Nick Kovacevic- Pitt’s Coaching Search Revisited

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The Pitt administration found their next head coach on January 11, 2011 in former Tulsa coach Todd Graham. Largely considered to be long shot due to the money he demanded, as well as the notoriously cheap Pitt athletic department, the school ponied up and payed Graham a reported five year, $10 million contract. While Pitt finally seems to have found its coach, the decision making process of the athletic department regarding the coaching search has been atrocious. Since Dave Wannstedt resigned on December 7, 2010, Pitt football has been a complete circus.

 Normally when college athletic departments change football coaches, there is an action plan in place, including a list of prospective coaches which have already been contacted by the university and show some interest. Steve Pederson did not do that. He handed Wannstedt his resignation with not the slightest clue as to who he might possibly hire as coach. He hired a search committee and informed them that his goal was a coach with “head coaching experience.” The search yielded the 34th coach in Pitt history, Mike Haywood. Sixteen days later,  Haywood was fired when he allegedly assaulted the mother of his child, causing a great embarrassment for the university. As a result, Pitt found itself looking for its third coach in a month.

Early on in the second head coaching search, the clear favorite to become coach was long time Penn State assistant Tom Bradley. Bradley, who has a residence in Pittsburgh, seemed a good fit because of his strong connections in the area as well as his success as a recruiter. He was seen as a man who could stabilize the football program and repair the damage caused by the Haywood incident. It even went so far as WTAE-TV leaking a report that Bradley had been hired on January 5, which was later denied by Pitt.  The false report seemed to have hurt Bradley’s chances, because after that point other candidates seemed to pick up momentum as Bradley fell back to the pack.

 As Tom Bradley’s name faded, Todd Graham soon became the leading candidate.  Interviews and negotiations all led up to Pitt hiring Graham on January 11.  While both Graham and Bradley were seemingly good choices by credentials, I thought that the latter might have been the better choice. Graham is well known for being easily wooed by bigger money, no matter his promises or commitments (he left Rice after one season in 2007 in favor of Tulsa). Graham coming to Pitt was simply a case of “the price is right.”  In Bradley, Pitt had a coach who was known for his loyalty and was someone who was unlikely to use the Panthers as a stepping stone.

While Pitt’s coaching debacle is over (for now), it will not be easily forgotten. Boosters and alumni will continue to call for AD Pederson’s head until he is either fired, or Todd Graham becomes the second coming of Paul Bryant. Pitt’s athletic department is a sad, inefficient operation which needs to be fixed. Hopefully with the hiring of Graham, they took a step in the right direction.