Rhoads out of Pitt football coaching search; three candidates emerge

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Three candidates have emerged in Pitt's search for a new football coach, but a fourth -- who happened to be at or near the top of the school's wish list -- is staying put.

Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and Florida International coach Mario Cristobal, already have been interviewed by school officials, and the third, Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, is expected to be interviewed today.

Meanwhile, Iowa State's Paul Rhoads, who started the process among the top choices, signed a 10-year contract extension with Iowa State that will bump his salary from about $1.2 million to $2 million per year, according to published reports.

Rhoads was Pitt's defensive coordinator from 2000 to 2007 and has rebuilt the Cyclones' program in three seasons.

But he is from Iowa, has a lot of family there and rejected Pitt's overtures last year after Dave Wannstedt was fired, Pitt officials knew it would be tough to lure him back, even though he often has said he loved his time in Pittsburgh.

With Rhoads out of the mix, it appears Fickell and Cristobal are the top candidates at this point, pending Chryst's interview.

Chryst was interviewed by Pitt in January -- after Michael Haywood was fired -- but he did not get a call back. Wisconsin's offense was potent this season.

Furthermore, several people close to him have said he is much more prepared for interviews now and believes he is ready to be a head coach.

Cristobal interviewed with Steve Pederson at an undisclosed location in Miami Friday and was on the short list last year when the Panthers searched for a coach.

He is a Miami native who played football at the University of Miami and is very involved in the community.

He also has been adamant about remaining in south Florida.

Pitt likely would have to wait a few days to get Cristobal as Florida International will play Marshall in the Beef "O" Brady's bowl Dec. 20. Florida International finished 8-4 this season, including a win against Big East Conference co-champion Louisville.

Fickell was in Hershey Friday night at the PIAA Class AAA championship game to watch Bishop McDevitt standout defensive end Noah Spence, the 2011 Gatorade player of the year in Pennsylvania. He is known as an excellent recruiter with strong ties in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

As interim coach, he guided Ohio State to a 6-6 record this season and a berth in the Gator Bowl against Florida.

He held the Buckeyes together in the wake of an NCAA investigation that led to the ouster of coach Jim Tressel.

Good recruiting news

Quarterback Chad Voytik, one of the top players in Pitt's current recruiting class, committed to the Panthers earlier this year in large part because he said he was a perfect fit for Todd Graham's "high-octane" spread offense.

But even though Graham is headed to Arizona State, Voytik, from Cleveland, Tenn., said Friday on Twitter that he will not follow Graham and is sticking with Pitt.

Voytik's tweet read "Todd Graham can take Penni to ASU, but he can't take my teammates or my future with him too. Coach, you will regret this. #justwaitandsee"

Voytik is the fourth-ranked quarterback prospect in the nation according to Rivals.com and the second-ranked overall prospect in Tennessee.

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720.


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