Wannstedt out as coach, to stay at Pitt
Surrounded by his players, Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt announces his resignation Tuesday at the team's South Side facility. He will remain in the athletic department in a non-coaching capacity.
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Dave Wannstedt resigned under pressure Tuesday as the University of Pittsburgh's head football coach, but he will remain at the school in a new position as the special assistant to athletic director Steve Pederson.
Pitt made the decision to change coaches on the heels of a disappointing season despite the fact that the Panthers finished with a winning record (7-5) and earned a spot in the Jan. 8 BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.
"I want to say on behalf of everyone at the University of Pittsburgh, 'thank you' to Dave Wannstedt for everything that he has done during his tenure as our head football coach," Mr. Pederson said. "He is the consummate Pitt man, he is the consummate gentleman and we certainly value everything he has done for us."
Mr. Pederson said he would start an immediate national search for a new head coach, and that he would look for someone of the "highest character," among other attributes.
He also said Mr. Wannstedt had been given the option of coaching the Panthers in the bowl game, but that Mr. Wannstedt had not made a decision yet.
Although not enough big victories, too many bad losses and losses in big games over the years were the main reasons for the decision, sources said the administration was also upset that four football players were arrested over a two-month period at the start of the season, giving the perception that Mr. Wannstedt had lost control of the program.
The administration, and in particular Mr. Pederson, had made filling Heinz Field for games one of his top priorities. They were disappointed in that area as the team regularly had between 10,000 and 20,000 no-shows at many games.
According to one source, the final straw for Mr. Wannstedt was Pitt's, 35-10, loss to West Virginia on Nov. 26, a game that knocked the Panthers out of any realistic chance of earning the Big East Conference's automatic Bowl Championship Series bid.
According to multiple sources, Mr. Wannstedt, who had signed a contract extension through 2014 following last season's 10-3 record, met with Mr. Pederson yesterday and was informed that he would be relieved of his coaching duties, a decision with which he did not agree. But he was given the option to resign and remain a part of the university family that has been such a large part of his life.
Pitt hastily called a news conference late on Tuesday afternoon, but when Mr. Wannstedt took the podium, he was quickly surrounded by players and some assistant coaches in a show of support, and he became emotional as he spoke.
He had some things written down but went off script and said, "I appreciate the opportunity that [Chancellor] Mark Nordenberg and this university gave me to come here and win games and, most importantly, try to make a difference in these young men's lives."
Mr. Wannstedt, who declined further comment via text message later in the evening, then turned to his players and said "let's go have a team meeting." They then left the room and went downstairs to the locker room.
Then Mr. Pederson took the podium, made a brief statement and answered a number of questions, but was evasive when he was asked why Mr. Wannstedt was stepping down and whether he was asked to step down.
Mr. Pederson continued to say it was a conclusion that he and Mr. Wannstedt came to after a number of discussions that took place between Saturday after the Panthers final game and Tuesday.
"At the end of the season we sat down and talked about the entire season," Mr. Pederson said. "We felt that this was the appropriate time to have that discussion [about Wannstedt resigning], and it seemed to make sense; and he decided to step down and assume this new role in our athletic department.
"This was a hard season; this was a tough year all the way around, both on and off the field, and it wears on everybody. And I think as we talked about it and so forth, it just became the right time to think about all of this. It made the most sense to do it now."
Mr. Pederson said the reason that the decision was being made now instead of after the Panthers bowl game, was so Pitt could get a jump on bringing in a new coach.
There is also a recruiting issue. Recruits can sign a national letter-of-intent starting on Feb. 2, which would mean a new head coach hired after the bowl game would have less than a month to put together a staff and recruit players.
The new coach will have plenty of work to do to secure a strong, 18-player recruiting class that already has been assembled by Mr. Wannstedt, but they are only oral commitments and not binding.
One of those players, Clairton standout quarterback/defensive end Desimon Green, said he was supposed to have a home visit with Mr. Wannstedt and defensive line coach Greg Gattuso.
"Coach Gattuso said he and coach Wannstedt were going to make their in-home visit at my house [Tuesday night]," Mr. Green said. "So I guess they had no idea."
Mr. Wannstedt, who was 41-32 in six seasons as coach, also reportedly met with several staffers Tuesday morning before he met with Mr. Pederson, to discuss their roles next year and expectations for next season.
"We're pretty good friends and have had open discussions about a lot of things," Mr. Pederson said when asked if he forced Mr. Wannstedt's decision. "Any discussions we've had are between him and I. But we reached a good place for him and for the university. Dave's coached his whole life, when all of the sudden you are not going to coach anymore, it is hard on anybody."
Mr. Pederson was then asked a follow-up question: "Could [Mr. Wannstedt] have come back next year if he wanted to return as head coach?"
"Well, the conversations that we had are between Dave and I, and only Dave and I were in those conversations," he said. "And I think we both arrived at that conclusion."
Although Mr. Wannstedt never won the Big East championship outright or got to a BCS bowl, which was his stated goal when he took over for Walt Harris after the 2004 season, he did accomplish a number of things for the program.
Pitt is in the midst of a three-year stretch of going to bowl games, only the third time since 1970 that Pitt has gone to multiple bowl games in a row. The Panthers are also 26-12 in the past three seasons, and those 26 victories represent the most in a three-year stretch by a Pitt team since the 1981, '82 and '83 teams.
The Panthers also went 5-2 in the Big East in each of the past three seasons, the first time they'd won at least five conference games three years in a row.
He also led the Panthers to one of their greatest wins ever -- as well as one of the biggest upsets in college football history -- when the Panthers defeated No. 2-ranked West Virginia, 13-9, at Morgantown in 2007. At the time, Pitt was 4-7, and it knocked WVU out of the BCS National Championship Game.
Mr. Pederson said there would be internal and external candidates for the head coaching position. He said that while he preferred the candidate have head coaching experience, he was open to top assistants as well.
"We want somebody who believes in the mission of the University of Pittsburgh and a history of success and been a part of successful programs," he said. "We want someone who can recruit successfully and somebody who believes we can win championships here."
First Published December 8, 2010 12:00 am