Sunday, September 11, 2005

Wannstedt Fails on the Big Stage

Dave Wannstedt was hired to replace Walt Harris in January 2005. Harris had taken over a Pitt program that was in shambles in the early to mid 1990's and not much hope for the future. In just a couple of seasons, Harris was able to bring the Panthers back to respectability. While Harris did not do a good job of recruiting in Western Pennsylvania, he did bring in a number of solid recruits and built them into pros. Two of the finest examples are San Francisco 49ers running back Kevan Barlow and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, the third overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. While Harris left to take the head coaching job at Stanford, Wannstedt, an ex-Pitt lineman and assistant coach, was hired to replace him. Wannstedt began searching for a job in November after he was fired by the Miami Dolphins. "Wannstache" was suddenly anointed as the savior of Pitt football and he would make the program relevant for the first time since 1981, when #1 Pitt lost at home 48-14 to Penn State.

Now we are one game into the "Wannstache" Era at Pitt and the results couldn't be any better from my perspective (a Penn State fan and Pitt hater) or any worse from a Pitt perspective. The Panthers looked atrocious against a Notre Dame team that had clearly less talent than Pitt and Charlie Weis clearly outcoached Wannstedt. The Panthers play was sloppy and it seemed as though a player was running to the sidelines every other play because of cramps. Meanwhile Weis was able to put together a tremendous gameplan and attacked Pitt's secondary relentlessly. Standout Pitt linebacker H.B. Blades was a non-factor as Darius Walker ran all over the hapless Pitt defense. Both of Pitt's lines were completed dominated. For months people were predicting how Pitt was going to smoke the less talented Irish and I just kept on predicting a Notre Dame victory. Charlie Weis is a smart coach. He turned Tom Brady into a Pro Bowl QB and ran the offense for three Super Bowl winning teams. I never had any idea that the Irish were capable of absolutely demolishing the Pitt Panthers as they did on September 3rd.

I began writing this piece during the middle of last week and it was solely based on the Panthers losing to Notre Dame. Then on Friday night the absolutely unthinkable happened- Pitt lost to Ohio U 16-10 in overtime. Ohio U.? A team that most picked to finish near the bottom of the country upset the team considered to be second best in the Big East this season. The Panthers offense looked absolutely abysmal against the Bobcats. The running game never got going and the Bobcats were able to shutdown one of the best wide receivers in the country, Greg Lee. Pitt didn't score an offensive touchdown and both of Tyler Palko's interceptions were returned for touchdowns. Dave Wannstedt looked ready to jump off a bridge at the end of the game. Wannstedt's Pitt team looks headed for the seem downfall that the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins experienced with him at the helm. Wannstedt is a very good recruiter because of his and offensive coordinator Matt Caavanaugh's NFL experience but both are NFL failures and have so far led Pitt into regression. Pitt made the mistake of taking a chance to market the team to the local area rather than the long term health of the program. Wannstedt is a Pittsburgh guy and will pull in the blue collar, hardworking players from Western Pennsylvania but the Panthers aren't going to win unless Wanny is able learn from the past and figure out how the coach a game, not just teach the techniques. I predict that Wannstedt is out of Pittsburgh in five years or less and he will have left the program in the same devastated state that Walt Harris inherited it from Paul Hackett.

Somewhere in Palo Alto, Walt Harris has a big grin on his face. It probably doesn't hurt that Stanford won their first game under Harris against Navy, a team that won ten games last season.


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