A funny thing happened last night. I was driving home from work and Christmas shopping right before 7 p.m.. I scanned twitter at a long stop light getting depressed that I was going to have to watch another school take Pitt's coach, and see how happy he was to be somewhere else. Then I got an email right as it started.
"That must be Pitt confirming Chryst is leaving with a press release. I'll read it later"
The subject read,
"Pitt Begins Coach Search; Announces Athletic Dept. Leadership Change"
The contents of that email have already been documented, but I legitimately whooped and hollered in my car reading it.
And all of a sudden I wasn't fearful for the future of Pitt Athletics. I wasn't worried about how we would attract a good coach, how we'd keep recruits, or how Pitt was once again being dragged through the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
New University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Patrick Gallagher did something amazing. He made me forget the last 4 years of Pitt football. Not the good, but the bad. He made me forget how much damage this program sustained in the last four years. Not necessarily even on the field, which while 4 straight years of 6-6 regular seasons is not something to celebrate, it's not something that's a trainwreck. It was the mishandling of the firing of Dave Wannstedt, the hiring of Haywood, Todd Graham bolting, and the constant feeling of Paul Chryst fighting the tide to rebuild.
Steve Pederson did do some good for Pitt, but it was outweighed by the bad. His name left such a bad taste and feeling in the vast majority of the fan base. The very idea of "Pitting" was irrevocably represented by him. There was just a feeling of either unknown or negativity because fans simply felt Pederson didn't have the right idea for the direction of both football and other sports.
Make no mistake, Chancellor Gallagher and Pitt knew exactly what they were doing sending the email at the time they did. Instead of talking about Chryst being gone, and what we would do, Pitt fans had their minds on something they felt was positive for the program. Extremely positive. I don't think I've seen such a large segment of the fan base riding on such a high that's carried into today. Hell, there's even reports there's been more interest in the open football job now that Pederson is gone.
Is there unknown for the future of Pitt? Of course. It has a chancellor in his first year looking to replace an athletic director and a head football coach. I think the difference between this year and years passed is a feeling of a fresh start with someone who has a completely different vision leading the school, and deciding its direction athletically.
The general feeling from media, and others I've talked to is Chancellor Gallagher recognizes the importance of a successful athletics program both financially and for the school's image. Simply put, having a successful athletics program boosts the school financially, and gets Pitt's name out to many people they wouldn't otherwise. It attracts more kids to apply to the University of Pittsburgh, and that only helps the school raise the bar. It will take a significant investment (aka a lot more than Pitt has been putting into the program) to hire the coach and staff that can lead that change.
At its most base level, Gallagher has given fans and the program a fresh start. The man that helped to tear down Pitt stadium, take away the script (and screw up bringing it back), botched football hires, pushed away program alums, and alienated a fan base to such an aggravating extent is gone. Even before this with the release of the survey a couple months ago, Gallagher and the administration have shown they were interested in what fans had to say.
This is a pivotal moment in Pitt Athletics, and while we don't know what will eventually happen, we have a Chancellor who is not afraid to make big changes for what he feels will better the University of Pittsburgh athletic program. Imagine if Gallagher did for athletics what Nordenberg did for Academics. One way to do that is with donations as many including myself already have made. Maybe that will allow Pitt to "go big" in its football hire.