Cook: Recruiting edge nice; wins nicer

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I don't care that running back Shady McCoy nearly went to Southern California to become the next Reggie Bush. Or that guard Chris Jacobson of Keystone Oaks High School probably is the best offensive lineman in the state, or that Pat Bostick is one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the country, or that defensive end Tony Tucker could have gone to Tennessee, or that cornerback Sherod Murdock originally committed to Alabama or that all the experts say Pitt has the best recruiting class in the Big East Conference for the second year in a row.

I want to know when Pitt is going to win.

Hey, it seemed like the right question to ask coach Dave Wannstedt on national letter of intent day Wednesday.

"You've probably heard this from me before," Wannstedt said. "Jackie Sherrill always told us what Bear Bryant used to tell his guys. 'Players win games, boys. Not coaches. Go get me players.'

"We're getting players."

That wasn't exactly the answer I was looking for.

I was thinking more along the lines of:

"This year, absolutely. We're going to win big this year. Eight, nine, maybe 10 games. We're going to a big bowl."

Instead, I got:

"If you can recruit, you can win," Wannstedt said. "The winning will take care of itself.

"Coaching these guys is going to be the easy part for me. We've won wherever I've been. We've always been in the top 10 in defense. Let's not act like this is something new to me. We're going to win here."

Maybe it's the McCoy signing. He didn't give Pitt a sniff early in the recruiting process and almost certainly would have gone to USC if not for a serious ankle injury as a high school senior in Harrisburg. A year at prep school convinced him Pitt wasn't such a bad place.

Or maybe it's getting Jacobson and Tucker. They are the type of high-profile linemen that Pitt has struggled to recruit for years.

Or maybe it's Bostick ...

Those signings empower a coach.

That Pitt was able to get the players and a few others who should make an impact on the program -- "These guys are going to play; the film doesn't lie. ... They're coming here to win a championship," Wannstedt said -- is a tribute to Wannstedt's salesmanship and his staff's dogged work. Moms and dads warm to Wannstedt's likeable, enthusiastic personality. Their sons like his ties to the NFL. Recruits and their parents believe him when he says he knows how to get players to the next level.

Still, it's remarkable that Pitt was able to close the gap a bit on Big East rivals Louisville, West Virginia and Rutgers -- not to mention Penn State -- considering the heavy baggage it lugged into the recruiting process. One, it didn't win much in Wannstedt's first two seasons, didn't make a bowl game when it seemed as if every Troy and Middle Tennessee went to one. Two, it has a hard time putting fannies in the Heinz Field seats, such a difficult time that it has had to resort to running some crazy promotion that will give fans a second season ticket for $10. Three, it has an urban campus which turns off many recruits. And four, it's in a pro town and doesn't generate the same passion that, say, Florida, does in Gainesville and Ohio State does in Columbus.

"I can't wait until we start winning eight, nine, 10 games a year," Wannstedt said.

Logic says that will solve Pitt's problems.

"When we start winning nine games a year," Wannstedt said, "we're going to have some fun [recruiting]."

So back to the question of the day:

When is that going to happen?

The best guess here is not until 2008. Pitt has significant holes to fill at quarterback, linebacker and in the secondary now that Tyler Palko, H.B. Blades, Clint Session and Darrelle Revis are gone. It doesn't have many quality seniors once you get past offensive tackle Mike McGlynn and wide receiver Derek Kinder. Its road schedule next season is brutal with games at Michigan State, Virginia, Louisville, Rutgers and West Virginia.

But that doesn't mean there won't be pressure on Wannstedt to win at least seven games and get to a bowl next season. His first two seasons were huge disappointments in terms of wins and losses. Pitt went 5-6 in 2005 after playing in the Fiesta Bowl the year before. It went 6-6 last season, ending with a five-game losing streak. Only one word describes those results: Unacceptable.

Seven wins absolutely are doable for Pitt next season. Its home schedule is ridiculously soft, so unattractive that the majority of voters in a highly scientific Post-Gazette on-line poll said the visit by the Grambling band Sept. 8 was going to be the highlight. There's no reason Pitt shouldn't go 7-0 at home as long as Wannstedt finds a way to beat Navy and South Florida.

"I like our schedule the way it is," Wannstedt said, referencing the tough games at Louisville, Rutgers and West Virginia. "That means we'll have all those teams at home the next year."

So Wannstedt answered the question, after all.

2008.

That's the year Wannstedt is thinking Pitt will win big, even if he didn't come right out and say it.

There's just one more thing to add:

It had better happen by then.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1525.


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