Dave Wannstedt has taken a lot of heat over the past four years from Pitt fans, some of it deserved (like when he played for a tie and then lost in overtime to Ohio) and some of it not deserved (like when the Panthers went 5-7 in 2007 -- given how bad the quarterback play was that year, he deserved a raise, a promotion and everything else just for getting five wins out of that team.......) but one thing is clear -- even his harshest critics can't possibly be upset or find fault with the hiring of Frank Cignetti Jr.
Cignetti, to me, is like a five-star recruit from this standpoint -- you don't know if he can live up to the hype, but you'd like to think so. And more to the point, when you land a five-star recruit, it is always a good thing, even he ultimately turns into a bust, because you at least aimed for the sky.
I don't know if the guy can coach, but he certainly won the press conference and he certainly won the battle of public perception and he certainly has energized a fan base -- and believe me this is the kind of jolt of energy this program needed.
Yesterday was the first day I met Frank Cignetti and here was my immediate impression....
"I'm talking to the next head coach at Pitt"
Oh I know, I am getting way ahead of myself as I don't expect Dave Wannstedt to step aside or get asked to step aside any time soon, but Cignetti is that impressive and it is easy to see why he was such an attractive hire for Pitt.
In fact, in my discussions with people after the news conference I said "I don't know what "it" is when talking about what makes an outstanding coach, but that guy has "it" and he's convinced me that he'll get the job done."
And you know the last time a coach made that kind of an impression on me with just one interaction?
Late in 2000 when I first met and interviewed West Virginia's coach-in-waiting, a young guy by the name of Rich Rodriguez (I was covering WVU at the time, Don Nehlen announced his retirement with a game or two left in the season but remained through the Music City Bowl and in the interim Rodriguez was hired) who was engaging, intense, funny, well spoken, enthusiastic and most importantly, truly was excited to get started in what he called his "dream job."
I came away from that news conference so impressed I told my boss at the time, Fritz Huysman, "You know, I don't know much about this guy, but he has me wanting to sign up to play and I have little doubt that he's going to get the job done here."
Now, I know that Pitt fans (and WVU fans for that matter) aren't huge fans of Rich Rodriguez (who I happen to like a lot by the way) but there is no doubt that WVU fans should thank their lucky stars they had him, even for a short period, because he transformed that program into something special in a very short period of time.
There is just some special quality that almost every successful coach has and I think Cignetti has it, too. There was so much about yesterday that reminded me of the initial Rodriguez news conference it was eerie to be honest....
But beyond my initial impression, there are some very, very positive things about this coaching hire and some things that should have a lot of people excited.....
1.) Pitt hired a major assistant coach -- i.e. coordinator or assistant head coach - who ALREADY HAD A VERY GOOD JOB. Let me repeat that -- Cignetti isn't a retread, he wasn't fired at his last job, he wasn't looking for work, he wasn't a "Pitt guy" (though, he is a Pittsburgh guy), he was a coach, with a great job in a BCS conference and more than happy to stay there. Yet Wannstedt got him to come to Pitt - and that is quite a nice accomplishment.
2.) Pitt proved once again it will pay for performance or the right guy -- The idea that Pitt won't pay coaches is often thrown about because you don't see Pitt getting into bidding wars for $4 million a year coaches. But Pitt time and time again has proven it will pay the right coaches and this is another example. Sure, he took a pay cut to come here -- but I guarantee you it wasn't much, if anything, when you take the cost of living into account and more importantly I guarantee you he didn't come cheap. Pitt made him a very nice compensation package and that's something the administration has been willing to do time and time again.
3.) Pitt hired a proven recruiter at offensive coordinator. I think as great of a recruiter as Dave Wannstedt has been, the fact that his former offensive coordinator was not nearly as engaged in the recruiting process as most assistant coaches are, probably has held him back some. Wannstedt, make no mistake, is one of the best recruiters around, but Cavanaugh didn't do much recruiting and thus wasn't much help in getting some kids over the top. With Cignetti, that won't be a problem as he is a coach who, like Wannstedt, likes the recruiting process, enjoys the competitive aspect of it and will be an instant asset in this department. And with Wannstedt, Cignetti and Greg Gattuso knocking on doors, every prospect in the entire state of Pennsylvania has suddenly become in play.
4.) Pitt hired a college coach -- Cignetti understands the challenges of working with college kids and understand how to tailor what he did when he was in the NFL to fit the constraints and limitations of the college game (like yesterday, when he was talking about his “quarterback academy” and how he does it differently now than he did with the 49ers and Saints because he has so much less time with college kids due to NCAA rules). That tells me that it will be reflected in his game plans and his play calling.
Like I said at the start, I don’t know if this guy can or will get it done, but I’d say the chances are very good that he will. Only time will tell, but at this point, given what we know about him and given the first impression, I’d say yesterday was a very good day for Pitt fans everywhere.
Now, in the interest of objectivity and fairness, here is the other side of the Cignetti story from someone who covers the Pac-10 teams in the Bay Area (Stanford and Cal)....
I'd say the money shot in this one are these graphs (and by the way, Jon Wilner is an excellent reporter with plenty of credibility)......
"So Cignetti is headed home to Pittsburgh. Wake me when it matters.
I say that semi-facetiously, and the only reason for the “semi” is because of the timing. It’s getting late in the winter (ie: close to spring ball) to start looking for a playcaller/quarterbacks coach.
But does anyone think the Bears benefitted significantly from Cignetti’s presence?
Does anybody think the playcalling was all that dynamic?
Does anybody think the quarterbacks were that well coached?"
Again, just a different perspective from the other side of this personnel move. The feeling out on the West Coast is that Cal. head coach Jeff Tedford ran the offense, did most of the game-planning and adjusting and hired Cignetti to be a caretaker of his offense and call plays. Obviously we can't know that because didn't cover it but I do think it is an important observation to at least keep on file.....