** Dave Wannstedt is still mulling over his decision about whether to coach the Panthers in the BBVA Compass Bowl or not. He is leaning that way and at the end of the day, according to a source close to him, will most likely do it but he is taking his time with the decision for obvious reasons. Ultimately, according to the source, he is likely to coach the bowl game and mostly because he cares about the kids and wants to be there for them.
In the event that it he decides to stay on the sidelines and begin his role as special assistant to the athletic director (at least until an NFL team comes looking for a defensive coordinator) the next question is - who would be the guy to be the next in line in terms of coaching the bowl game.
Conventional wisdom has said Frank Cignetti would be the guy but here is a little tidbit that may or may not mean something -- tomorrow (Thursday) is one of the pre-bowl media events in Birmingham where it is just the coaches from both teams and yet it is Phil Bennett, not Cignetti, who is there to represent Pitt. Again, that could be a scheduling situation but it is very interesting that Bennett is the one who got this call to serve as the coach, at least for a day.
** The Jon Baldwin silliness of this morning was, well, silly. First there was the story on CBS Sports.com where Baldwin is quoted as saying he is leaving for the NFL draft and mostly because his NFL draft stock is being sabotaged by the coaches - who want him to come back for another year -- and they have him running deep routes only. He also takes a shot at Tino Sunseri. Of course, that was the first step - then step two was the "damage control step" as I talked to Baldwin's dad, Jeff, and he told me that the report was false, that his son was misquoted and that he is still committed to Pitt and to finishing the season before he contemplates his future. Then, of course, we had the statement from Baldwin issued through Pitt's media relations offense, which Baldwin basically said he was emotional, made a bad decision in his choice of words, loves Pitt and his teammates and will work hard to help Pitt win the bowl. It is just another episode in the circus that has become the Pitt football program this year. It isn't any different than some of the seniors who got their twitter blasts off about not playing in the bowl game without Wannstedt but all of it shows some of the issues schools have controlling the message these days in the world of the internet. Baldwin, by the way, is a good kid who has taken way too much heat this year by some who think every time he was overthrown it is because he was lazy. Let me tell you, he didn't always work quite as hard as he needed to but a lot of time the problem was the passes were way out of his reach and had nothing to do with his "lazy route running." He obviously didn't use his best judgement here but he is still one of Pitt's best two or three players and he made a lot of plays this year.
** People have asked me about the staff and what will happen to them and my best answer is, I have no idea and I hope they all land on their feet at a place they want to be. That's the best I can tell you, I have no idea who the next coach is, I'm not in his mind yet and don't know who he is likely to retain or bring from where he is coming from. But looking at the staff, I'd say a few of them will have a chance to stay while others will be gone before the next guy is in place.
I'd assume the next guy will want his own coordinators, which is SOP when a new coach is hired, (though Wannstedt kept Paul Rhoads way back when he was hired in 2004) so that likely means Cignetti and Bennett will head elsewhere and both should have very little trouble finding a job as they both have excellent resumes, a lot of experience and a lot of good contacts and guys they have coached with over the years. Tony Wise is one of Wannstedt's best and oldest friends so I have a hard time believing he'd hang around now that Wannstedt is gone. The same could probably said for Bernard Clark, who really has no ties here other than his relationship with Wannstedt and he shouldn't have much trouble finding work back down south. Those four I would say are most likely to consider moving on after the bowl game and I would bet that Bob Junko may consider that with Dave leaving it is time to retire and just relax a little.
Again, that is my best guess just based on what I know about each coach and how these things usually go. I know that those of us in the media will especially miss Phil Bennett as he was always a straight shooter who said what was on his mind and did it in a way that was both thoughtful and entertaining. We always enjoyed interviewing him and he is a damn nice guy.
