The University of Pittsburgh fired newly hired football coach Michael Haywood one day after he was jailed on a felony domestic abuse charge in Indiana -- just 16 days after he was introduced as a leader who would bring discipline to the program.
The ouster Saturday of Mr. Haywood, 46, left the university's football program in disarray, without a head coach to lead the team in the BBVA Compass Bowl against Kentucky Saturday in Birmingham, Ala., and without a coach to recruit high school players during a crucial period that ends with the athletes signing letters of commitment Feb. 2.
Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg issued a statement at 5:42 p.m. Saturday announcing Mr. Haywood's firing.
"To be clear, the University's decision is not tied to any expectation with respect to the terms on which the legal proceeding now pending in Indiana might ultimately be concluded," the statement said. "Instead, it reflects a strong belief that moving forward with Mr. Haywood as our head coach is not possible under the existing circumstances." Pitt spokesman E.J. Borghetti later released another statement, this one affirming the university's support for athletic director Steve Pederson, who hired Mr. Haywood:
"Mr. Pederson has played a key role in elevating Pitt's athletics programs, remains an important member of the University's senior leadership team and continues to enjoy the full support of the Chancellor."
Mr. Haywood was released from St. Joseph County Jail in South Bend, Ind., at 3:06 p.m. Saturday after his $1,000 bond was posted, according to a jail official.
Here is the statement from University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg on the firing of Michael Haywood:
"After careful consideration of recent events, the University of Pittsburgh has dismissed Michael Haywood as its head football coach, effective immediately. He was advised of that action this afternoon.
"To be clear, the University's decision is not tied to any expectation with respect to the terms on which the legal proceeding now pending in Indiana might ultimately be concluded. Instead, it reflects a strong belief that moving forward with Mr. Haywood as our head coach is not possible under the existing circumstances.
"This is a matter of real regret for the many people at Pitt who had looked forward to working with him. However, head coaches are among the University's most visible representatives and are expected to maintain high standards of personal conduct and to avoid situations that might reflect negatively on the University.
"We will immediately re-open our search for a head football coach, expanding the process to include a larger pool of candidates. Our goal is to move swiftly, but prudently, to find the right person to successfully lead the Pitt football program for what we hope will be an extended period of time."
St. Joseph County police were called to Mr. Haywood's home Friday afternoon on the 50000 block of Hawthorne Meadow Drive in South Bend. A woman with whom Mr. Haywood has a child told officers that Mr. Haywood "held her in a choke hold" and pushed her. Police officers said Mr. Haywood did not want the woman to leave with the child. Assistant St. Joseph County police chief William Redman said officers could see red marks on woman's neck, arms and back. Police would not identify the woman.
Mr. Haywood was not going to be released until after his arraignment Monday at 1:30 p.m., a jail official said Saturday morning. That changed, however, when the St. Joseph County prosecutor increased the charge from a misdemeanor to a felony, according to the jail official, allowing Mr. Haywood to be released earlier.
Under Indiana state law, domestic battery is a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and a maximum $5,000 fine. If the battery occurs in the presence of a child who is younger than 16, it can be charged as a Class D felony.
According to the jail, the St. Joseph County prosecutor increased the charge to a felony because the alleged battery took place in the presence of Mr. Haywood's 21-month-old son. A Class D felony conviction could mean a jail term between six months and three years, with a recommended sentence of 11/2 years, and a maximum $10,000 fine.
When the charge was classified as a misdemeanor, according to the jail official, Mr. Haywood's bond could not be posted until a no-contact order was filed and he was arraigned. When the prosecutor's office changed the charge to a felony, it issued an arrest warrant, which according to the jail, set bail and a court date and allowed Mr. Haywood to post bond.
Mr. Haywood will still appear in court for arraignment at 1:30 p.m. Monday, the jail confirmed.
Allen Pinkett, a two-time All-American running back who played for Notre Dame with Mr. Haywood and remains a close friend, said he could not imagine Mr. Haywood acting violently.
"Totally uncharacteristic of him to put his hands on a woman," said Mr. Pinkett, who also played for the Houston Oilers for six seasons.
Mr. Pinkett visited Mr. Haywood at his home on Monday. Mr. Haywood is the godfather of Mr. Pinkett's 1-month-old daughter, and he said he took his daughter to see Mr. Haywood. He said he believes Mr. Haywood will be vindicated.
"I'm sort of disappointed that Pittsburgh wouldn't let the legal process work itself out because he is going to be found innocent," Mr. Pinkett said. "It's just sad because anybody can make an accusation.
"I know [Mr. Haywood] very, very well but I know the young lady, also. I feel bad because I love them both."
