The coaching search has officially begun and from what I am told the hope is it is "thorough, yet moves quickly" and as such several candidates have already been reached out to and contacted by Pitt.
Luke Fickell - Three different people told me today that Fickell, who was the interim coach at Ohio State, is going to be a candidate. He was the Buckeyes defensive coordinator and he was elevated into a very tough position when Jim Tressell was fired. Fickell was known as a great defensive coach and an excellent recruiter. He is young, energetic and well liked and the kind of guy Pitt is looking for - and he now has a year as a head coach under his belt.
Paul Rhoads - He is currently the head coach at Iowa State and like I wrote yesterday, he is one of the, if not the, top candidates. Rhoads was a candidate the last time around but was not ready to leave Iowa, where he is from. I'm told by two different people around him that he is going to listen to Pitt this time and at least take a look at the opportunity and he may be ready to make the move. Rhoads has done an excellent job at a very, very tough place to win and he is a guy whose players love playing for, even though he is tough and a disciplinarian.
Mark Stoops - Florida State defensive coordinator is set to take a similar job at Auburn but will put that on hold for a few days while he is involved with Pitt. He is the youngest of the Stoops coaching brothers and he obviosly is a very good defensive coach. He doesn't have head coaching experience. Last time around the "contact" was between Stoops representative and Pitt, not the other way around but this time there is mutual interest. He is from Youngstown, which is a plus because he has some ties to the region.
Paul Chryst - Wisconsin offensive coordinator was a candidate the last time (at least after the Haywood fiasco)- and quickly dismissed as the search centered in on Todd Graham quickly. But Pitt reached out to Chryst and he is going to be a legitimate candidate this time as he has told some people close to him he is ready to be a head coach. Chryst is not a dynamic personality, which may hold him back some, but he is an excellent offensive coach and he has done a great job of tinkering the Badgers offense enough to match the talent of quarterback Russell Wilson.
Dave Doeren - This is sort of a new name in the mix but I have yet to confirm the contact has been from both sides. I know he has reached out to Pitt, I don't know that Pitt has shown any interest in him. He is Northern Illinois coach with a background as an assistant at Wisconsin and Kansas. He led the team to the MAC championship this year so he has won a conference title but he's only been a head coach one year. I'll keep an eye on him as this moves forward.
Ron Zook - Steve Pederson is very close friends with Zook, he admires Zook and respects him as a coach - and he's tried to hire him in the past . I can't figure this one out but I'm told that there has been some contact between Pederson and Zook regarding the position - though it may just be Pederson looking for advice on some other candidates. Zook hasn't been a great head coach in his stops at Florida and Illinois but he is a great recruiter and has had some really good seasons.
Those are the guys who so far I have been able to confirm have had some contact with Pitt about the job and thus they are the early candidates. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention Keith Patterson, the interim coach, but I don't get the sense that he will really be considered unless he blows them away with an unbelievable interview.
One other guy, Florida International coach Mario Cristobal, was on the list last time around and got an interview and is said to be interested in this process again, but I haven't had anyone tell me yet that he is going to get another interview. I'm also told that Delaware coach K.C. Keeler may actually be on the radar this time. Time will tell, of course.
There also a number of other guys (call them the usual suspects) - Frank Cignetti, Sal Sunseri, Teryl Austin, Mark Whipple, Greg Gattuso, Tom Bradley - who have some ties to Pitt (or in Bradley's case, Pittsburgh) and have some faction of Pitt's fan base or alumni network or boosters or Steelers pulling for them. Heck, in Cignetti's case he had Dorin Dickerson on the air today pushing for him to get the job. None of those guys seem to be even remotely involved in this, though Austin could at some point get an interview if the process drags on.
