Friday, December 31, 2010

Pitt should fire both Haywood and Pederson

By Chris Dokish

With the news that new Pitt head coach Michael Haywood has been arrested for allegedly roughing up the mother of his child, Pitt should correct this horrible mistake once and for all.

How do they do that? First of all, they need to immediately fire both Haywood and AD Steve Pederson. Haywood is obviously going to get fired. You simply can't make a big deal about hiring somebody supposedly moral and honorable (instead of talented) then retain him after allegedly beating up a woman. Haywood is done. Finished. Not only at Pitt, but probably elsewhere. Mugshots have a way of killing a college coaching career, unless of course you are an elite talent, which Haywood never was. It was an atrocious, and embarrassing, hire to begin with.

That brings us to Pederson, who arguably is responsible for two of the five worst major college coaching hires in the last ten years. The man, simply put, is incompetent. His hiring of Ben Howland, always thought to be orchestrated by Sonny Vaccaro anyway, is looking more and more like a fluke every day. If Pitt does not fire him also then they will again look like an amateurish and clueless administration.

So what to do then? Personally I would make Frank Cignetti, Jr., or somebody similar, the interim head coach at somewhere in the range of $700,000. Nobody worthwhile is going to work for Pederson now, and if Pederson does get fired, it will take months to hire a new AD. Likewise, nobody worthwhile will work for a university that has no AD. For this reason I make somebody who is desperate the head coach and tell him that it's a one year deal on an interim basis. If he does a great job in that year then you make him your permanent head coach. If he does not succeed then the new AD will hire a competent head coach, hopefully this time somebody with credentials to coach at a BCS program and not somebody like the bargain basement Haywood.

Yes, it would be difficult to hire a competent staff and to get any kids to commit for that one year, but it is the best choice in a horrible situation. There will be no chance that Pitt will be able to hire an excellent coach at this time, pure and simple. What coach would want to join this debacle right now? No one, unless you throw a lot of money at them and we all know Pitt will never do that. They could only hire a journeyman coach before, and now the situation is even worse so it's ludicrous to think anything better than an interim coach will work. And even that may not work, but it's the only reasonable option if Pederson is fired. If he's not fired then it won't matter who they hire because the program is over as we know it.

In conclusion, the firing of Dave Wannstedt was the right thing to do. The hiring of Haywood was a disaster to begin with, and has obviously turned nightmarish. Following my plan seems the best way to try to bring some competence and sanity back into what has quickly become a disastrous program. But Pitt rarely has done the right thing. It could begin to change that by firing Haywood and Pederson. But this time, make the right hiring.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010


The 2010-2011 Big East regular season got underway on Monday night in Pittsburgh as No. 4 Connecticut tried to do what seven teams previously ranked in the top-5 failed to do before them - come into the Peterson Events Center and emerge with a victory. Pittsburgh was having none of that as the Panthers, ranked No. 6 in the country themselves, never trailed en route to a 78-63 win over the Huskies.

UConn entered the game as one of just eight unbeatens in the country at 10-0, but their first true road game of the season proved to be too tough against the experienced Pitt squad.

"We allowed a team, a very good team by the way, who plays very good defense to take us out of a lot of things that we did," Jim Calhoun said afterwards. "We lost some of the swagger that we needed to have to win the game.”

The Panthers, energized by a standing-room only crowd of 12,725, came out smoking with a 16-7 lead before the game was five minutes old, highlighted by a Gilbert Brown alley-oop slam off a pass in transition by fellow senior Brad Wanamaker. Six different players scored for Jamie Dixon's team in the opening five minutes and once the game settled down, it was the Pitt defense that took over the contest.

"First thing, I want to compliment Jamie," said Calhoun. "He had his team ready defensively and that’s what started it. I thought they just locked us up defensively. We aren’t a young team, but they made us make young plays."

The Huskies managed to connect on just 31.7% of their shots for the game and suffered through a 7:30 stretch in the second-half without a field goal.

