PITTSBURGH – If Pitt Athletic Director Steve Pederson can fire Dave Wannstedt for the football team’s most recent failures, he should be subject to the same type of punishment.
Pederson fired a coach with more passion for Pitt football than anyone in recent memory in Wannstedt – a guy that won 26 games in the last three years. It’s a decision that might have set the program back for even longer.
This is not Armageddon for Pitt football, but it’s getting pretty close. Regardless of who Pitt names as its new head football coach now that Mike Haywood’s 16-day stay has ended, this has basically killed an entire year of recruiting along with a large portion of the fan support.
And that, my friends, falls solely on the shoulders of Pederson.
For the second time at two different programs, Pederson has made a coaching change that drastically affected the future success of that program. He fired Frank Solich at Nebraska for Bill Callahan, which resulted in a 27-22 record over four years.
In his latest debacle, Pederson was far too nonchalant in the firing and hiring process at Pitt.
He fired Wannstedt with no apparent plan in place. The top two targets – Temple’s Al Golden and Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen – were picked off by Miami and West Virginia, which clearly had done a significant amount of work behind the scenes before making any moves.
Wannstedt’s firing was crafted as a “resignation” with an option to stay part of the program as a special assistant to Pederson. Wannstedt was also given the option to coach the Panthers in the BBVA Compass Bowl Jan. 8 against Kentucky with no timeline put on his decision.
After eight days, Pederson hired Haywood, who preached core values and discipline at his one and only press conference as head coach, only to be arrested on a domestic violence charge barely more than two weeks later.
And Monday, Wannstedt decided it was about time to announce he would not coach the team in Birmingham, leaving Phil Bennett as interim head coach. Frank Cignetti and Jeff Hafley have since left the team as well and will not be involved in the bowl game.
So you tell me, does Pederson deserve to stick around? Does he deserve to be part of the process in picking yet another coach?
I can’t find any reason to believe he does.
Sure, he has done a lot of great things for the University of Pittsburgh. Pitt basketball is highly successful largely because of Pederson’s construction of the Pederson Events Center and hiring of Ben Howland.
Pederson also resurrected the football program in the 1990s by hiring Walt Harris as head coach. The football team has experienced recent nine- and 10-win seasons because Wannstedt was given a contract extension.
But Pederson treated the football program as a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately situation. His job deserves the same treatment.
Lately, he has dismantled anything positive surrounding this program.
His forced resignation of Wannstedt angered current players and turned away recruits. His hiring of Haywood turned in to a complete embarrassment and upset everyone remotely interested in Pitt football along with creating tons of bad press across the nation.
And through all of this he has yet to come to the forefront and speak to anyone – only issuing statements from behind his desk. He no longer has full control of the coaching search, with Chancellor Mark Nordenberg joining in the festivities this time around.
An athletic director can’t have this big of a negative impact on his program. He has to be able to do his job properly on his own.
And he has to do it right – right now – because there appears to be a complete lack of direction and leadership at the top of the Pitt athletic department.
The rest of the media in this town seem afraid to say it or admit it, so I will: Steve Pederson is not the man for the job anymore, and Pitt needs to use this opportunity to clean the slate that reads, “Pitt football.”
Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog