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A New Coach in Place, Now What? Plus tonight's Q&A

Written by Paul Zeise on .

Colin Dunlap and I had a laugh today as we compared notes about the coaching search at Pitt and West Virginia. His lasted all of about eight hours and ended with a press release being sent out while mine dragged on for eight days - and we're told there may or may not be an actual official announcement tomorrow.

But now that it is over, all I can say is "THANK GOD" as I can go back to having a normal life that doesn't involve blogging and writing stories at all hours and working the phones and e-mails and all the other nonsense for 15 hours  - and yes, Ottograf, tracking flights....Laughing

I have been through six of these and I can honestly say this has been the toughest just because it is the first one I had to try and navigate around a search firm as well as an athletic director that really kept things as close to the vest as possible. Information was sometimes very tough to come by and it changed some - as it always does - sometimes in a matter of hours.

At the end of it all, however, Pitt has hired Michael Haywood from Miami (Ohio) to be the coach and judging from talk radio, the comments section in this blog and reading Chris Peak and Bob Lichtenfels message boards, fans don't seem to be overly excited about it (I'm being kind, by the way, because a lot of people seem rather angry about it).

I wish I could tell you this was a "can't miss" hire or a "star in the ranks" kind of coach, I can't because I don't know how this is going to turn out. He could turn out to be a star - he could turn out to be a dud, as well. Nobody knows, not the people that hired him and not even he does.

But like I wrote earlier -- Haywood seems to have a very solid resume, he has been a special teams coordinator, an offensive coordinator, a recruiting coordinator in his career and he has coached both sides of the ball and according to his bio, he's coached every position.

He is, as we talked about earlier, a mature coach in terms of how much experience he has around good programs, a disciplinarian and that is as good place to start. 

Again, we don't know how this will turn out, I would hope that Pitt fans will give the guy a chance before you write him off because you never know, he could end being the next Ben Howland and take Pitt to heights it hasn't seen in decades.

Now, all of that being said, Steve Pederson has set the bar extremely high and given the team he has coming back next year, there is no reason to expect anything less than eight or nine wins. And a BCS bowl should be expected within three years.

** As a new coach comes, it means the old coaching staff is leaving. Haywood is expected to bring his assistant head coach - Bill Elias - with him to Pitt and the two are not going to coach the Redhawks in the GoDaddy.com Bowl but instead will get started on recruiting and building an organization and staff. Elias is also the Redhawks recruiting coordinator and linebackers coach. There seems to be some good news already in terms of assistant coaches landing on their feet and I'll have more on that over the next few days as some of them begin to move on. A couple of them, from what I am being told, are close to landing jobs.

And then, according to OwlScoop.Com - which is the Temple equivalent of Pantherlair - Frank Cignetti is on the short list for Al Golden's old job. The job was first offered to Temple defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio but he turned it down and will join Golden at Miami. Cignetti would make an excellent head coach and like I wrote a few days ago when Golden left Temple -as an Owls fan and Temple alum I'd be all for that. So here's hoping things work out for him. 

Along those same lines, Frank's brother Curt, is apparently on the short list for the vacant head coaching position at Kent State. If that happens, and he lands there, it could be a spot for some of the Panthers graduate assistants or even younger coaches like Brian Angelichio or Scott Turner to land as well.

Like I said, it is great for the Pitt community to celebrate the hiring of a new coach but at the same time there are a lot of current Pitt assistant coaches who are scrambling to figure out what is next for them but at least it is good to hear there are some prospects for future employment on the horizon for all of them.

** Winslow Township (N.J.) four-star receiver Bill Belton is the latest player to decommitt from the Panthers and he will now take visits to Penn State, West Virginia and Cincinnati (according to both major recruiting sites Pantherdigest and Pantherlair). By my count that is five players who have decommitted from the Panthers since the announcement that Dave Wannstedt was being pushed into an administrative role and relieved of his coaching duties. I know there is panic out there about the recruiting class and here is what I'd say - it is not a big deal. Really, at this point it is not it is not a big deal, even though you'd rather not lose talented players. For one thing, you want Haywood to have a few scholarships available to go recruit some kids who are going to fit what he is looking for in this first class so the fact that a few guys have decommitted is not the end of the world. Also, I say this every year on signing day - nobody knows how good these guys are until they put on the pads and start playing against college athletes so there is no reason to be upset about players who may or may not fulfill their potential. You'd rather have six or seven guys in this class who are recruited by Haywood and fit in his system.

** Now that it is over and information is beginning to flow again, it appears that Al Golden was indeed the first target but Haywood was high on the list from day one as well. The job may not have officially been offered to Golden, but sources have told me there was at least some sort of framework for a contract on the table. That is irrelevant, however, at this point as Haywood is the coach and the only thing that will matter next year at this time is his record.