With his young teammates struggling in what was their first Big East contest for many of them, Kemba Walker tried in vain to keep pace with the balanced Panthers. Walker, who entered the contest leading the NCAA in scoring with 26.5 points a game, scored 31 points and his personal 8-0 run over 1:59 cut a 15-point deficit to just seven, 62-55, with 5:29 left.

Walker would not score again and the Panthers answered the challenge with an 11-4 run and a pair of Travon Woodall free throws with 2:16 left capped the run, securing Pitt's 17th straight home victory, improving to 8-0 all-time at the Peterson Events Center against top-5 teams and their fourth win in the last five meetings with UConn.

"I thought we executed very well on both ends of the floor, and I really liked that we took good shots," said Jamie Dixon.

Pitt shot 52% from the field (25-48) and registered 19 assists on their 25 made field goals in the game. Ashton Gibbs led the way with 21 points and 7 assists while Brad Wanamaker added 14. The Panthers' starting frontcourt of Gary McGhee and Nasir Robinson also stood tall against the opposition.

"We moved the ball well and got our big guys some inside touches when they were in good position to really attack the basket," said Dixon. "I thought we were able to take better shots than they did on the interior, which is excellent because UConn has a very good post offense."

McGhee finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks while Robinson, making his first start of the season, finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists.

"He brings energy to the floor and he’s got that motor in him and it helps getting him on the floor early," said Gibbs of Robinson. "He’s real aggressive and he grabs a lot of rebounds."

Despite scoring 31 points, Kemba Walker had to work constantly for his opportunities. Before his individual run made things interesting, the UConn guard was just five of 18 from the field. He finished 10 of 27 in the game and was the only Husky in double figures.

"Kemba Walker is going to score, we just need to make him take tough shots,” said Dixon.

Walker made tough shots, but also forced some too as Pitt gave him some extra attention defensively, possibly a blueprint for other teams to follow ahead on the schedule.

“He made some tough shots and took the ball to the basket," said Wanamaker. "He’s a great player, but I thought we gave a good overall team effort on defense.”

The Panthers now have eight days to bask in the glow of starting conference play with a win over UConn. Pitt returns to action on Jan. 4 with a date at Providence, and they will look to improve upon the impressive showing.

"“It’s great for us," Wanamker said of beating UConn. "They’re a good team that’s playing good basketball and it shows us where we are and how we can improve.”

It's on. The 2010-2011 BIG EAST season is off and running!

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Haywood to become new Pitt coach

By Chris Dokish

People see what they want to see so just so there are no future comments directed my way if Haywood wins 9 or 10 games in the upcoming season or any future seasons, let me repeat that I have no idea if Haywood will reach that win total and I hope he does. I would love nothing more than to see Haywood succeed and bring Pitt to the heights I think they have in them.

The Panthers next season will have a veteran team and Haywood runs an offense and a defense similar enough to Dave Wannstedt that he very well could have a 9 or 10 win season next year. And there's no reason to hound me after every win with snide comments about how wrong I was. I will be the first to admit it if Haywood turns Pitt into a power, and I will be happy to do so.

But that's what it comes down to. Getting Pitt to elite status. That's the only reason to fire/let Wannstedt "resign" in the first place. And, in my opinion, that will take a special coach to move Pitt into that top 10 category. Of course Haywood may be able to do that. I just don't see it. That doesn't mean he won't average 8 or 9 wins a year, but the goal has to be a top 10 team if only for a few years. That's what happened at West Virginia and that's what happened at Cincinnati. And if Pitt can't afford such a coach then don't fire Wannstedt. Here's hoping I'm wrong and Pitt will have a couple of elite teams with Haywood because it's about time that Pitt lived up to their potential, at least for a little while.

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Haywood- Not an Upgrade

By Chris Dokish

Sadly it looks like Pitt's athletic director, Steve Pederson, and Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, once again failed in their latest golden opportunity to move the program to a higher level.

