A Relationship Doomed from the Start
By Paul Myerberg // Dec 7, 2010
The biggest indictment of Dave Wannstedt’s tenure at Pittsburgh came this past season, when the strong — when healthy — Panthers proved incapable of winning the weakest Big East in recent memory. Take note of the previous caveat: when healthy, Pittsburgh was as good, likely better, than any team in the conference. The Panthers weren’t healthy, however, especially on defense, and struggled to make ends meet on a patchwork offensive line. And so the Wannstedt era ends, leaving athletic director Steve Pederson, once again, in charge of a coaching search of extreme importance.
We’ve been on this ride once before. Back in 2003, Pederson — then Nebraska’s athletic director — fired Frank Solich at the tail end of a 9-3 regular season. Nebraska wouldn’t give up the Big 12 to Texas and Oklahoma, said Pederson.
He missed on his top choice, missed on his second, was embarrassed by Houston Nutt’s claim that he had been offered the job and declined. Finally, Pederson settled on his last, poorest choice: Bill Callahan. Four years later, Callahan, along with Pederson, was told to clear out his desk. The Cornhuskers only recently began clearing the wreckage of the Pederson-led disaster.
This is not quite a bedtime story Pittsburgh fans want to hear. In hindsight, perhaps Pederson was merely biding his time until he could bring in his own coach, not one he inherited when he returned to Pittsburgh in November of 2007. Wannstedt had been in place three years by that time, missing bowl play in each season, but won 19 games over the next two seasons.
Pederson couldn’t fire Wannstedt then, of course, though he may have wanted to. Now he has his excuse: Pittsburgh was a disappointment, pure and simple, and all the excuses — valid or otherwise — wasn’t going to keep Wannstedt’s head off the chopping block.
Can we get behind this decision? I suppose it depends on your viewpoint. Do you think Pittsburgh can contend for national titles? If so, Pederson’s move is the right one: he now goes on the search for a coach capable of leading the Panthers into yearly title contention.
Do you think Pittsburgh is a good program, one certainly able to win the Big East with regularity and make annual trips to bowl play? Even if we temper expectations to that point, maybe we can still find no issue with Wannstedt’s firing. That’s only if we ignore the mitigating circumstances behind this season’s collapse — if that’s not too strong a word.
Pittsburgh starred a new quarterback, Tino Sunseri. The offensive line was poor all season. The defense lacked star power, especially after defensive end Greg Romeus was first suspended then injured, costing him all but two games of the season. These are excuses, but they’re valid.
What’s the truth? Boiled down, the relationship between Pederson and Wannstedt was doomed from the start. As at Nebraska, Pederson wanted to put his own stamp on the football program; Wannstedt was a holdover, after all, and while his team played well from 2008-9 this season’s slide gave Pederson all the ammunition he’d need.
So a potential nightmare for Pittsburgh becomes a reality: Pederson begins another nationwide coaching search. To some, on the other hand, a bigger nightmare would have been Dave Wannstedt back on the sidelines at Heinz Field in 2011. It depends on your viewpoint: do you think Pittsburgh can play for national championships?
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Tags: Dave Wannstedt, Pittsburgh, Steve Pederson
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