Two guys - Greg Gattuso and David Walker - both have roots here (Gattuso is a native, Walker has a young family and has settled in some over the past six years) and would likely rather stay than move and given the job both have done in their respective positions, I'd assume they'd at least get an opportunity to interview with the new coach. A third guy with local ties, Chris LaSala and I say this in all seriousness, may be the best at in his position (football operations) in the entire country. I can't see any way that he is not retained, either in his current spot, or in a different role in the athletic department because he is smart, organized, a hard worker and really just the kind of guy athletic departments don't let go of without a fight. He is also, like everyone of these guys, a great guy and a class act.
Buddy Morris(and James Smith) obviously has ties to Pitt and would be open to staying but like coordinators, new coaches often have their own strength coaches to bring with them so this will be wait and see but the thing is, both Morris and Smith could a find a job tomorrow if they needed to because of their reputations so if they are going to stay, whoever is hired better act fast.
That leaves what I would call the younger guys on the staff - Jeff Hafley, Scott Turner and Brian Angelichio along with the graduate assistants. I would assume Angelichio will have some opportunities to go somewhere as an offensive coordinator as he is clearly ready for the next step if things don't pan out here with the next coach. Halfey is obvisouly a rising star in the coaching ranks thanks to his recruiting prowess and his reputation as a hard worker. He will have little trouble landing on his feet and I'd be surprised if he doesn't have several different offers to choose from. Turner has plenty of contacts in the coaching world for obvious reasons and now he has three years of experience - including one as a full-time assistant - to put on his resume and that means he is now in position to go out and find a job. It also should be noted that it wouldn't shock me if he or Angelichio, or both, land whereever Cignetti lands. As for the graduate assistants, those spots are always the last ones to be filled so it would probably behoove the three current graduate assistants (Luke Getsy, Eric Thatcher and Dave Bucar) to start pounding the pavement immediately. The good news is all three are very good.work hard, are diligent and are going to be excellent coaches.
This is a good staff of good guys and hopefully for their sake, like I said, they all land on their feet...now the next obvious question is this: What happens if Cignetti gets the head coaching position?
Obviously, that changes things for everyone....
** Here are some more names from the rumor mill (I'd say it will churn for at least another day or two before the search gets serious and viable candidates begin to become known):
Pat Shurmur - Offensive coordinator, St. Louis Rams - Bright, energtic, apparently reputation as an excellent recruiter, though he's been in the NFL for the past few years.
Bryan Harsin - Offensive coordinator, Boise State - I'm told this may actually be the target from Boise State, not head coach Chris Petersen, as he is young and one of the hot candidates out there. Harsin is the leading candidate for the Texas offensive coordinator position.
Tom Bradley - Defensive coordinator, Penn State - Don't laugh, I am told he'd be very interested in this job and frankly, Pitt could do a heckuva lot worse. I think that he'd be a fine coach, he'd recruit the area like crazy and his teams would be disciplined, would work hard. Of course, would Pitt hire a Penn State guy?
Sam Winters - Head Coach, Eastern State Univeristy Timberwolves -- Yes, he's had some off-field issues to deal with it, be it steroid use or a quarterback that needed to go to the drunk tank - the guy is a winner. He also has sent overtures to Steve Pederson and would bring with him several key staffers - Joe Kane (offensive coordinator), Alvin Mack (linebackers) and Steve Lattimer (strength and conditioning).
** Jabaal Sheard was named the defensive player of the year in the Big East. It should be noted that he is the fifth Big East defensive player of the year for the Panthers, and all five (Sheard, Greg Romeus, Mick Williams, Scott McKillop and H.B. Blades) of them won the award when playing for Wannstedt. Sheard was also a unanimous first-team All-Big East honoree, highlighting seven Pitt selections to the all-conference team. The Panthers’ other first-team picks include junior receiver Jon Baldwin, senior safety Dom DeCicco, senior punter Dan Hutchins and senior offensive tackle Jason Pinkston. Pitt’s second-team honorees include sophomore safety Jarred Holley and junior defensive end Brandon Lindsey.