That's not to say that Haywood won't win at Pitt. Nobody knows how well he will do, or how awful he will do, until it happens. But he is not a hire that makes sense, and it clearly shows one of two things. One, Pederson and Nordenberg have no idea what they're doing. Or, two, they are cheap. Either way, this hiring should tell fans that winning big is not the goal of the University of Pittsburgh.

Why so down on Haywood? His resume may look good at first glance. He played at Notre Dame, and coached there, as well as Texas and LSU. He was the offensive coordinator at his alma mater under Charlie Weis. But look closer and see that he lost his play calling duties at Notre Dame. In 2007 he applied for the job at Houston but lost the job to Kevin Sumlin. The second choice was reportedly then 71-year Jack Pardee. He was also considered for the Northern Illinois job the same year, but they instead hired Jerry Kill. This season Haywood interviewed for the Minnesota job and lost out to Kill again. He also interviewed in the past for the job at Washington, where Steve Sarkisian was eventually hired, but according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer he was considered "just a peripheral candidate". He was recently mentioned for jobs at Indiana and Vanderbilt, but both schools decided to go elsewhere.

Eventually the soon to be 47-year old got hired by Miami where he started 1-11 then followed it up with a 9-4 record this year. That is obviously an amazing turn around that gets him much deserved applause. But one good year from a lifelong assistant does not make a big time coach. Turner Gill did a similar turnaround at Buffalo yet went 3-9 this season at Kansas.

Even Miami fans are stunned that Pitt would want a guy who has done so little. One look at their message board shows incredulous posts a week ago when their coach was first mentioned as a possible Pitt. A sampling of posts include:

"No university job worth taking (and Pitt is a job worth taking) is going to commit to a coach who has only been a head coach for two years, one of which was an 1-11 season. Haywood just doesn't have the resume yet."

"Haywood seems to be a rising star at this point, but Pitt isn't looking to grab a coach who has 10-15 career record and has finished last in his conference half the years he has been a coach."

"No offense to Haywood, I think he is good on the way to being great, but a big time program hiring him at this point in time would look like an act of desperation. 10-15, two years as a head coach, won a championship (which I don't want to cheapen). But, part of the truth of this season is that we were four or five plays away from under .500 on the year (Akron, Kent, BG. CMU..even Eastern had a lead on us in the 3rd quarter)."

"Think of it the other way and that this was a Pitt board. I would be furious if we hired a guy whose career record was 10-15 and got all his power taken away by Charlie Weis. Honestly, they are better than this (at least right now)."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement and these are from the fans who love him. When they can't even fathom why Pitt would make this hire, how are Pitt fans supposed to take it?

It's no secret that I thought Pitt could do better than Dave Wannstedt. Wannstedt was a great guy and to be honest, he was also a good coach. He just wasn't a great coach. Apparently Pitt thought the same thing. We know the administration did not get rid of Wannstedt because of his personality. They got rid of him because they thought they could do better on the field, which means more money.

So my question is this. Does Haygood mean more success, both on the field and in the bank account? I don't see how any reasonable person could say that. At best he is Wannstedt and if that's the case then they should have just kept Wannstedt.

Bottom line, Haywood may be a good person and may be a good college coach. But while he may look good in a suit and he talks like the educated man he is, West Virginia paid 2 million dollars a year to a crazy offensive genius who will probably lead them to many blowout wins and Big East championships. Once again Pitt had the chance to spend the money to get a great coach, Holgorsen or somebody else. Once again they chose the safe, cheap route. And once again they will probably be asked "why can't you be an elite program?" They will find the answer when they look in the mirror.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Nobody knows anything

By Chris Dokish

I've been asked why I haven't written anything about the search for Pitt's new football coach and the reason is because I don't know anything. Neither does anybody else. As Pitt often does, they keep very quiet about what they are doing. Why do you think I stopped writing about Pitt football full-time? It's because dealing with them is impossible. In fact, I've had better luck with every other basketball and football program I've ever dealt with.

