Pitt's search ends with hiring of Tulsa's Graham

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The University of Pittsburgh hired Tulsa head football coach Todd Graham as its new coach Monday, ending an extraordinary 34-day search that began with the firing of Dave Wannstedt, then the hiring and firing of his replacement.

Mr. Graham, 46, will be introduced in a news conference at 3:30 p.m. today at Pitt's football facility on the South Side.

He is considered one of the best offensive coaches in the nation. Tulsa, which finished 10-3 this past season -- including a 62-35 victory against Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl Dec. 24 -- finished fifth in the nation in total offense. Twice, in 2007 and '09, Tulsa led the nation in total offense.

Pitt director of athletics Steve Pederson said in a statement from the university that he was "thrilled" Mr. Graham had agreed to take the Pitt job.

"His innovative, creative and energized approach to football makes him an exciting leader for our program," Mr. Pederson said. "He has a proven track record of success at all levels of football, and his wealth of experience on both sides of the ball gives him a unique set of credentials."

Mr. Graham was a candidate for the job in the initial coaching search for Mr. Wannstedt's replacement in mid-December, but discussions ended, reportedly because Pitt was unwilling to pay him as much money as he wanted.

Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, Assistant Vice Chancellor Jerry Cochran and Mr. Pederson interviewed Mr. Graham again Friday and began discussing a contract, which was negotiated throughout the weekend. Pitt's initial offer was $1.6 million, and Mr. Graham's final counteroffer was a $2 million total package for himself and $2 million for the nine assistant coaches that will comprise his staff at Pitt. The final deal is believed to be near that amount.

Mr. Graham's salary will be among the highest of any football coaches in the Big East Conference. Rutgers' Greg Schiano makes $2,000,932, according to a survey by USA Today. He also will be the highest-paid coach at Pitt. Men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon reportedly makes $1.6 million to $1.8 million a year.

"My family and I are honored to join such a prestigious university and a rich football tradition like the University of Pittsburgh," Mr. Graham said in the statement. "Pittsburgh is a tremendous football city with great fans. We will work diligently every day to earn their respect and build a program that competes for and wins championships."

Mr. Graham and Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley were the only two known candidates who got second-round interviews with Mr. Nordenberg. Mr. Bradley interviewed Sunday with Mr. Nordenberg instead of doing a scheduled interview with the University of Connecticut for its head coaching vacancy.

This was Pitt's second go at the coaching search after the university's first choice, former Miami (Ohio) coach Michael Haywood, who was hired Dec. 16, was arrested Dec. 31 on a domestic-violence charge at his South Bend, Ind., home, then was fired by Pitt the next day.

Mr. Haywood replaced Mr. Wannstedt whose teams went 42-31 in six seasons at the school. Pitt finished this season at 8-5 after defeating Kentucky Saturday in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.

Mr. Graham is expected to bring offensive line coach Spencer Leftwich and co-defensive coordinators Keith Patterson and Paul Randolph with him to Pitt. Mr. Graham, who coached defense for two seasons under former Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez when Mr. Rodriguez was head coach at West Virginia, is expected to hire some of the assistants who worked for Mr. Rodriguez at Michigan. Tony Gibson, who coached defensive backs at Michigan under Mr. Rodriguez for the past three seasons and worked with Mr. Graham at West Virginia, is expected to join the staff in some capacity. Mr. Graham also is expected to ask some of the current Pitt assistants to remain.

Mr. Graham was one of eight coaches interviewed in the second part of the coaching search. The others were former Pitt defensive back Teryl Austin, Stanford assistant head coach Greg Roman, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, Alabama assistant head coach Sal Sunseri, Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, Florida International head coach Mario Cristobal and Mr. Bradley.

In four seasons at Tulsa, Mr. Graham's teams were 36-17. Three times, the Golden Hurricane won at least 10 games, finished first in Conference USA's West division and went to a bowl game.

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com . Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com . First Published January 11, 2011 5:00 AM


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