No one answered the door at Mr. Haywood's house, a gray stone residence in an upscale subdivision north of South Bend near the Michigan-Indiana border. A car with a Pennsylvania-issued University of Pittsburgh license plate sat in the driveway Saturday afternoon, but was not there in the evening.
The upheaval in Pitt's football program began Dec. 6 when coach Dave Wannstedt was told he was going to be assigned to a different role and relieved of his coaching duties.
That decision by Mr. Pederson, with the blessing of Mr. Nordenberg, came after the Panthers' chances of winning the Big East were dashed in a lopsided 35-10 home loss to the University of West Virginia on the day after Thanksgiving.
Several current players -- as well as high school recruits who had committed to attend Pitt -- used social media such as Twitter and Facebook to voice their displeasure.
After a rapid search process, Mr. Haywood was announced as head coach on Dec. 16 by Mr. Pederson, who referred to him as a man of "character and integrity" who had qualities that were "absolutely in line with the values of this great university." He said Mr. Haywood would be a "good role model" for Pitt's players.
Nine recruits decided not to attend Pitt after Mr. Wannstedt's ouster. On Saturday, a tenth, Timber Creek (N.J.) linebacker Quinton Alston, told Pantherlair.com that he was going to look elsewhere as well -- which leaves only nine players committed with signing day a month away.
That number could soon be down to seven.
Woodland Hills standout Lafayette Pitts said Saturday evening that he also is going to look elsewhere.
"When coach Wannstedt resigned it opened up my options to look at other schools, and now that this has happened. I'm very open to looking at other options," Mr. Pitts said.
"The Pitt program's good, academics and everything is good. Everything I liked about it was good, but I don't have relationships with any of their coaches because they don't have any."
Paramus Catholic (N.J.) defensive tackle Marquise Wright said he, too, will consider other schools.
"The program seems to be unstable right now," Mr. Wright said. "I was going to give [Mr. Haywood] a chance to see if I liked the school, but I'll probably de-commit soon. It's a little weird because it takes a while to hire a head coach. I don't think that's something they'll do overnight. That will only give me about two weeks to make a decision.
"It's not looking good for Pittsburgh."
Thomas Jefferson High School football coach Bill Cherpak, a former Pitt player who has had a number of players recruited by Pitt over the years, agreed.
"The way things are these days, you can't afford to have these kinds of mistakes," Mr. Cherpak said. "You can't afford to have one bad recruiting class and that is where this is headed. But more importantly, as an alum who cares deeply about and supports this program, I have to ask -- how does this happen?
"This is an absolute mess. In recruiting, it isn't about the kids you don't get, it is about the kids you get who don't pan out -- that defines your class. The same can be said with this coaching hire -- the one they got really gave the program a black eye and someone needs to answer for that."
In addition to the recruiting uncertainty, it's not yet clear who will coach the Panthers in their bowl game Saturday.
Mr. Pederson left that decision up to Mr. Wannstedt. Mr. Wannstedt declined comment on Mr. Haywood Saturday, but said he would address his own status for the bowl game Monday or Tuesday, when the team leaves for Birmingham.
If Mr. Wannstedt does not coach the game, defensive coordinator Phil Bennett will.
Mr. Haywood's firing also leaves open the fate of assistant coaches both at Pitt and at Miami (Ohio), where Mr. Haywood was the head coach for two seasons.
Most of Pitt's current assistant coaches will be out of a job after the bowl game. Secondary coach Jeff Hafley did have the option to stay but chose to take a similar job at Rutgers.
Mr. Haywood had announced that he was bringing two assistants from Miami -- assistant head coach Bill Elias and offensive coordinator Morris Watts -- with him but neither signed contracts and it has been made clear that anyone whose employment at Pitt was associated with Mr. Haywood will not be a part of the future.
Mr. Nordenberg said in his statement that Pitt will immediately begin searching for a new coach.
The university hired Parker Executive Search firm in Atlanta to assist with the search the first time around, but it is not clear whether the firm's services will be retained.
And more importantly, while Mr. Pederson was essentially a one-man search committee in terms of identifying coaches to interview and consider the first time, it has not yet been discussed whether Mr. Nordenberg will be more involved this time or if the university will form its own search committee, a source close to the program said.
Mr. Pederson said he interviewed five coaches before hiring Mr. Haywood, but only four were known. In addition to Mr. Haywood, the candidates included Al Golden, the former Temple coach who went to Miami (Fla.), Tulsa coach Todd Graham and Houston coach Kevin Sumlin.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1158. Moriah Balingit contributed. First Published January 2, 2011 5:00 AM