Dave Wannstedt Fired
There are so many jerkweed head coaches in the world that it's a
shame when one of the real, live, human beings ends up getting pushed
out the door.
I'm almost never all that upset when a coach "resigns." It's part of the
business, and he's just a coach; if a school wants someone different or
thinks someone can do a better job, okay. The problem is that it's not
like Pitt is the Pitt of the 1970s, when it was a talent factory with
some of the all-time greats, and it's not like the program has been bad.
Dave Wannstedt's problem wasn't that he didn't win enough; it's that he
did everything else right to make people believe that he should've been
winning more. This is a true firing based on failed expectations that
might have been set impossibly high.
Bringing in the talent wasn't a problem, with some of the best
recruiting classes in the Big East over the last six years. Winning
games wasn't even a problem, winning 26 games over the last three years
including a ten-win campaign last year. His problem is that he didn't
win the really, REALLY big games on a regular basis.
The Panthers screwed up West Virginia's national title hope in 2007, but
suffered the painful loss against Cincinnati in a meltdown last year
that kept them out of the BCS. This year, they won five of their last
seven games, but they got run over at Connecticut 30-28 and got blown
away by West Virginia. That the team is going to yet another bowl game
Wannstedt might be remembered as a mediocre head coach, and yeah, the
great ones win the close battles, but of the 19 losses over the last
four years, 12 were by a touchdown or less, and last year, his team was
11 points away from being unbeaten. Pitt was always close, but it didn't
all come together. In the end, Pitt didn't control its own destiny in
the final week, and had West Virginia lost to Rutgers, and had UConn
lost at South Florida, Pitt would've gone to the Fiesta Bowl and
Wannstedt would be hailed for getting the program over the hump.
Instead, he's done.
Wannstedt will be fine. He's still considered an elite defensive
coordinator and he's good enough and respected enough to name his
assistant job in the NFL, and would be a dream of a pickup for any
college program. But what will Pitt do?
To be fair to Pitt, getting to another level is a must right now. The
possibility is still out there to be part of the Big Ten's expansion
discussion, and that wlil only happen if the football program rocks and
rocks right now. There will be a national search, and considering the
history of the program, the recruiting area, and the pieces in place,
someone is going to think this is a plum gig.
Wannstedt was the key to making this an attractive opening. He got the
ball into the red zone, and now someone else has to punch it in.
Great guy. Average head coach.
Dave Wannstedt would have been the perfect defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh. He’s well-liked by the kids and the locals, and he’s a natural at his alma mater. As the head guy, however, he’s never been more than mediocre, going back to his days with the Chicago Bears and the Miami Dolphins. He never cut it as a game day coach and his recruiting, especially with quarterbacks, was overrated. Throw in an inability to win the big game, and you’ve got a coach who was underachieving. Even worse, he was underachieving in the Big East, a sorry league that allowed him to keep his head above water and maintain his job for the past six years.
Wannstedt was never going to embarrass the Pitt program, but it had become obvious that he was never going to elevate it either. And therein lies the root of the problem. You can do big things at this program, especially in a conference that’s sent West Virginia, Cincinnati, and Connecticut to BCS bowl games in recent years. Wanny was never going to be the guy to get the Panthers there, which is why the school has begun the search for his successor.
By Matt Zemek
It’s ironic that Dave Wannstedt, by winning the Backyard Brawl against West Virginia in 2007, essentially unleashed the series of forces and reactions that made an emotionally erratic Rich Rodriguez leave Morgantown (albeit of his own accord), thereby reshaping the college football world as we know it. Now, Wannstedt’s upset loss at home to West Virginia – three years after his single-game magnum opus – is what ultimately did him in as Pittsburgh’s coach.
Yes, Pittsburgh struggled this year – just as it usually does under Wannstedt – but a series of stumbles and failures would have been tolerable as long as the Panthers could have managed to finish first in a not-very-distinguished Big East Conference. All Pittsburgh had to do, one year after blowing a 21-point lead at home to Cincinnati in the de facto 2009 Big East title game, was claim the conference crystal. All the Panthers had to do was tiptoe through a mediocre league with only one loss (in addition to their non-conference setbacks) to go to the Fiesta or Orange Bowl.
Yet again, the sight of the finish line paralyzed them. The taste of BCS riches unsettled them. The Panthers came from ahead to blow the Big East race down the stretch. A team that finally seemed ready to embrace prosperity – albeit in a down year for the Big East – once again managed to fall face-first into the Heinz Field turf. When West Virginia avenged 2007 in a very real way and hammered Pitt into submission, Wannstedt lost the ability to say that he was the man who could turn around the program. The solid defensive coordinator with a very mediocre head-coaching record had to know, deep down, that his days were numbered after the West Virginia loss.
Pitt Athletic Director Steve Pederson – whose previous post was at Nebraska – might want to look to the Big 12 North for his next hire. There’s a certain Iowa State coach who used to be Pitt’s defensive coordinator under Wannstedt. Paul Rhoads could be the next Gene Chizik, a man plucked from Ames to lead a different power-conference team to glory.
One thing’s for sure: Dave Wannstedt’s time has finally run out in Pittsburgh.