Pitt Gets Its Man


Posted Dec 24, 2004


Pitt’s search for a replacement for Walt Harris who left for Stanford came full circle on Thursday back to the schools first choice - Dave Wannstedt.

The former Miami Dolphins coach officially took over at his alma mater.

Wannstedt resigned as the head coach of the Dolphins on November 9 after the team got off to a 1-8 start. He finished with a 42-31 record in five-plus seasons as Miami's head coach. Including a six-year run with the Chicago Bears from 1993-98, Wannstedt has a mark of 82-87 as an NFL head coach.

After Walt Harris left Pittsburgh to take the head-coaching job at Stanford less than two weeks ago, Wannstedt immediately became the front-runner for the job. He withdrew his name from consideration last week, but talks with athletic director Jeff Long resumed this past weekend.

Wannstedt felt differently after talking to Long early in the week. The two talked extensively after that, and Wannstedt agreed to take the job after Long agreed to bump up the salaries for Pitt's assistant coaches.

"This opportunity is something I have dreamed about since my early coaching days at Pitt," said Wannstedt. "I am excited about rejoining the Pitt family and making a positive contribution and difference with the football team, the university and community."

Wannstedt, a native of Baldwin, Pa., a Pittsburgh suburb, has never been a college head coach, but spent 14 years as an assistant. He landed his first coaching job as a graduate assistant at Pittsburgh in 1975 after he had played tackle at Pitt from 1970-73 and was a captain his senior year. He was on the Pitt staff when the Panthers won the national championship the following year.

He moved on to Oklahoma State in 1979, then spent three years at Southern California starting in 1983. He left in 1986 to take the defensive coordinator position at the University of Miami-Florida, and the Hurricanes lost just two games while winning one national championship during his three years in Coral Gables.

Pitt AD Jeff Long had focused on Wannstedt when he began his coaching search, which lasted 10-days.

"The first time I met Dave Wannstedt, I was immediately struck by his pride and passion for the University of Pittsburgh," Long said. "Although Dave's long and successful coaching career has taken him many different places, his love for Pitt has remained. He not only understands our tradition but has also helped build it."

Like Long, the 52-year-old Wannstedt thinks Pitt can win a national championship and contend each year in the Big East Conference. He also thinks this will be his final head-coaching job, and isn't looking at it as a path back to the NFL.

''Nobody needs to tell me about Pitt's tradition,'' Wannstedt said.

``I lived it, experienced it, felt it. The passion that drives me is to return to the great days at Pitt.''

Time will tell if Pitt made the correct choice in Wannstedt, but let’s take a glance at how he matches up with a checklist I made for the Pitt Athletic Department after Walt Harris left. Pitt should hire a coach with:
  1. Charisma! -- Wannstedt beats Harris in this department hands down

  2. Someone who can intelligently speak to the media and deal with criticism and represent Pitt with class. -- Wannstedt is a polished public speaker and from his days in the NFL adept at handling the media.

  3. Someone who can recruit locally and mend some fences in western Pennsylvania. -- Wannstedt has been away from recruiting for 15-years, but I like his response to the recruiting question. "Nobody needs to get me caught up on what we're selling," Wannstedt said. "The university, the community, the tradition. I know it. I felt it. I lived it. In the NFL today you're recruiting 12 months a year anyway. You're talking to free agents, selling yourself and your program.

    "I know the importance of it. One of my strengths will be communicating with high school coaches. The high school coaches around here are outstanding, and they want to feel like they're part of this."

  4. Someone who can recruit all positions, such as lineman, instead of just skill position players. -- Wannstedt was a former offensive lineman and I think understands that the games are won with what is up front.

  5. Someone who can attract competent assistants and fire up the alumni, students and fans.-- Wannstedt was given the necessary funding to attract a competent staff. He exudes confidence and has already won over some of the players who were critical when Harris left. He clearly impressed QB Tyler Palko. "We think alike," said Palko, who predicted multiple national titles when he committed to the Panthers. "I was excited to hear him say that."

  6. Someone who can delegate authority without micro managing, who won't try to do 3 jobs when he is supposed to be competent as a head coach, first and foremost. -- Wannstedt learned from some of the best - Johnny Majors and Jimmy Johnson and having been a pro head coach I think he will be able to delegate authority.

  7. Someone who believes Pitt can be a Top Ten program (like those non-BCS coaches at Utah, Louisville & Boise St). -- Wannstedt’s 20-minute media session on Thursday centered on national championships (Wannstedt believes he can win a few), toughness ("I know we'll be a physical football team."), coming home ("I always knew I'd get back here.") and recruiting ("I would love the opportunity to talk to a recruit right now.").

  8. Someone who is not quick to blame others and accepts the responsibility of being captain of the ship. -- Wannstedt has already demonstrated his ability to accept the blame in his most recent stint with the Dolphins even though a lot of what happened in Miami wasn’t his fault.

  9. Someone who is not going to use Pitt as a stepping stone for another job elsewhere and is happy living in the `Burgh. -- Wannstedt was right up front about this question with the media. "I would plan on this being my last coaching stop," said the 52-year-old Wannstedt

  10. Someone who's off the field antics and his personal life will not be an embarrassment to the University.-- Wannstedt is a Pitt Panther and Pittsburgh through and through. He still says "yinz" and is a master of Pittsburgh-ese. His wife, Jan, was his high school sweetheart, another true blood Pittsburgher. He is the father of two daughters in their 20s and sees all those things as positives. He knows the city, knows the program and believes he's been entrusted with a great situation.



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