Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dave Wannstedt Resigns at Pittsburgh

Dave Wannstedt has resigned from his position as football coach at Pittsburgh.

Wannstedt had been coaching his alma mater since 2005. He was 42-31, including 24-18 in the Big East. In 2010, the Panthers qualified for their third consecutive bowl appearance under Wannstedt but took a big step back from the previous two seasons, when the Panthers went 9-4 and 10-3, respectively.

"On behalf of the University of Pittsburgh, I'd like to thank Coach Wannstedt for his passionate and committed service the past six years," athletic director Steve Pederson said in a statement. "This has never been just a job for Dave. He is wholeheartedly committed to Pitt and its people. We are greatly appreciative of his efforts to build a strong program on and off the field."

Sources told that the decision to resign was not Wannstedt's. Under Wannstedt, the Panthers routinely were rated by the recruiting experts as annually signing the Big East's top recruiting classes, but that success didn't translate onto the field.

In Wannstedt's first three seasons, the Panthers suffered some head-scratching losses, including at Ohio (16-10) in 2005, vs. Michigan State (38-23) in 2006, at Virginia (44-14) in 2007 and vs. Navy (48-45) in 2007. However, Wannstedt's signature moment came in the 2007 finale at West Virginia when the Panthers, who were 29-point underdogs, upset the Mountaineers 13-9, costing WVU a spot at the BCS title game.

That momentum quickly died as the Panthers opened the 2008 season with a 27-17 home loss to Bowling Green.

This season Pittsburgh was an overwhelming favorite to win the Big East, returning star running back Dion Lewis, wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin and defensive end Greg Romeus. The Panthers received 22 of 24 first-place votes in the media's preseason Big East poll and were ranked No. 15 in the preseason Associated Press poll.

At Newport, R.I., this summer, I asked Wannstedt his thoughts on being pegged as the league favorite.

"I don't like it," Wannstedt told me.

Now we know why. The Panthers opened the season with a 27-24 overtime loss at Utah and never recovered.

Pitt started the season 2-3 with losses to Utah, Miami (31-3) and Notre Dame (23-17). The Panthers' only non-conference wins were against FCS member New Hampshire (38-16) and Florida International (44-17).

The Panthers opened Big East play with three consecutive victories against Syracuse, Rutgers and Louisville, before losing at UConn 30-28. The Panthers rebounded with a 17-10 win at South Florida and controlled their destiny in the Big East title race.

However, Pitt was routed in the Backyard Brawl against rival West Virginia 35-10. Last week the Panthers closed the regular season with a 28-10 win at Cincinnati to finish in a three-way tie for the Big East title with UConn and West Virginia. UConn won the league's tiebreaker to receive the Big East's automatic BCS bowl berth, while the Panthers (7-5) slid to the BBVA Compass Bowl, the league's fifth bowl selection.

"The past six years have been among the most gratifying of my entire career," Wannstedt said in a statement. "To be the head coach at my university was the realization of a lifelong dream. It has been an honor and privilege to serve Pitt and its football program.

"I've always told our players that the University of Pittsburgh will mean more to them than just four years of school and football. It will influence and inspire everything they do long after their last class and final game. I know that firsthand. I owe so much of my life to the education and experiences I had here. Pitt has always been, and will continue to be, an incredibly special place for my family and me."

Pitt will play Kentucky (6-6) in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., on Jan. 8. Although Pitt could have a coach hired by the bowl game, Wannstedt has the option to coach in it, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. If he doesn't Frank Cignetti, the Panthers' offensive coordinator, will be the Panthers' interim coach until Wannstedt's replacement is named.

Pederson indicated in a statement that a national search for Wannstedt's successor will begin immediately.


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