PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — When it comes to drama, the Pitt football program takes the cake. This once proud school, the alma mater of the likes of Ditka, Dorsett, Marino and May has egg on its face once again.
On Wednesday, Todd Graham snuck out of Pittsburgh with his family in tow on the 1st flight to Tempe, Arizona. He spent just 11 months as the head coach at Pitt, going 6-6 in one season. That apparently was enough to get him hired at Arizona State.
Given his past tendency to leave jobs early, spending one season at Rice and just four at Tulsa, many speculated Graham would use Pitt as a stepping stone to another job with a bigger school and more money.
We just didn’t see it coming so fast. Nor did his boss.
That’s a major problem.
When you’re in charge of hiring people, one key strategy is getting to the heart of what makes somebody tick. Trying to understand who somebody is both on the surface and what’s underneath. This is a skill that not everybody has. But when it comes to hiring, it’s a critical skill necessary in making good personnel decisions.
Steve Pederson doesn’t have this skill. And Pitt can no longer afford to have him as AD.
There is no doubt that Pederson has done amazing work in rebuilding the infrastructure of the Pitt athletic program. He was the driving force behind razing Pitt Stadium and getting the Pedersen Events Center built-in its place.
This spring, a $30 million dollar sports complex opened up to house the baseball, softball and soccer programs. Peterson was the driving force in securing funding for it.
These are all commendable tasks undertaken by a man whose job is to do such things. But in the end, you can raise millions and build all the facilities you want as an Athletic Director, if you can’t make good hires when it comes to your head coaches, you can’t do your job.
The bottom line is this. Steve Pederson needs to go. He has proven time and again that he lacks the fundamental skills in picking good character people.
Aside from the hiring of Ben Howland, (and let’s be honest, Pederson was led to Howland) look at who Pederson has hired as head football coaches. Walt Harris, Bill Callahan at Nebraska, Mike Haywood and now Graham.
Seriously, this is his list of hires. Can you pick a winner in that bunch?
Granted, Harris did help to get Pitt football back to some level of respectability when it was maybe at its lowest in decades, leading the program to the 1997 Liberty Bowl, it’s 1st in seven seasons. He also managed to get Pitt to its only BCS game in 2004 vs. Utah.
Remember that debacle? A 35-7 blasting at the hands of a program led by a guy named Urban Meyer?
Pederson was gone at that point, as he left Pitt for the greener pastures of home. But that only lasted five years. When he was let go from the AD job in Lincoln, Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman cited Pederson’s leadership style as his rational for the change.
Maybe he meant the lack of leadership?
At the impromptu press conference Pitt held on Wednesday to discuss the sudden departure of Graham, Pederson had the gall to say the following.
“We’re still excited about the future of this program and where it is heading. We want to move quickly to find a permanent leader for this program and get someone here to continue the process of elevating our great football tradition.”
Of course, Pederson got the ‘vote of confidence’ statement from his boss on Wednesday night. Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg stated that Pederson has played a ‘major role’ in changing the face of the athletic program and plays a major role in the senior leadership team.
Leadership and accountability should also play a major role. Pederson lacks both. If Nordenberg can’t see that, then maybe there needs to be further change at Pitt besides in the Athletic Department.
Todd Graham is gone. And Steve Pederson should be next.
John Phillips is the author of this article and a secret member of the Galactic Empire. When he’s not chasing down Jedi across Panther Hollow, he can be heard hosting talk-shows and anchoring sports updates on 93.7 The Fan. Follow JP on Twitter at www.twitter.com/937Phillips