PITTSBURGH – It’s been clear since he first stepped in front of a Pitt banner that Mike Haywood has a firm grasp on who he is and how he wants his football team to operate.
The Panthers will wear suits and ties to and from games and practice early in the morning to focus on football and academics. He made those points very clear when introduced as head coach.
However, what remains unclear is how the current Panthers will react to the culture Haywood implements. His style of coaching and handling of his players is far different than Dave Wannstedt’s was.
In an article written in the Dayton Daily News before the Mid-American Conference Championship Game, Tom Archdeacon points out that Haywood’s style at Miami University basically split the team in two. He created a culture shock that took over a season to overcome.
The article has lit up Pitt message boards recently with fan concern.
From the outset, (Haywood) began making some sweeping changes — many that didn’t go over well with some folks.
“Our players had to improve the quality of their lives off the field — which would really help them improve their performances on it,” he said. “That meant making some real changes and not everyone bought into them because change is difficult.”
He watched the bumpy transition play out in practice: “You saw guys start to separate themselves from one another. Certain guys who weren’t team players, you saw them always standing together. It was like a parting of the sea. To a certain degree, it was really unfortunate … we lost a lot of players … so we struggled last season.”
The article goes on to point out more facets of Haywood’s game plan. He encourages players to live amongst the student population instead of sequestered away, all together in one space. He instructs players to sit in the front row of their classes and sends coaches to those classes to ensure they are doing as told.
Study halls are held in the offices of their respective positional coaches and he doesn’t allow players to stay out past 10 p.m. on the weekends.
“There’s no going Uptown (in Oxford) on weekends past 10 p.m. — just so we stay out of trouble,” said (Miami quarterback Austin) Boucher. “When we go to games, we wear coats and ties. There are no earphones outside the bus or hotel. No earrings. No hats when you’re inside.
“It’s just very businesslike … so it carries over onto the field.”
So my big question is, how will the current Pitt players react to Haywood’s style?
At Miami, Haywood went 1-11 in his first season and was .500 through eight games this year. Clearly, it took a while for players to buy in to his style and strategy.
Will Pitt players do the same?
The off-field incidents Pitt went through before this season began are proof enough that players were given freedoms by Wannstedt and his coaching staff. Wannstedt even said in press conferences that he would give his players weekends off when the team was idle.
It doesn’t seem that will be the case under Haywood and I worry about if the players will buy in to his style, given that it seems he will really shake this current system up.
His principles are clearly spot on and any Pitt fan would be crazy to not agree with that. But having players buy in to that lifestyle is a whole different thing. While it’s important to instill the correct values and work ethic in young athletes, it’s also important to give them freedoms from time to time.
Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog