Things have only improved for the University of Pitsburgh’s football program since Jan. 1.
That’s the day Mike Haywood was fired after news broke of his involvement in a domestic dispute, ending his 16-day stint as the Panthers head coach. The University took quick action, went through the embarrassing act of a second coaching search and hired Todd Graham. Meanwhile, area universities have failed to deal with their own issues, making Pitt’s problems a thing of the past.
Example No. 1 is the biggest and most glaring we’ve seen in some time. Ohio State’s Jim Tressel officialy has the title of ‘former head coach’ after resigning in the wake of a Sports Illustrated article that revealed more NCAA violations that he was aware of while serving as head coach.
It has torn the Buckeyes program and its reputation apart, giving each and every player that suited up over the past decade a scar on his name — right or wrong.
Players like Jeanette’s Terrelle Pryor, who as the nation’s No. 1 high school prospect chose to play for Tressel, now have to sit and wonder what their college careers will amount to or if they’ll even have a career once the investigations end.
Ohio State tried to keep Tressel and the program together, issuing a five-game suspension to start next season. Then, even after the news of the SI article broke, OSU chose to distance itself from Tressel instead of take the proper action and fire him.
Given that Columbus is roughly three hours away from Pitt’s campus, it should be music to the ears of Todd Graham, his staff and Pitt fans everywhere.
Look even closer, just about an hour down I-79, to find another helpful example. West Virginia offensive coordinator and head coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen refused to leave the Mardi Gras Casino and Resort in Cross Lanes, W.Va., after a night of drinking, resulting in the police being called to have to remove him.
We’re now finding out that Holgorsen has the reputation of being a “partier” and has had at least three — maybe as many as six — alcohol-related incidents over the past six months.
That kind of behavior is coming from a guy that will be the highest-paid employee in the state of West Virginia a year from now.
Once again, Pitt fans, give thanks.
WVU is and has been a heavy recruiting opponent to Pitt in the area over the last decade. With the newly chosen head coach — the future of Mountaineer football — involved in incidents likes these, it can only help Pitt’s outlook and sell to potential recruits.
You can be sure that a lot of parents Holgorsen meets on the recruiting trail will have serious worries about sending their child to play and learn from someone who appears so unstable — just they’ll hesitate with the turmoil certain to surround the Ohio State program for years to come.
A coach not only needs to have a solid coaching strategy, but also must know how to set the right example for young student athletes. Neither Tressel or Holgorson appear to be fit for that role.
And oddly enough, neither program has chosen to take action and fire these coaches. Tressel resigned and Holgorson has yet to receive any kind of punishment.
Couple all of that with Penn State’s constant state of instability with aging Joe Paterno at the helm, and Pitt’s program all of a sudden appears to be the most stable in the area.
Who would have thought that five months ago? Surely I didn’t when I ripped Pitt’s program for getting beat by WVU in the Holgorsen sweepstakes.
Graham and his staff have a huge opportunity here. Produce on the field, get some wins and do it in a safe, legal manner and the Pitt program could start to grab a recruit or two it hadn’t been able to acquire in years past. Continue to do so and more and more may come.
And, most importantly, continue to issue strong punishment for any type of questionable activity. Former coach Dave Wannstedt’s era will be looked back on as somewhat of a black eye, given the arrest records Pitt set and the level of inconsistency on the field.
But no one’s talking about that any more. Pitt can keep it that way and grow with the right decision-making.
One thing’s for sure — the athletic department doesn’t have to look far to understand why.
Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog