PITTSBURGH — The only true rival on Pitt’s schedule every year, West Virginia, has earned another victory against the Panthers.

Former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen has agreed to terms with the Mountaineers to become the coach in waiting behind Bill Stewart. Stewart will coach in 2011 with Holgorsen serving as the offensive coordinator and then relinquish the head coaching duties to Holgorsen in 2012.

To hear this news makes me realize how far away Pitt’s football program is from where the university’s athletic department and fans believe it should be.

Holgorsen was rumored by many people to be high on Pitt’s list. When Al Golden accepted the head coaching job at Miami, many said Holgorsen was the No. 1 target. It seemed like he’d get an offer from Pitt relatively soon and, if accepted, Pitt could have a new coach by the end of the week.

Two days later, Pitt and its fans were sent right back to start, trying to figure out a plan C.

This is really a sign of the times, though. Right? Looking back on the last decade or so, it’s clear that Pitt is not only a step behind Penn State — which has been clear for a while — but it’s a step behind West Virginia as well.

In the last decade the Mountaineers have vaulted so far ahead of the Panthers it’s sickening. WVU has won 11 games three times, won nine games four times and appeared in two BCS bowls — 2005 against Georgia and 2007 against Oklahoma — both wins. In that same span the Mountaineers have won 88 games to Pitt’s total of 74.

West Virginia has at least eight wins every season since 2002. Pitt has to win the BBVA Compass Bowl Jan. 8 against Kentucky to extend its own streak of eight-win seasons…to three.

And the most important stat of all — head-to-head record — Pitt is 4-6 against WVU since 2001.

And now this, a coach choosing a coordinator job as a coach in waiting while the Pitt job is completely vacant.

It’s entirely unacceptable, given the Panthers control the all-time series by a record of 61-39-3. Pitt is supposed to dominate WVU in all aspects and be the more attractive option to recruits and coaching candidates. At least that’s what history says.

But it’s a sign of the times. When Pitt stadium was torn down to build a basketball arena it was a clear sign to the entire Pitt community that the football team wasn’t going to be taken as seriously anymore. Since then it’s almost seemed like the program has tried to cut corners and make things work.

They moved to a pro stadium and now practice alongside the Steelers — a great selling point to high school recruits, but not indicative of what dominant programs like Alabama, Florida, USC and Oklahoma are built on.

And it brought in arguably the most passionate coach the program has ever had, Dave Wannstedt, paying him nearly the lowest salary in the Big East. He put together one of the most successful three-year stretches as far as wins go in the last 30 years

And this is a team supposedly built around the belief that it should be contending for national titles on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the reality is it hasn’t won an outright Big East title or BCS bowl ever.

Pitt is far from competing for titles.

Now granted, Golden or Holgorsen could have been busts at Pitt. And maybe they weren’t the right fit. Pitt could still definitely find a good head coach and achieve more success in the next 10 years.

But it’s absolutely necessary that the next candidate be the perfect fit. Being a step behind Penn State was accepted by most. Falling behind the Mountaineers is unacceptable.

So open the checkbook and grab a winner like Chris Peterson at Boise State. Or break some stereotypes and go after a guy with some baggage like Mike Leach. How about find a diamond that no one knows about like Chip Kelley when he was hired at Oregon.

I don’t care how it’s done. Just do it.

It’s commitment time for the University of Pittsburgh and its athletic department.

Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog

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