What in the hell is wrong with the Pitt Panthers?

Posted: December 23, 2011 in ALL II
Tags: , , , ,

With the Penn State Nittany Lions in an absolute free fall, one would think Pennsylvania’s lesser brother would benefit from the football void.  The much maligned and often ignored Pittsburgh Panthers could take advantage of Pennsylvania talent (yes, I laughed when I wrote that too) and at the very least make a run for football powerhouse.  It is hard not to see how they don’t do more with their advantages.  For one, being in State College is a detrimental thing because no one knows where it is.  Pittsburgh is a recognizable city with a football fan base ready to be coopted by amateur athletics. Although playing in an embarrassment of a conference (Big East) this leads to a much easier path to a BCS bowl game than the Big Ten where Penn State struggles to compete let alone get to post season glory.  Although few would have predicted the Penn State debacle it is hard to imagine why the Panthers could not be a more meaningful football program.  Happily the answer is revealed through coaching!

Former Wisconsin Badger offensive coordinator Paul Chryst was named the new head coach of Panthers, its fourth head coach in 13 months and sixth overall if you include interim coaches.  I did not know if I should use the four or six number but as Major Rawls would advise: the horse is out the barn.  Since the Deputy likes dots and most people don’t read Pitt Panthers’ forums on a weekly basis, a little summary will suffice.

  • Dave Wannstedt coached Pitt from 2005 until 2010.  Pitt being Pitt struggled during those years but in 2009 went 10-3, winning double digit wins for the first time since the early 1980s.  Coach earned a two year contract extension in early 2010 but was forced to resign in late 2010 due to not meeting the high expectations of going to a BCS bowl game.  Suffice it to say that everyone was shocked and it was one of the least popular/unnecessary moves in College Football.
  • Michael Haywood was hired to lead the Panthers in late December 2010. On New Year’s Eve, Haywood got into a domestic dispute with his wife and was arrested for felony domestic violence.  After being released on bond on Jan. 1, he was fired by Pitt.  0-0 record!
  • Assistant coach Phil Bennett won Pitt’s bowl game, thanks to Wannstedt’s work over the season before being pushed out and the one Haywood could not coach.  He apparently did not impress anyone one so he left to be an assistant at Baylor.
  • Todd Graham took over and actually coached a full season at Pitt.  He established a disrespectful relationship with his players – blaming QB Tino Sunseri for Pitt’s struggles and coaching them to 6-6, second in the Big East.  Under his tenure, three assistant coaches left Pitt and everything built by Wannstedt went to hell in a hand basket.
  • Keith Patterson was named interim head coach for their bowl game.  He lasted long enough to lead one practice.
  • And now, Paul Chryst.

This is a Grade-A disaster and that sits at the feet of athletic director Steve Pederson.  His high standards and subpar program meant the firing of Wannstedt, easily their best coach in decades.  It also means he is oblivious to the world around him where West Virginia and Cincinnati easily are more enjoyable places that Pitt for football reasons.  The players feel betrayed and unless you build up the equity to survive the ruthlessness of college football coaching carrousels, plays do not want to go to your school.  It is why Penn State will continue to out recruit them despite the black eye of having a 1960s offense and unspeakable crimes (no pun intended for those who did not go to authorities – darn athletic directors).  Many will point to the coaches as the perpetrators of ineptitude but digging a little deeper will reveal some issues to be more systemic than others.  Pederson cannot be held accountable for Haywood but he is primarily responsible in not elevating an assistant, for hiring someone who makes Todd Haley eligible of Personality of the Year, and for firing their loyal alumna who also happened to win games at a tier two or three program.

What the hell happened to the Pitt Panthers football program?  Fixing things that were not broken.


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