Pederson's great expectations for Pitt do not faze Graham
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NEWPORT, R.I. -- Pitt was picked to finish second in the Big East Conference in a preseason poll of media members who cover the league, but, if it does, that is not likely going to be good enough for Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson, who has made it clear he thinks second place is the first loser.
But don't think for a moment that Pitt's new football coach Todd Graham believes the expectations of his boss are too high. In fact, Graham said his expectations might actually be higher than those of his notoriously tough boss.
"This is a program that won an average of nine games a year for the past three years," Graham said, "so that's a bare minimum for where we need to be. We can't go back and don't expect to. So, me coming here, the expectations are that we win championships. So, I embrace those expectations.
"I know those are not easy standards to meet, but I am excited about that. I can't worry about preseason polls, but I can tell you our expectations are to win championships. I want to win [Pitt's] 10th national championship, we want to win a BCS bowl championship and we want to win both on and off the field every single day.
"That's what my expectations are, and that's what our program is about."
Spoken like a guy who understands the stakes are very high right now for the Pitt football program as Pederson is anxious to see it reach the elusive "next level."
Pederson made that clear when he fired Dave Wannstedt despite the fact that the Panthers had won 27 games over the past three seasons, had been to three consecutive bowl games and last year shared the Big East title with West Virginia and Connecticut.
The decision to fire Wannstedt caused a split among Pitt fans, and some people believed Pederson and Pitt's administration were being unrealistic about the program's future.
Pederson disagrees with the idea that he is setting his coaches up to fail by setting such a high standard and said there is no point in investing in any program if you don't believe it can operate at a championship level.
"Todd is a guy who has very high expectations, which may be why we got along so well," Pederson said. "I learned a long time ago, you don't try to talk a coach down when he has high expectations of the program. He wants to win championships, and that's what we all want to do and he has a plan to do it.
"Our job is to support him and help him accomplish that. And he's never shied away from those expectations and, frankly, I don't think any of the great coaches ever shy away from high expectations."
Pederson's last statement may or may not have been a not-so-veiled shot at Wannstedt, who was notorious for trying to downplay expectations and never liked it when the Panthers were installed as the preseason favorites, but it is consistent with Pederson's approach with his coaches.
The most famous case, of course, is when Pederson fired Frank Solich as Nebraska's football coach after a 9-3 season.
When questioned about whether his expectations were too high or unrealistic there, he answered "this is the best job in the country, if you don't want to win the national championship, don't bother applying for the job."
Pederson's tone is less shrill now, but he makes no apologies for his belief that Pitt football should be so much more than it has been over the past three decades.
He also said the same critics who believe his expectations are too high for the program existed in 1999 when he hired Ben Howland to coach the basketball team and told the world Howland would lead the Panthers to a new era of championship-level teams.
"This institution has made such unbelievable progress over the last 15 years in every area," Pederson said. "But, if you are going to be one of the great public institutions in the country, there is no reason you can't be just as excellent in your athletic program."
Graham said Pederson's attitude about winning and his demands for excellence, along with the school's tradition, made the job extremely attractive to him because he, too, believes Pitt has a chance to be one of the best teams in the country.
First Published August 4, 2011 12:00 am