It's a no-brainer for Pitt: Bring back Pederson

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What? It's the end of the week and Steve Pederson still hasn't been rehired at Pitt? What is chancellor Mark Nordenberg waiting for?

Bringing Pederson back as Pitt's athletic director is the right call, isn't it?

Sometimes, things happen in life for a reason. Maybe it's more than just a bizarre coincidence that Pederson was fired unexpectedly Monday at Nebraska and the Pitt job still is open, nearly six weeks after Jeff Long left for Arkansas. Maybe Pederson was supposed to come back to Pitt all along.

The man did a fabulous job here from 1996-2002, the best ever at Pitt. You know of his many successes. He and Nordenberg deserve credit for upgrading the school's facilities, especially for the moves to Heinz Field, the Steelers' South Side training complex and the wonderful Petersen Events Center. He oversaw the resurrection of the football program, which was losing 72-0, 45-0, 55-7 and 60-6 and playing before tiny crowds at run-down Pitt Stadium the year he arrived and was in the top 20 and selling out its season tickets at Heinz Field when he left. He also was huge in the development of the men's basketball program, which was an embarrassment on and off the court when he got to town and a Big East Conference power and an NCAA tournament team when he departed. Pitt now needs Pederson more than ever.

That will be obvious today when the Panthers play host to Cincinnati. There probably will be a crowd of 30,000 or so -- less than half the capacity at Heinz Field -- to see a Pitt team that has lost four games in a row and is headed toward a third consecutive season without a bowl game. Pederson hardly would recognize the program.

It's fair to think Pitt football wouldn't have sunk back if Pederson had stayed. He left because Nebraska is home, he went to school at Nebraska and Nebraska was his dream job. That he wasn't successful there -- at least not fast enough to satisfy the tough Nebraska crowd -- isn't enough reason for Nordenberg not to bring him back.

Pederson made a mistake at Nebraska by hiring NFL castoff Bill Callahan as his football coach. It happens, you know? Didn't Florida's Jeremy Foley -- the hottest thing going in college athletics these days -- hire Ron Zook before he found Urban Meyer? And what of Alabama's Mal Moore? How many football coaches did he hire or try to hire before he ended up with Nick Saban? Pederson's track record is better than most athletic directors when it comes to hiring coaches. He hit home runs by bringing little-known Walt Harris and Ben Howland to Pitt. Howland has gone on to become one of the country's top basketball coaches at UCLA.

When Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman fired Pederson, he blamed Pederson's dictatorial style for causing low morale in the athletic department. That was a crock. The only reason there was low morale was because the football team didn't win enough games. It always comes back to wins and losses.

Pederson's style worked just fine at Pitt. Sure, he annoyed some boosters because they felt snubbed when it came time for important decisions. Bravo for him -- those decisions aren't the boosters' business. But as far as Pederson's employees? Not everyone would say they liked him or even respected him. Is anyone in any management position liked and respected by everyone? Do all 53 Steelers like and respect Mike Tomlin? Dan Rooney, for that matter? But the guess here is the overwhelming majority would say they supported Pederson. Staff morale at Pitt was a hundred times better when he left than when he came.

Marc Boehm, a top Pederson lieutenant at Pitt and Nebraska, put it best once: "Steve is a master at getting people to work together."

And there was this from Harris: "We've gone from being a 'We can't do this' place to a 'We can do this' place."

Nordenberg knows that. It's why he and Pederson were able to part on good terms in '02. He admired the work Pederson did and respected his desire to go home. There's no reason to think he would be hesitant to call Pederson now. It's the right thing to do.

There's also no reason to think Pederson wouldn't be interested in the Pitt job even though he's getting a buyout of about $2.2 million from Nebraska and doesn't have to rush back to work. He always said Nebraska was the only job he would leave Pitt to take. It wouldn't be shocking if he jumped at the chance to return.

It's true, few things in life are as good the second time around. Johnny Majors II at Pitt comes to mind. But occasionally, the sequel is better than the original. Why can't Pederson II be just as good as "The Godfather: Part II"?

This just seems like it's supposed to happen. It's nice to think Nordenberg won't let another week go by without making it happen.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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