I continue to get panicked emails from Pitt fans who say Pitt lost out on Al Golden and Dana Holgorsen, and that may very well be true. Or it may not be true. The truth is, there are no facts about who Steve Pederson is looking at. None.

Just using common sense, I assume Golden is somebody that Pederson talked to and I wouldn't be surprised if Pitt offered him the job. If they did, and they lost him to Miami then there is no reason to be ashamed. Miami has higher potential, period, end of story.

Why Pitt would want Golden is something completely different. Not everybody in Miami is enamored with the hiring of Golden, and I'm not sure how well he will do either. He has the rep of a great recruiter, a solid defensive minded coach, and a guy who will lead the program with class. In other words, Randy Shannon, who they just fired.

But at least at Miami Golden can win with his pro style. At Pitt, his chances were much less. Only the truly elite programs can win in a pro style because you need superior talent for that- Alabama, USC, Ohio State, etc. The non-elite programs who have won big over the last few years include WVU with Rich Rodriguez, Cincinnati with Brian Kelly, Oklahoma State, Oregon, TCU, and Boise State. All have run some form of spread offense. Programs like Florida and Auburn had the luxury of having elite talent and a pro style offense, and the result is apparent.

Back to class, that brings us to Dana Holgorsen. There have been published reports that Holgorsen was at one point meeting with Pitt, and maybe even the top choice. Or at least the co-top choice. Then all of a sudden, West Virginia swoops in and steals Holgorsen.

To me this seems obvious. Pitt clearly had problems with something about Holgorsen, a guy who lives in a Residence Inn and never signed a contract at Oklahoma State. Not that West Virginia still may not have gotten him over Pitt. If push came to shove, they may have shoved Bill Stewart right out the door immediately so that Holgorsen becomes head coach right away. But the fact that Holgorsen took the coach in waiting job from West Virginia tells me that he had no other head coaching offers. While West Virginia has proven that they are at least the equal of Pitt as a program, they aren't so scary good that Holgorsen would choose them with a years wait, over becoming the Pitt head coach immediately.

This brings us to one of my criticisms of Pitt over the years. And that's that they care way too much about a figurehead as a coach, instead of just hiring a great head coach. Obviously the ideal situation is to get a great head coach who is also a great person. But how many Jamie Dixons are there in the coaching world?

Of course nobody wants a bad guy to represent them, and truthfully if Holgorsen has some shameful skeletons in his closet, then good for Pitt and shame on West Virginia. But if he just seemed a little too "sleazy" for them then they are missing the boat. Sadly in college athletics today there are a lot more sleazeballs than Dixons. In fact, if you name the top ten most successful college football coaches currently you will see that a majority of them are't people you would want to hold your wallet for you.

The best case scenario is if Pederson lands a great coach who happens to fit their high moral standards, but to do that they have to pay since everybody else wants those guys, too. If you want a Chris Petersen or a Bronco Mendenhall then pay for them. If you can't pay for them then you are going to get a mediocre coach who represents the university well. Quality costs and it's time to decide how bad you want it. If Pitt isn't careful with this hire then it will be just be one more ride on the merry-go-round of mediocrity.

But maybe Pederson has targeted the man who he thinks is Pitt's next Jamie Dixon. And maybe he has had him all along. Bottom line, despite cries from fans that Pederson has failed, he hasn't yet. Maybe Pitt will come up with he money to get the perfect fit both on and off the field. But they better. Firing Dave Wannstedt was the right choice if they wanted to have more success on the field. But if Pitt can't find a better coach, and are more concerned with morals, then it was pointless to get rid of Wannstedt. Tom Bradley? Mike Haywood? Frank Cignetti, Jr.? I fail to see how they are any better than Wannstedt and consequently I don't see how the result could be any better. Right now the job of turning Pitt into a great program is only half done.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Realistic coaching candidates

By Chris Dokish

After seeing some ridiculous articles from supposedly informed writers (Teryl Austin? Russ Grimm? Chris Pederson? Greg Gattuso? Frank Cignetti, Jr.?), I decided to write an actual informed list of potential candidates. I touched on this in my article last week, but here is a more focused look.

