The search for Pitt's next football coach
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The coaching search at Pitt will enter into the second round of interviews as the committee concluded its first round Sunday by talking with Stanford assistant coach Greg Roman.
But as the second round of interviews are set to begin, Tulsa coach Todd Graham had emerged as the leading candidate as he and Pitt were in discussions over the weekend about the framework of a contract.
Graham had not officially been offered the job as of Sunday night but he did have two interviews with Pitt, and a source said officials at Pitt were trying to determine if they could put together a package that would make him consider the offer.
No deal was reached between the two sides and Graham's asking price, along with his buyout, was the reason he was eliminated from consideration in the first part of the search before Michael Haywood was hired.
Graham makes $1.3 million per year and told several people around him in December that he would need at least $1.8 million to consider the Pitt job. He also wants more money for his assistant coaches than Pitt was willing to pay, but a source Saturday said that number was "closer" than it had been.
Graham, however, also was involved in recent searches at Indiana and Minnesota, and his named is linked to the open Stanford position. Several sources have said he is a master of using open jobs as leverage in order to get a raise out of Tulsa, so it won't be a surprise if the deal is not able to get done.
If things fall apart with Graham, it would leave a host of candidates Pitt would consider for second-round interviews, and according to sources one of those finalists would be Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley.
But sources close to the process said that although Bradley is a strong candidate, he is not necessarily the leading remaining candidate behind Graham.
The other list of candidates who were interviewed includes Alabama assistant head coach Sal Sunseri, Florida International coach Mario Cristobal, Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, Roman and Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
Meanwhile, another coach's name leaked over the weekend according to several Pitt sources, and it is a coach with Pitt ties who has yet to be mentioned in the search.
Alex Van Pelt was Pitt's starting quarterback from 1989-92, and according to sources, he is also a candidate to be the Panthers' next head coach as he talked with members of the search committee last week.
Former Pitt player Teryl Austin was supposed to be interviewed Sunday but sources said he was in Los Angeles over the weekend and is a candidate for a coordinator's job at UCLA.
One source indicated Austin, who was Florida's defensive coordinator this past season, may have interviewed at Pitt last week but was unsure of when and where.
Bradley, however, was in Dallas Sunday and interviewed with officials from the University of Connecticut for their open head coaching position.
Van Pelt, 40, is currently the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterbacks coach and spent the past four seasons as an offensive assistant with the Buffalo Bills, and that includes one year as the team's offensive coordinator. He also played 10 seasons in the NFL as a back-up quarterback with the Buffalo Bills.
One of the all-time great quarterbacks in Pitt history, Van Pelt holds the school's record for career passing yards (11,267) and he also posted two of the best four passing seasons (passing yards) in school history. He threw for 66 touchdown passes.
Perhaps the high point of his career was when he led a 22-point rally in the Panthers' historic comeback from a 31-9 fourth-quarter deficit to force a 31-31 tie against West Virginia in 1989.
This season his work with Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman has drawn rave reviews, and his ties to the school along with his offensive philosophy caught the eyes of some key members of the search committee.
One issue which could arrive with Van Pelt is that he is also a candidate for several open offensive coordinator jobs in the NFL, though he owns property in Armstrong County and most likely would choose Pitt, if offered, over any other job.
First Published January 10, 2011 12:00 am