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Pitt

The Phillips File- Haywood’s Success Could Determine Pederson’s Future.

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(Photo by- Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

(Photo by- Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

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Michael Haywood was introduced as the next head football coach at the University of Pittsburgh on Thursday, just 10 days after Dave Wannstedt was shown the door by Pitt Athletic Director Steve Pederson, despite the ‘resigination’ angle given to the media and fans. 

The decision to remove Wannstedt wasn’t a complete shock to many who follow the program.  In six seasons, Wannstedt goal to take Pitt to a BCS game or win the Big East Conference title outright failed miserably.  His tenure the past three years, despite winning 26 games, including 10 wins in 2009, was marked most notably by the disappointing losses the past two seasons that cost Pitt a chance at those goals.

The fact that Pederson only took 10 days to find Wannstedt’s replacement seems a bit too fast, given the candidate chosen.  At the press conference on Thursday introducing Haywood, Pederson said that he spoke to ‘five excellent candidates, all of whom were a credit to this profession,’ but also added that Haywood demonstrated qualities that were ‘in line with the values of this great university.’

Really?  Five canidates were interviewed in the past 10 days for this job.  Let’s do a quick review. 

Word has already leaked out that the Panthers were never really in the running for the services of former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator, now West Virginia OC and future head coach Dana Holgorsen. 

If Pederson spoke to five coaches as he stated at the press conference, I’d like to know who they were.   By all accounts, Holgorsen’s interview could have been nothing more than a chat over a cup of coffee.  Was Al Golden one of them?  It’s hard to really know given how quickly he took the job at Miami of Florida. Haywood makes three, but who would the others be?  Perhaps Frank Cignetti was one, but who really knows. 

One thing is certain, since he 1st set foot in Oakland, Steve Pederson has done things his way.  He’s alienated Pitt boosters along the way.  Changed logos and how the University presents itself.  Tore down a dilapidated old football stadium that made way for new, modern facilities.  In short, he’s done more with less support than anybody in the Athletic Departments history. 

But this most recent hire could be his last at Pitt.  That’s all going to depend on how Haywood fares of course.  What he did at Miami of Ohio in just two seasons is quite remarkable.  He took a program that was at the bottom of the MAC and led them to the conference title this year, defeating a top 25 team in Northern Illinois as a heavy underdog to claim the crown. 

That’s quite an accomplishment and a quick turnaround.  Some would argue that it took place in a football conference that doesn’t boast any powerful programs and is a non-BCS member.  Those are fair points to consider. 

And despite the success, Haywood’s career mark is 10-15 in just two seasons as a head coach.  It’s not quite the resume many were looking for in the next head coach for the football program at Pitt.  He graduated from Notre Dame and has coached at Alabama, LSU and under Charlie Weis in South Bend before taking over the top spot at Miami. 

With that all being said, Pederson’s hiring of Haywood is what some would call a gamble. 

More like a long shot.

This is the 3rd major head coaching hire for Pederson in football since he became an Athletic Director.  His 1st was Walt Harris, who helped lead Pitt to a bowl game in his 1st season after taking over for Johnny Majors in 1997.  Overall, that hire was an A, despite how things ended for Harris. 

The 2nd came while Pederson was AD at Nebraska.   His removal of Frank Solich was not a popular one.  Solich had won 58 games in his first six seasons in Lincoln, replacing the legendary Tom Osborne.  When asked about the decision, Pederson said he wouldn’t ‘let Nebraska gravitate into mediocrity,’ despite the fact that Solich had won more games in his first six years than Osborne and his predecessor, College Hall of Famer Bob Devaney. 

Pederson took 40 days to conduct that search for Solich’s replacement and in the end hired former Oakland Raiders head coach Bill Callahan.  After four seasons, a 27-22 mark and a 45-14 homecoming loss in 2007 to Oklahoma State, Nebraska gave Pederson his walking papers.  Mark this one an F. 

45 days after his departure from the Husker state, Pederson was back in Oakland for a second run as AD, talking about unfinished business and ‘more to be done,’ at the University of Pittsburgh.   By all accounts, many in the Athletic Department were happy to see him return, as Jeff Long’s tenure in the same capacity was stagnant at best.

The hiring of Haywood is one that could come back to haunt Pederson, or perhaps cement his legacy as the greatest AD in the schools history.  One could argue that he’s already claimed that title.  The great Beano Cook once said of Pederson that ‘he saved Pitt athletics.’  That is high praise and well deserved given the accomplishments under his tenure. 

If Haywood can take Pitt to a Big East title and BCS game, it would all but keep Pederson here in town until he’s ready to retire.  Anything less in the next three years could spell Pederson’s demise.  Only time will tell this story.

John Phillips is the author of this article.  When he’s not recruiting students to attend The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Phillips toils as a weekend talk-show host and sports anchor for Sportsradio 93.7 The Fan. 

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