In his 12 years as Pitt's athletic director, Steve Pederson has played a major role in many significant changes to the school's athletic landscape, from moving out of Pitt Stadium in 1999 to making the decision to join the Atlantic Coast Conference two years ago.
Tuesday, the university ensured that Pederson would be at the helm when the school begins play in its new conference, signing him to a five-year contract extension through 2018.
"As we begin this exciting new era of ACC competition, we all have high aspirations for each of our programs," Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said in a statement. "The creativity, strength and stability of Steve's continued leadership will be an important asset as we pursue those lofty goals."
Pederson was originally hired as athletic director in 1996 and held the position until 2002, when he left to take on the same position at Nebraska, his alma mater. He was fired in October 2007.
A month later, he was rehired at Pitt.
The defining moment of his second stint came September 19, 2011, when he announced the university had accepted an invitation to join the ACC for all sports starting July 1.
Major conference realignment likely ended last month when the ACC announced its grant of media rights deal. Pitt's old conference, the Big East, no longer exists in its traditional form, but the ACC has stability, a lucrative television contract and is exploring its own television network.
"I think everybody understood that we were in a position where we ultimately had to say, 'What's best for the University of Pittsburgh and how are we going to address it if the opportunity comes up?' " Pederson said. "The greatest fear is being on the outside looking in, not being a part of it."
One of the benefits of Pitt joining the ACC is the increased funding for non-revenue sports. Pederson said that, as of this fall, all sports will have full funding except men's soccer.
"This is one of the outgrowths obviously of some of the additional revenue, is that we're able to fund every program at a level that we think is a competitive ACC level," he said.
Pederson's second stint at Pitt has not been without controversy. In 2010, he hired a search firm to aid in finding a replacement after Dave Wannstedt was fired. Miami University coach Michael Haywood was hired and then fired weeks later after he was arrested for domestic violence.
Many former influential players, including Bill Fralic and Mike Ditka, questioned Pederson's job performance and called for his firing.
After Haywood's dismissal, Pederson hired Todd Graham, but Graham only stayed for one season before leaving for Arizona State.
According to Brian Generalovich, who is the chair of the university's athletics committee and a member of the board of trustees, Pederson's job was never in jeopardy for his role in the problems that plagued the football program.
"Those voices were voices on the fringe," Generalovich said Tuesday when reached by phone. "There was never any pressure on any of us to relieve Steve of his job."
Generalovich also said Pederson did not have to prove anything to him after the short tenures of Haywood and Graham.
"Not to me personally," he said. "I've always been in favor of Steve. We did go through some trying times there for a while. Unfortunately, other schools go through similar things, too. We righted the ship with Steve and Chancellor Nordenberg, and everything came out very well.
"Steve ... is very well-respected in the athletic community, not just our athletic community but nationally. I have friends at other universities, and they all speak very highly of Steve."
Pederson admitted that the coaching carousel was not an ideal scenario, but has faith that Paul Chryst, who replaced Graham, is a long-term solution at the school's most high-profile position.
"We did go through kind of a unique period," Pederson said. "I don't know how you'd describe it other than 'unique,' but we ended up at a good place. And I feel like that's what we have to keep doing. You're going to go through some rough patches and you have to stay steady and try to get us to the right place. It's my job to lead us through the rough patches and the good patches."
One of Pederson's biggest supporters is basketball coach Jamie Dixon, who has made it clear that he will remain happy at Pitt as long as Pederson and Nordenberg are there.
When Dixon arrived 15 years ago, the football team was still playing at Pitt Stadium and the basketball teams were playing at Fitzgerald Field House. Now the Petersen Events Center is lauded as one of the top basketball arenas in the country, and the football team shares a practice facility and a stadium with the Steelers. The Petersen Events Center was erected on the site where Pitt Stadium once stood.
"We've known what he's done and the future he's built for us," Dixon said. "He's put us in position. I've been here 15 years now. One of the first days I got here -- I didn't know any of the history and I didn't know the inner workings -- I remember there being questions about moving out of Pitt Stadium and building the arena. A lot of people were disappointed with that at the time. Those were tough decisions, but you have to make some tough calls and make people angry to do what's best for the university. Steve has had to do a lot of tough things. At the end of the day, that's what you have to do as an athletic director."
Pederson said he didn't foresee any major building projects on the immediate horizon, beyond finding a long-term solution for an outdoor track facility. His main short-term goal is to sell out Heinz Field next season, and said there were a little less than 11,000 season tickets left to sell.
"We're going to get this thing sold out," Pederson said. "We're working day and night at it. I really feel like this is the best position we've ever been in at this time of the year, including 2003 when we did sell it out on a season ticket basis."