Miami Applauds Michael Haywood On His Way Out Door to Pittsburgh
As Michael Haywood walked out of what would be his final team meeting as the head of the Miami-Ohio football team, his players gave him a standing ovation.
It was an unexpected response from a team that had just been told that its head coach, who had turned the RedHawks from a 1-11 doormat to a 9-4 Mid-American Conference champion, was bolting forPittsburghafter just two years in Oxford, Ohio.
Most players and athletic directors might have felt abandoned and bitter, but Miami-Ohio took the high road, celebrated the success of its coach and knew that the team Haywood left was far better than the one he inherited.
"If you had told me two years ago that we're going to give you a coach but you're only going to have him for two years, but he's going to deliver a conference championship and take you to your fourth bowl game in the last 30 years, I would have taken that and run with it," Miami-Ohio athletic director Brad Bates said. "And that's exactly what Michael Haywood's done. And because of that, he's created an opportunity now for a very, very bright future for Miami football."
Haywood is the third Mid-American Conference coach to leave for the greener pastures of an automatic-qualifying school, but he's also the most surprising. Miami-Ohio won just one game last year and largely wasn't competitive in all the others.
After spending the offseason revamping the staff, the rules and the way the coaching staff interacted with the players, Haywood started to get everyone on the same page. The RedHawks worked their way into the conference championship and then upsetNorthern Illinois, which had not lost a conference game.
"We were definitely one year ahead of the pace because we thought this was a team that we were going to have next year," Haywood said. "I believe because of the leadership of the assistant coaches, the leadership council, the captains and the seniors that we progressed a lot further because they started to believe a lot earlier and had a lot more faith in themselves and confidence in themselves. And then they gained belief in their teammates and played well together."
Haywood's interviewing process went quickly.
"From my very first meeting with Michael Haywood, it was obvious that the qualities he exhibited were in line with the values of this great university." -- Steve Pederson, Pitt athletic directorPittsburgh contacted Haywood on Dec. 9, less than a week after the RedHawks stunning upset of NIU. Haywood and Pittsburgh officials met at 9:30 the next morning in Cincinnati. Two hours after the interview, Pittsburgh officials called and said they wanted to meet again. Pitt flew Haywood to Pittsburgh on Dec. 14 and he spent the day meeting with athletic director Steve Pederson, chancellor Mark Nordenberg and a couple other members of the athletic department. As he was flying back to Oxford on Wednesday, Pittsburgh called and offered him the position.
"From my very first meeting with Michael Haywood, it was obvious that the qualities he exhibited were in line with the values of this great university," Pederson said during Haywood introductory press conference.
Haywood said it took him 30 seconds to accept the job and then he called all his assistants off the recruiting trail and asked his players to come in for a meeting later that evening.
The meetings with coaches and even Bates weren't nearly as hard on Haywood as meeting with his players. After a miserable first year, he somehow got his players to believe in him and the system. Miami-Ohio is currently enjoying its best season since 2003 when it went 13-1 behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
"I explained to (the players) that this is the most difficult situation that I have been in since I arrived at this university and the hardest thing for me to do," Haywood said. "It was really emotional. I explained to them how they had changed the culture and in changing the culture how much better men they had become ... and then I told them how much I love them and how much I'll miss them."
Haywood told his players that he wasn't shutting the door. He wasn't changing his cell number. If they needed anything -- ever -- he encouraged them to call.
Haywood signed his contract with Pitt at 11:45 p.m. that day and began to clean out his office.
By 12:45 p.m., the next day, Haywood was gone. He caught a flight to Pittsburgh to begin his new job. He won't coach in either team's bowl game, but he'll be at the BBVA Compass Bowl with Pitt on Jan. 8. His days are now spent in meetings with various personnel at Pitt as well as identifying a staff. He's also recruiting.
Just a few days after he accepted the position, Miami-Ohio is very much in the rear view.
Bates said when he interviewed Haywood for the Miami-Ohio job two years ago, he knew there was a chance that he could bail on the program early. Haywood had a strong coaching background that included assistant coaching stints at Notre Dame and LSU. But Bates proceeded anyway, hoping that when Haywood left, he'd leave Miami in a good place.
"Michael has done more than we hoped he could do in a two-year period," Bates said. "I was not worried about duration other than expediting our next championship. So, I don't know when we were looking at him if I was worried he would leave because I knew he would leave to another program that was for very good reasons relative to Miami football."
Had Miami-Ohio not done as well as it had this year, Haywood said he would have never considered leaving. When he took the Miami-Ohio job, he had specific goals in mind and he didn't want to leave unfinished business.
So as he turned out the lights to his office and ultimately his Miami-Ohio coaching career, he had no regrets.
"It's a much better job now than when I applied for the job because of the foundation, and they'll be able to go out and hire a much better coach than myself," Haywood said. "Now, it's going to be a job that a lot of people want and they're going to hire a guy that can be a better coach than me."