Head Coaching Experience:

John Fox, Head Coach of the Carolina Panthers- It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that he will be fired after the season. His record in his nine years at Carolina is barely above .500, but he went to three NFC championship games and a Super Bowl. He also coached for both Pitt and the Steelers so he is familiar with the city. On the downside, he is 55 and may not want to go from the NFL at that age to college. Yes, Wannstedt did it, but it was his alma mater. Verdict- The last two coaches that Steve Pederson dealt with- Bill Callahan and Wannstedt- failed. Fox had more head coaching success than either but it's doubtful he would go from being a pretty successful NFL head coach to Pitt. He just doesn't need it.

Marvin Lewis, Head Coach of Cincinnati Bengals- Like Fox his firing seems imminent. Unlike fox his NFL career did not have moments of great success. On top of that, the off the field actions of Bengals players were troubling. At 52, he is a native of McDonald, PA, and was a linebacker coach for both Pitt and the Steelers in the 90s. He will easily find an NFL defensive coordinator job if he wanted it. Verdict- Who knows if he would want to be a head coach in college when he can be a defensive coordinator in the NFL? My guess is, he would rather be in the NFL.

Mike Leach, unemployed- The former Texas Tech head coach is a one man quote machine and managed to somehow make Texas Tech a power in a state where they are no better than the fourth option. Highly exciting offensive system loaded with wide receivers and passing. He currently has a bad reputation because he is suing both Texas Tech and ESPN, and got a lot of flak for putting the son of Craig James in a shed. But the truth is, his players didn't get into trouble, and they graduated. He's desperate to get back into coaching to prove himself. Verdict- He would provide instant excitement and filled houses thanks to his personality and high octane offense. But the perception of him is that of a crass country bumpkin(even though he graduated from the Pepperdine Law School), and Pitt has never been known to take somebody with a questionable reputation.

Al Golden, Head Coach of Temple- Former Penn State graduate and player who turned Temple into a winner. Was the Virginia DC previously and was the youngest DC in major college football when hired. He runs a West Coast offense and a defense that goes all out to stop the run first. Has pulled himself out of the running for many jobs over the years.- Verdict- His style is not one that will bring people into the stadium and he will have his eye on the Penn State job once it's open. If he's successful and would leave, that's bad enough, but leaving for Penn State would be even worse. For that reason, expect Pederson to pass.

Kevin Sumlin, Head Coach of Houston- He would be the first major head coach that Pitt has hired that was an African American. An offensive wiz, Sumlin has worked under Bob Stoops, R.C. Slocum, Mike Price, and Dennis Erickson. He runs a high powered run and shoot offense that turned Case Keenum into a bonafide Heisman Trophy candidate. Was 18-9 in his first two seasons at Houston, including 10-4 in his second year, but went 5-7 this year when Keenum and his backup both were lost for the season in the third game of the year. Signed a new 6 year, 6.8 million dollar contract in January. Verdict- Features a high powered offense and has shown that he can be a good head coach. Serious candidate.

Bronco Mendenhall, Head Coach of Brigham Young- At 44, he is one of the best young coaches in the country. His six year record at Provo is 55-21, including an incredible four year span of 43-9. He ended the regular season this year at 6-6 but some in Utah thinks it was his best coaching performance. He replaced his DC with himself early in the year then followed by winning 5 of his last 7 games, including a one point loss to Utah. Verdict- While he doesn't make huge money now, BYU has deep pockets. If Pederson wants him, it may cost. But he is considered a star and it may be worth it.

Todd Graham, Head Coach of Tulsa- First college job was for Rich Rodriguez, where he coached linebackers in his first season and was co-DC and in his second season. He then became the Tulsa DC under Steve Kragthorpe. Got his first head coaching job at Rice where he took them to a 7-6 record after they finished 1-10 the season before. After signing a contract extension he bolted two days later to become the Tulsa head coach. He received a lot of criticism for the move. At Tulsa, he is currently 35-17 in his fourth season. Has a pretty good salary for a mid-major program. Verdict- Interesting candidate but he claims that he's not interested in moving out of Tulsa where he has three children attending the university. Of course they all say that.