I'll keep working hard to bring you whatever info I can, but from what I can tell Rhoads is a strong, strong candidate at this early stage
** Mike Norvell, not surprisingly, has officially resigned his position and left for Arizona State with Todd Graham. We'd have probably read about it on Twitter except Mike's wife, Maria, much like Graham's wife, Penni - two serial tweeters in their short time here - has nuked her Twitter account. I wonder if that was part of the deal with Graham getting the job - "We will hire you but you need to get your wife off of Twitter). Anyway, Norvell is gone and that means quarterback's coach Todd Dodge will call the plays in the BBVA Compass Bowl. If you look at the staff - it is getting pretty slim which means a couple of the quality control guys and GA's are going to be bumped up to full time assistants. Of course, seeing as everyone on staff had some sort of "coordinator" title, there should be no problem finding people to call plays on either side of the ball. Dodge, by the way, is one of my favorite assistant coaches of all time because he is absolutely a no BS guy and he tells you what's on his mind. And I think he is a very good offensive coach so I think Pitt's offense will be fine. I am also told that Spencer Leftwich will be leaving to go to Arizona State, but after the bowl game.
** One of the spins coming out of the Graham camp is that Steve Pederson was meddling in the hiring of assistant coaches. There is no question Pederson has, from time to time, offered suggestions to coaches and tried to get them to look into some other candidates, but I can tell you this as a fact - at the end of the day he lets the head coach make the decision on who to hire. At times, he has tried to save the head coach from himself in terms of hiring bad people - but again, at the end of the day, he lets the coaches make the decision on who they want. And I can offer you one very strong piece of evidence that this is the case - a few years ago Dave Wannstedt wanted to hire an assistant coach that Steve Pederson absolutely did not think was qualified for the job. The two went back and forth for a couple of days, Pederson offered a few other suggestions, including one excellent choice with plenty of great experience, but in the end, he allowed Wannstedt to make the call and hire the guy he wanted to hire. I know this to be 100 percent true - Pederson will make some suggestions, may even try to twist arms a little if he thinks a coach is going to make a mistake but at the end of the day he recognizes that coaches need to make their own decisions and hire their own staffs. So this whole "he was meddling in coaching hires" is nonsense, especially since Todd Graham had far freedom and automy to do whatever he wanted than any coach at Pitt since I've covered the team. By far. I understand spin, but to put this move on Pitt, as if he had to leave, is ridiculous.
** A great story I wrote about today and shared on the air during an interview on 93.7 the Fan with Seibel, Starkey and Miller tells you everything you need to know about Todd Graham the man. Tuesday night after he got off the phone with Steve Pederson, and was told he didn't have permission to talk to Arizona State, he then refused to take Pederson - or anyone from Pitt's - phone calls. Pederson was in North Carolina at some ACC meetings so, after hours of silence, he had one of Pitt's senior administrators go to Graham's house to see if he could at least talk to him and find out what was happening.
The administrator first went to the football complex, it was a ghost town, then went to Graham's house out in Nevillewood. He knocked on the door, then rang the doorbell and saw Graham in the front room on the phone. Graham finally answered the door and said "what are you doing here".
The administrator said "Todd, can we talk for a minute, we need to know what is going on, you need to talk to me." Graham said "I don't have to talk to anybody."
The administrator then repeated "Todd, we need to talk." Graham then snapped "I don't have to talk to you, get off my porch." and then slammed the door in his face. This is a guy who had a great relationship with Graham from a school that had laid out the red carpet to make Graham's existence here as successful as possible. It really is ridiculous how this all went down.
** One other spin that has come out which is nonsense is this - "I didn't have an opportunity or time to gather my team together to talk to them" -- Funny, there was a mandatory 6:30 AM conditioning practice Wednesday morning - while Graham was still in Pittsburgh - which was scheduled for weeks and Graham did not show up for. He could have, he could have showed up and addressed the team. There was also a team meeting - scheduled for weeks - that day, which, he could have spent ten minutes at talking to the team before he got on the airplane and flew to Phoenix. Again, I know people have to do what they do and take jobs in their best interest or the best interest of their family, but do there is a right way to do things and a wrong way and this has certainly been the wrong way on so many levels.