Pittsburgh Aims Small, Eying Potential
By Paul Myerberg // Dec 16, 2010
It’s so unlike Steve Pederson, this patience. Or was it thoughtfulness? Perhaps it was fear — fear that a pursuit similar to the one he held at Nebraska six years ago would only lead to embarrassment to himself and the university, in the chance that several top targets, as at Nebraska, turned down Pittsburgh and Pederson without the slightest consideration. Whatever the case, while several programs with similar enticements snatched up Pittsburgh’s leading targets, Pederson and the Panthers stood pat, waiting patiently for the right name — the right fit — to emerge. Patience, perhaps, ruled the day. At the same time, pardon the Pittsburgh fan base if they aren’t overjoyed at the thought of Mike Haywood.
Breaking news: perhaps the grass isn’t always greener. I would wager that a significant portion of the Pittsburgh fan base would take back Dave Wannstedt, though that same percentage likely bemoaned the mediocrity that occurred under his watch.
It’s not that Haywood isn’t a good coach, nor that he doesn’t have the potential to be a great one. He is a good coach, and may someday develop into a great coach — more on that in a moment. To me, however, the most disappointing aspect to this Pederson-led coaching search are the names that got away.
Al Golden should have been pursued far more heavily, even if one aspect of his coaching future worries me: I do think that Golden would have been far more likely to leave for Penn State from Pittsburgh than from Miami (Fla.), if only because of the geographical proximity.
Dana Holgorsen, on the other hand… I don’t presume to know the particulars behind his conversations with Pittsburgh, whether he impressed Pederson or not, whether Pederson felt he was prepared to take on the challenge of leading Pittsburgh to a Big East title: I do know that West Virginia felt confident enough in his abilities to lead its program.
No, West Virginia-Pittsburgh is not quite Yankees-Red Sox, at least not in the way that those latter teams often see their plans dictated to them by the wheelings and dealings of the other. At the very least, however, the Panthers and Mountaineers share a deep-seeded rivalry that often decides the Big East, as we’ve seen a few times in the recent past.
So West Virginia trumped Pittsburgh, though it’s not known if Holgorsen’s conversations with Pittsburgh ever went beyond the preliminary phase. While the Mountaineers are upgrading, the Panthers are gambling on potential.
It’s not such a rare gamble to take, after all. I can name a few programs — Michigan, Ohio State and more — who have gambled on Miami (Ohio) products and won, of course. My only question: has Haywood done enough to justify this sizable promotion?
It has been only two years, though what Haywood achieved in 2010 was nothing short of incredible: 1-11 in his debut campaign, he led the RedHawks past Ohio, Temple and Northern Illinois to win the MAC championship. The MAC Coach of the Year deserves national love for the his one-year turnaround; unfortunately, his hiring at Pittsburgh opens his faults up for debate at the expense of his positives.
The faults: he’s inexperienced as a head coach, having served only those two years at Miami; while there’s no discounting the 9-4 finish, Miami did not have a win over a team with a winning record until defeating Temple in the regular season finale; the RedHawks made very little offensive improvement from 2009-10; and one worries about his ability to hire an accomplished staff so early in his coaching career.
The positives: he’s a solid recruiter; he’s worked under some of the biggest names in the business, like Mack Brown and Nick Saban; as an assistant, he’s coached nearly every position on the field, offense and defense, as well as served as the offensive coordinator at his alma mater, Notre Dame; and he is coming off one of the finest coaching jobs the MAC has seen in a decade.
Don’t forget about the last. Yes, one had hoped that Pederson would expand his coaching search to include the names hired over the last week, but it’s not as if Haywood was never going to move up to a B.C.S. conference position — this is just a year or so ahead of schedule.
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