Brady Hoke, Head Coach of San Diego State- This name comes up a lot not only with Pitt fans but with the virtually every program that has an opening. He got his buzz because of turning around both Ball State and San Diego State, and while he turned around Ball State with a 12-1 record, it took until his six season and his record at the school was 34-38. He has done a fine job of turning around San Diego State with an 8-4 record this season. Verdict- His overall record is 46-50 and I doubt that Pederson will be impressed enough.

No Head Coaching Experience:

Dana Holgorsen, Offensive Coordinator at Oklahoma State- One of the hottest coordinators in the country right now. A disciple of Hal Mumme and Mike Leach, but he incorporates more running into his offense then they do. Prior to this season, he was Sumlin's OC at Houston and many think that it was he, and not Sumlin, that was responsible for Houston and Keenum's success. Prior to Houston he spent seven seasons at Texas Tech with Leach (when Pederson was in the conference at Nebraska). This season Oklahoma State entered the season with no proven receivers, a starting running back that missed the end of last season with an injury, and a quarterback that hadn't started a game in nine years. All Oklahoma State did was lead the country in total offense. Verdict- Need I say any more? he has all the potential to be an excellent head coach.

Paul Chryst, Offensive Coordinator at Wisconsin- If there's one college assistant who appears to be primed to be a successful head coach it's the 45-year old Chryst. Yes, he was born in Madison and went to Wisconsin, but Bret Bielema is just 40 years old and he's not going anywhere soon. Despite operating a run oriented offense, Wisconsin has led the Big Ten in offense for the past two seasons and this year the Badgers have put up ridiculous offensive numbers in the usually conservative Big Ten. As the OC at Oregon State in 2003 the Beavers became the first team in NCAA history to have a 4,000 yard passer, a 1,500 yard rusher, and two 1,000 yard receivers.

Mark Stoops, Defensive Coordinator at Florida State- The Stoops are the college football equivalent of the Staal brothers in the NHL, but that's only because they keep being successful. Stoops, 43-years old and a Youngstown native, is in his first season as a DC for Florida State, and he improved their scoring defense from 94th to 11th this season. Previous stops have included Arizona where he was the DC from 2004-09.

My choices in order:

1. Mike Leach
2. Bronco Mendenhall
3. Dana Holgorsen

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Wannstedt out

By Chris Dokish

In a bit of surprise, Dave Wannstedt has been fired as the University of Pittsburgh football coach. The surprise was not that it was done but that it was done this season. As I wrote in my last article, the Pitt administration needed to be aggressive, and fire Wannstedt, and they have answered the call. Next is to be just as aggressive in who the replacement is. No word yet on who the possible replacement will be, but my (realistic) pick last week was Dana Holgorsen, and I still stand by that as an option.


Names that will be mentioned that I wouldn't want or Pitt will never hire:

Al Golden- Will always be looking at Penn State, runs conservative schemes on both offense and defense, performance at Temple a little overrated because Temple moved down to a lower level of competition.

Marvin Lewis- He couldn't even keep professionals out of trouble, how the hell can he keep college kids out of trouble?

Rich Rodriguez and Skip Leach: They may as well be Satan as far as Pitt is concerned.

Russ Grimm: Nice guy, Pitt guy, local guy, NFL experience, boring. Sound familiar?

Chris Pederson: I have a better chance of coaching Pitt next season. He has a better job and makes more money than Pitt will offer.

Gus Malzahn: Auburn OC will get a better job, probably in the SEC, and already makes more money than Wannstedt made this season.

Tom Bradley: The most overrated head coaching candidate in Pitt history. If he was so great he would be coaching somewhere by now.

Brady Hoke: Pitt can do better. And how do you sell a guy with a 38-46 career record?

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