.
The former head coach's teams won a combined 27 games in a three year stretch, one of the most successful runs in decades for the once proud football program. In fact, since Wannstedt's departure the team has produced a 25-26 record, and has been reeling in search of stability and success. So now on the day that begins another coaching search, the school has a chance to finally get this thing right.
Pitt failed miserably in their hire of Haywood, and he obviously had one of the shortest tenures a head coach could possibly have. They then turned to Todd Graham, and while there is little doubt he is a good coach, his character is what made his hire a questionable one. After a one-year Graham fiasco, Pitt did find a good coach that gave them three years of stability but not much success with Paul Chryst. If it were not for some unforeseen events like Mike Riley taking over Nebraska and Gary Anderson jumping to Oregon State, we are not even having this conversation. Such is life in college football these days, and rarely do coaches stay long enough to even have a chance at success.
Pitt has had some rough seasons since the departure of Wannstedt, but they do have a chance at redemption, and an opportunity to make amends. Pitt may not go out and make a huge splash hire, but they can significantly improve over the last few hires. Obviously with a program that has gone through as many searches as they have recently, some of the same names keep popping up in rumors and speculation. I think the more this search progresses and the more names we see, the more we can tell if Pitt is serious about making this program better or not.
Pitt has a new regime in place with Patrick Gallagher as the school's new chancellor. He has yet to make his mark, but he will absolutely have a hand in this hiring process. The way he approaches it will go a long way in what Pitt fans can expect for future success. Paul Chryst was not among the higher paid coaches in the power five leagues, and it showed that you pay for what you get. If we start to see names sprout up over the next week or so that would command a higher salary than Chryst, that would be a positive step in the right direction.
Pitt could take the safe route, and for some, that would be welcomed for stability's sake alone. Tom Bradley is an older guy, but he knows the region with his decades of experience at Penn State. He would jump for joy at the chance to take this job, but maybe that's a red flag right there. For being a longtime powerhouse defensive coordinator, he never got a head coaching job, despite interviewing for a number of vacancies. He would not demand a huge salary, and the school could make out with a cheaper hire because of Bradley's age and status as a current assistant coach.
Bradley's name will come up, as will many other local guys and "Pitt guys." It is hard to say how realistic the mutual interest will be for both sides with any of those types of candidates. Fans and local media will push for them, but being local does not always mean it is the right fit. It will not be much of a "change" to hire Tom Bradley or a guy that would come at a discount. It would not be a "change' to promote Joe Rudolph after a mere three years as a coordinator, and one that did not even call the plays no less. Showing change would not be hiring the desperate candidate, but rather it would going after a candidate worthy of a negotiation.
We have already seen Greg Schiano mentioned, and that's a pretty big name. You have a young guy that is a proven college coach, he was able to land a prestigious NFL head coaching job, and is known to the region as a whole. He is not the safe candidate, he's a bit of a splash. Doc Holliday from Marshall is like Tom Bradley in some ways, but different in others. He has the years of service as a major college assistant coach in the region, but has shown success recently as an actual head coach. Head coaching experience should not be overlooked in this process, so he is more of a splash in that sense.
Young hot-shot head coaches like PJ Fleck and Justin Fuente can also be considered, although they can be risky. Pitt needs to give those guys big salaries, and incentive to stay for years to come - is the school ready for that? Pitt could go the exact same route they went in with Paul Chryst, and hire Michigan State defensive coordinator, Pat Narduzzi. Coordinators from successful programs can be hit or miss, obviously, and you could be risking three years of learning on the job the way Chryst did if you hire a guy like Narduzzi. Either way, hiring a guy like that is a "safe candidate" and one you are not expecting big things with right away. The problem with Pitt is that they need someone that can hit the ground running.
Pitt has eight returning starters on offense for next season, highlighted by All-American candidates James Conner and Tyler Boyd, along with a veteran quarterback in Chad Voytik. The offense is deep and talented, and built for the ground and pound style of game. They had a defense that struggled at times this year, but it was one being retooled slowly by Chryst. Perhaps a new staff and coach can maximize their abilities and make it better. However you shake it, this is not a bad team that a new coach will be walking into next season. With a relatively weak Coastal division and a talented offense in place, a veteran head coach could figure out how to be successful rather quickly.
There will be names outside Bradley, Schiano, Holliday, and Rudolph mentioned in the coming days. We will see plenty of rumors, and it will be interesting to see which of those names are thrown out there. If we see more names like Schiano and Holliday, it will show this school is looking to upgrade from Chryst and be willing to shell out a few more dollars. If we see Tom Bradley and comparable candidates, we cannot expect much of a change than what we have seen the past few seasons.
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