Syracuse's Greg Robinson and Pitt's Dave Wannstedt were hired after the 2004 football season and are defense-minded head coaches with extensive backgrounds in the NFL. The hope was that they would restore the Orange and Panthers to glory.
For that reason, the two are linked in the Big East, but they also are linked because neither has had a winning season or led his team to a bowl game. The two have a combined record of 22-52 against Division I-A competition (Wannstedt is 15-21; Robinson is 7-31).
Fans' criticism of Robinson is similar to criticism of Wannstedt -- too conservative and too much of an NFL mentality.
Pitt (2-1) plays Saturday at Syracuse (1-3) in the Big East opener for both teams. There is no question both coaches could use a win, followed by a bunch more, to turn their programs around.
Both coaches, however, deflected questions about their futures and the fact that they are often lumped together in discussions about the state of the Big East.
"You just deal with it," Robinson said yesterday when asked how he handles criticism and disappointment of losing. "I could get into a long philosophical thing, but I am not interested in doing that right now. It is really not about that. It is about getting ready to play Pitt. If we can get to 1-0 in the Big East with a bye coming up, I think that is helpful to us. That is really what my focus is on."
Wannstedt, asked if he has talked to Robinson about their common struggles, answered, "We really haven't. I see him at the league meetings for a day or two, but you don't talk about programs and things like that. I mean, for me to talk about it now, we don't have enough time. Those things happen."
On Monday, Syracuse athletic director Darryl Gross said Robinson will be fired at the end of the season if the team fails to show "obvious progress."
"It isn't working out," Gross told ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel. "It's very disappointing. ... He has some work to do in front of him."
Gross continued: "We got so many good things going on here. The 800-pound gorilla is football."
"Everyone wanted the guy's head last year. I said I didn't want Syracuse to become one of those three-years-and-out schools. I said, 'Let's calm down and [if needed] we'll get the first pick of the draft [of coaching candidates] next year.' That's where we are."
"He's tried to hang in there. He gets a lot of crap. I understand it"
On Monday, Wannstedt attributed Pitt's inconsistency to lack of execution and failure to take advantage of opportunities.
Senior receiver Derek Kinder, who leads the team with 11 receptions and has Pitt's only touchdown reception, said the offense is only a couple of plays from having a breakout game.
"That's exactly it: We are at a point where it is all execution," Kinder said. "When we went back and looked at [the videotape], there were a couple of plays where, if we made one block, LeSean [McCoy] would have been one on one with a safety and that's what we want. And really it is just little minor things like that, things we can really clean up, and it is not really play-calling or anything like that, so everything is looking promising."
Paul Zeise can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1720.