As names begin to surface of potential candidates to replace Pitt head football coach Dave Wannstedt, the question of whether Wannstedt will coach the Panthers in the BBVA Compass Bowl remains unanswered.
Wannstedt resigned from the coaching job Tuesday but will remain at Pitt as special assistant to athletic director Steve Pederson.
Pitt defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who was in Birmingham Thursday for a news conference about the Jan. 8 Compass Bowl, said he expected Wannstedt to coach the game, in which the Panthers (7-5) will play Kentucky (6-6).
"Dave will coach the game," Bennett said. "He's just back handling some details right now. But the plan is he will coach the game and then go into his role in administration.
"It's an emotional time. Dave is a football coach, and our kids loving playing for him. I think they're excited about playing this last game and trying to work on the things that he's instilled in them."
When reached by telephone Thursday night, however, Wannstedt said he hadn't made up his mind. Pitt has left the decision on whether to coach the game up to him.
Wannstedt said he is going to get the team prepared, get the practices going and the game plan in and try to help move the program forward over the next few weeks before he decides whether to coach the game.
"I'm going to show up for work tomorrow morning like I always do because I owe it to these kids, I care about them and I don't want to let them down," Wannstedt said. "But this is hard right now, and I'm not ready to go all the way and say I'll definitely be on the sideline for the game. I'll take it a day at a time."
At least two names have emerged as potential candidates to replace Wannstedt: Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen and Temple coach Al Golden.
Both, according to sources, have made preliminary contact with Pitt, at least through intermediaries.
Hologorsen, however, told Brandon Chatmon of the Daily Oklahoman on Thursday: "I have not been contacted [by Pitt]." He added, "I'm pretty happy where I am."
According to an agent and coach at Pitt, the university has hired a search firm to assist in identifying and contacting prospective coaches.
Hiring a search firm has become standard procedure among colleges searching for coaches and athletic administrators so that potential candidates can be identified without the university directly contacting them.
Pitt sports information director E.J. Borghetti, however, would neither confirm nor deny that Pitt has hired a search firm.
"I can't answer that because I don't know," he said.
Other coaches have contacted Pitt or had someone on their behalf contact the university to express interest in the job, sources said.
One is Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, a longtime assistant at Penn State who is known as a great recruiter, a disciplined coach and a person who has many of the qualities that Pederson said he is looking for in a prospective coach.
The sources said other coaches who have expressed interest in the job are Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, who is a Youngstown native and the brother of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops; former Pitt player and current Alabama outside linebackers coach Sal Sunseri; and Florida defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who, like Sunseri, is a former Pitt player.
And several former Pitt players have endorsed current offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr.
Holgorsen is said to be near the top of Pederson's list.
The Cowboys offense was No. 1 nationally in total offense (538 yards per game), No. 2 in passing (355-yard average) and No. 3 in scoring (44.9-point average). According to the Tulsa World, Holgorsen is a candidate for the Texas offensive coordinator job.
Golden is on the short list for the Miami job, according to a source at Temple, because he has turned around the Owls in a short period. Temple was 8-4 this year.
One other person whose name has been mentioned as a possible candidate is second-year Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads, a former Pitt assistant and a person who Pederson likes and respects, but a source close to Rhoads said the Iowa native has made it clear that he isn't interested in the job because he is happy at Iowa and doesn't want to uproot his family again.