BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Multiple sources have confirmed that two candidates have interviewed for the vacant Pitt football head-coaching job since Monday -- Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley and Alabama assistant head coach Sal Sunseri, and that Bradley has emerged as a leading candidate to get the job.
Both men were interviewed on campus by a small group of senior athletic administration officials led by athletic director Steve Pederson, who, contrary to numerous Internet reports and rumors, is still the point man leading the search.
Pederson and company met with Sunseri Monday and had two meetings with Bradley, including a formal interview Tuesday night.
Bradley is expected to interview later this week for the head-coaching position at Connecticut after Randy Edsall left to take the Maryland job over the past weekend.
Bradley is considered "the leading candidate" by a source with knowledge of the situation, but, as of last night, had not been offered the job, and multiple sources around him say he had not talked with Pitt in an official capacity Wednesday.
If offered the job, Bradley, who has not met with Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, would quickly accept it, according to numerous sources as it is the job he has wanted for quite some time.
WTAE-TV's John Meyer reported Wednesday night that it was a "done deal" and that Bradley was hired by Pitt, but that prompted the athletic department to issue the following statement:
"The University of Pittsburgh has not offered its head coaching position to anyone, and no decisions about an offer have been made."
Bradley did not return phone calls seeking comment on his status as a candidate, which is common in coaching searches, and his candidacy -- as well as Sunseri's -- shows there has been a clear shift in the way the administration is conducting the search because neither has been a head coach.
The Panthers' search for a coach began Dec. 8, when Dave Wannstedt was fired, and the initial effort brought Miami of Ohio coach Michael Haywood to Pitt.
Haywood was announced as Pitt's coach Dec. 16, and, at the introductory news conference, Pederson said the search focused only on "college head coaches" and that coaches with no head-coaching experience were not considered.
But Haywood was fired Jan. 1, a day after he was arrested on charges of domestic battery after he was alleged to have put a choke hold on the mother of his son at their South Bend, Ind., home.
That triggered another search that began Sunday.
This one, however, had a much different feel to it as Nordenberg appointed a small group of senior administrators, including assistant vice chancellor Jerry Cochran and executive associate athletic director Donna Sanft, to the search committee.
Neither Sunseri nor Bradley have experience as a head coach, so it is clear the university is including coordinators and other assistant coaches this time.
Pederson was traveling Wednesday and conducting more interviews, but Bradley clearly is one of the top candidates for the position.
As of last night, several sources said Bradley likely would be offered the job but that no final decision had been made.
Bradley, 54, has been the Nittany Lions' defensive coordinator for the past 11 seasons and has worked as an assistant coach at the school for 32 seasons.
His defenses have been among the highest ranked in the country and, from 2004-09, his defenses were ranked No. 3 in the country in scoring defense (15.1 ppg) and rushing defense (96.99 ypg) and No. 5 in total defense (290.3 ypg).
A Johnstown, Pa., native and graduate of Bishop McCort High School, he was a letterman for the Nittany Lions in 1977-78 and a graduate assistant there in '79.
Bradley is known as an excellent recruiter and has ties to Western Pennsylvania after recruiting in the area most of his career.
He also has family here and recently bought a home in Pittsburgh.
Sunseri is a former All-American linebacker at Pitt who joined the Alabama coaching staff in January 2009, after serving as defensive line coach with the NFL's Carolina Panthers from 2002-08.
He also has worked at Michigan State, LSU, Alabama A&M and Louisville.
His first job, however, was at Pitt in 1985 when he coached the defensive line and linebackers before being named assistant head coach in 1992.
Sunseri's oldest son, Tino, is Pitt's quarterback and he offered a "no comment" when he was asked Wednesday about his father's potential candidacy after practice at Birmingham Southern College.
The Panthers (7-5) are preparing for the BBVA Compass Bowl Saturday against Kentucky (6-6).
Two other candidates from the initial search, Houston's Kevin Sumlin and Tulsa's Todd Graham both said earlier this week they are not interested in the job at this point, though Graham's denial was much less definitive than Sumlin's.
Both were interviewed by Pederson during the first search before Haywood was hired. Graham reportedly was a strong candidate whose asking price may have been a deal-killer.
Paul Zeise: email@example.com or 412-263-1720.