Pittsburgh’s Four-Point Plan for the Future
By Paul Myerberg // Dec 16, 2011
Pittsburgh’s four-part plan for solidifying the future of its football program begins with the most painful step, but I suggest that the Panthers adhere to the old adage and tackle the endeavor like a Band-Aid – you know, just rip it right off.
1. Hire a new athletic director. Or, if your glass is half-empty, fire Steve Pederson. A quick rundown of the last 21 months of Pederson’s tenure reveals a baffling array of personnel moves, beginning with the contract extension he handed out to Dave Wannstedt last March. If anyone in Pittsburgh’s recent history rivals Pederson for pure inconsistency – overachieving at times, underachieving at others, rarely in between – it’s likely Wannstedt, though he looks just like the steady hand the program could use at this critical time.
About nine months after receiving the contract extension through 2014, Wannstedt was fired. Love ‘em or leave ‘em; you can’t have it both ways. Pederson’s bipolar love affair with Wannstedt swung from love to despair in the span of a three months, leaving the program in the market for a new coach.
Pederson first hired Mike Haywood away from Miami (Ohio), and we remember how that went. In case you were on vacation – because some vacations last longer than this specific coaching tenure – Haywood was fired 16 days after he was hired following allegations of domestic abuse.
So here comes Todd Graham, full of the same clichés, platitudes and insipid banalities he’s spouted twice before, at Rice and Tulsa, and Pittsburgh’s found its man. Nope. Graham lasted only 12 games, though he remained with the program for 321 more days than did Haywood, if your glass is half-full.
You only get so many chances. Pederson has erred miserably four times since last March: giving Wannstedt an extension, firing Wannstedt, hiring Haywood and hiring Graham. It may be time for a change in leadership at the top of Pittsburgh’s athletic department.
2. Hire a coach with a defensive background. Ignore the current Big East; the Panthers are looking ahead to the A.C.C., and should plan accordingly. For all its faults, the A.C.C. is still pleasantly locked into an old-school mentality: Clemson’s success this fall notwithstanding, the league is defined on the defensive side of the ball, and has been for at least the previous decade.
You can win in the A.C.C. by putting all your eggs in an offensive basket, mind you. Clemson’s a recent example. Georgia Tech is attempting to amend its defensive liabilities, but the Yellow Jackets did take the 2009 conference title by simply offsetting a mediocre defense with a punishing, clock-controlling running game.
Pittsburgh should focus on a coach with a defensive background. Graham fit this bill, but his arrival precipitated far too many philosophical changes: the offense went to the spread, which the Panthers were not ready to run, while the defense adopted a 3-4 look with a hybrid bent. Pittsburgh needs to get back to basics on both sides of the ball, but particularly on defense.
3. Hire a coach with B.C.S. conference experience. Preferably head coaching experience, though considerable time spent as a coordinator or lead assistant on the B.C.S. conference level would also be acceptable. Hire a coach who has been here before, who won’t need a significant learning curve and can hit the ground running in 2012 – whether in the A.C.C., as Pittsburgh hopes, or the Big East.
All B.C.S. conference programs aim to hire a coach for the long run; a non-B.C.S. conference school might try to nab a rising star, riding his coat tails for a few years before heading back to the drawing board, but few major programs would accept such an offer.
It’s easy to say in hindsight, but Graham’s history – not just Rice, but also his background in the South and Southwest – did indicate that Pittsburgh wasn’t going to be the final stop of his coaching career. In the search for Graham’s replacement, the university should try to reel in a coach who will make Pittsburgh his home, not one stop – a stepping-off point – in a coaching career.
And hire a coach with proven credentials. There are current B.C.S. conference head coaches who would view Pittsburgh as a step up the ladder, especially if the Panthers do swap conference affiliation at some point over the next three years. The Panthers don’t need to reach into a lower level of competition – Conference USA, for instance, or the MAC – to hire Graham’s replacement. Eschew the flavor of the month for a proven commodity.
4. Hire a coach who wants to be here. This ties into the above point: don’t reach for a trend, but go for an coaching option who reciprocates any interest from the university. If this means going after coaches familiar with the region – or better yet, the program itself – then so be it; there’s nothing wrong with staying within the family, even if doing so eliminates a few marquee names from the list of candidates.
Familiarity with the program is a plus, in short. A desire to make ones legacy at Pittsburgh is a tremendous plus. Ability to relocate would be nice. Viewing Pittsburgh as a solid program with clear B.C.S. bowl potential, even if national titles may be out of reach, is also, yes, a plus.
There you have it: four steps, beginning with a painful leap, for Pittsburgh to regain its football foothold. It all begins with step one, which seems eminently justified. From there, it’s about finding a coach with a defensive background, B.C.S. conference credentials and a familiarity with the program. Is it just me, or does Paul Rhoads fit these qualifications to the letter?
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