** The fact that Haywood is the first African-American head football or men's basketball coach at Pitt is amazing in many ways given the fact that the school is an urban campus and it is located north of the Mason-Dixon line. But here is what I think should be said  - while I think diversity is a good thing, my only point in bringing it up at the outset was that it is important that people of all races, creeds, colors, religions, etc., etc., are given opportunities to at least interview for certain high profile positions PROVIDED THEY ARE QUALIFIED. Let me say that again - I didn't say Pitt had to hire a minority, I said they needed to hire the best guy they could find but needed to make sure they included a few qualified minorities in the interview process. And Haywood is clearly qualified for this job, he clearly has a resume which suggests he has paid his dues and thus if he was the right fit for Steve Pederson and Mark Nordenberg, it is great to see that they hired him. Had they hired Dana Holgorsen or Todd Graham, I'd have been fine with that provided they gave a real and long hard look at some qualified minority candidates because even if they didn't get hired this time, they'd get a little publicity and maybe get a chance to get hired somewhere else. I was surprised by how much negative reaction my discussion of the need for some quality minority candidates to be identified but it has been just a sad reminder that there is still a small and thankfully dwindling group of people, who apparently haven't yet heard that the Civil War ended more than a century ago and contrary to what Bo and Luke Duke say, the North won.

OK, here are a few Q&A questions for tonight:

Q: If Michael Haywood doesn't pan out, do you think that Steve Pederson will be fired like he was at Nebraska?

Scott Rider, Harrisburg

ZEISE: I will say this is an important hire for Pederson, particularly since he fired a loyal Pitt guy with a winning record and a lot of people in his corner. But I don't think given all he has done at Pitt - especially during his first stint at the university - that this will be his legacy like the Bill Callahan debacle was at Nebraska. I really don't see that. What happened at Nebraska was unique in that, he came in and made that his first significant move and unfortunately that state and that program is so engrossed in football that there was no way that decision to fire Frank Solich and then take 40 days to hire Bill Callahan wouldn't be his legacy. Pederson has had a huge hand in moving Pitt athletics from the dark ages into the 20th Century. Has he made all the right moves? No, but nobody has. The one thing that could work against him, however, is this - his boss, Mark Nordenberg, is set to retire here in the not to distant future, perhaps as early as next year. If that happens and Haywood fails - the new chancellor may not have the same loyalty to Pederson as Nordenberg does and that could be a problem. But again, Pederson has done an awful lot for Pitt and at Pitt for this -- or getting rid of the Script Pitt - to be his legacy regardless of what happens.

Q: Do you think that the hiring of Haywood will bring more African-American fans to Pitt football?

Sean Farr, Pittsburgh

ZEISE: No, I don't think so. I mean, would the hiring of Dana Holgorsen have brought more fans of Jimmy Buffett to Pitt football. Not likely. The bottom line is the only way this guy will bring more fans to Pitt football - of any color - is if he wins. Pitt fans, God bless them, are tired of excuses. They are tired of hearing why their team can't win big games. They are tired of hearing about all the things that hold them back. They want a winner, just go out and win games and if he does that, fans will come support the team and do so not because the coach is black, but because fans want to see a winner.

Q: Why is Pitt trying so hard to make it sound like the decision for Dave Wannstedt to step down was mutual and what are the players' reactions?

Jeff P., Memphis, Tenn.

ZEISE: It is simple, they are trying to do the right thing by Wannstedt because of his loyalty, years of service and all the good things he's done for Pitt over the years. They didn't want to throw him out in the street, they didn't want to have his career end with him being fired by his alma mater. Nobody feels good about the way things went down or that it didn't work out with Wannstedt but in the end, the decision was made that he needed to be relieved of his duties and there was just not going to be a good way to do it. And the players were obviously upset because he was a players coach and a guy who made it clear that he cared about them. I've had a number of former players e-mail me and ask if they could have a forum to talk about their affection for Wannstedt but at this point, I just don't see how that does anybody any good. It is time to move on.

Q:  Paul, you seem to be pushing for a minority hire. So, does the Rainbow Coalition pay these schools back after the minority coach falls flat on his face?

Mike Stevens, San Marcos, CA.

ZEISE: I printed this question because it is at least a little bit of the flavor of some of the ugliness I spoke of that still exists and I've received plenty of lately. I'll give this guy credit, at least this one didn't contain something about "Negros" or "colored people" but it is pretty clear that is where this one was likely headed. But to answer the question with a question - why would the Rainbow Coalition have to pay schools back when black coaches fail considering the number of white coaches who are fired every year and are owed tons of money because their contract hasn't expired? I mean, coaches succeed and coaches fail - that's just how it is. I think at one point Pitt was actually still paying off Mike Gottfried and Paul Hackett and had Johnny Majors actually coaching the team. That is just how it is - if this guy fails it won't be because he wasn't qualified, it will be because he didn't get the job done. And for the record, I wasn't pushing for any hire, I was just pointing out that it would be a good thing for a university which claims to be enlightened to make sure it takes a look at some qualified minority candidates and gives a few of them a chance to interview. I'm not sure why that is a bad thing.

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