Dave Wannstedt (DW) gave an in-depth interview to Allan Saunders of the Pittsburgh Sports Now blog on Tuesday. It was a good look at what an experienced head coach thinks and feels about the profession and about Pitt football in general.
For the newcomers to Pitt fandom Dave Wannstedt was a Pittsburgh born and bred Pitt football player who had starred at local Baldwin HS. He played in the early 1970s and was one of the offensive lineman who opened holes for Tony Dorsett to run through. He was a good ballplayer and worked hard to receive his Masters Degree from Pitt before he went onto a NFL career.
After his playing career ended he entered the staff coaching ranks, eventually grabbed onto Jimmy Johnson shirttails and rode them into head coaching jobs with the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears. After those gigs finished Pitt hired him in 2004 to replace the fired Walt Harris and the rest is history (of sorts).
He coached Pitt for six years starting in 2005. Under his command we had our best three year run in 30 years when the team’s 2009-2010 years were consistent winning seasons. His high point at Pitt was a 10 win season in 2009.
Yet conference championships eluded him and he left the university under negative circumstances (on everyone’s part) due to acrimony between him and the Pitt administration. That split was based on off the field issues and his inability to win the games that we needed to win to have championships.
He was a coach beloved by his players and fans yet just couldn’t really make it work at his alma mater.
Dave Wannstedt is out as Pitt football coach following a disappointing season in which the Panthers were big favorites to win a weak Big East Conference, only to finish 7-5 and qualify for a minor bowl.
Wannstedt resigned under pressure Tuesday, three days after Pitt (7-5) salvaged its regular season by beating Cincinnati 28-10. The former Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins coach, highly respected by Pitt’s administration, will remain at the school as a special assistant to athletic director Steve Pederson.
That ‘resigned under pressure’ is a slant Pitt put out for the public. Wannstedt was, for all intents and purposes, fired but for him to get his full contractual benefits Pitt allowed him to stay attached for a few months. That was six years ago, a lifetime in the world of college ball, so it is interesting to read what is the longest interview I have seen him do since leaving Pitt.
There are a few things that jump out to me here in this interview. I have to list his comments about ‘winning’ right up front because I spit out my coffee every time I read it. Here is what DW said:
In fact, about the only cautionary thing Wannstedt said was that it was possible the Panthers could win too soon. Because of experienced returning players like James Connor, Peterman and Ejuan Price, the Panthers might contend a little bit before they’re ready to.
“I think you just have to be careful that you don’t win too soon,” he said. “If you win too soon, all the sudden, everyone expects more the next year.
Do I need to print that again so you are sure you saw what you think you saw? Yes, he actually said “…everyone expects more the next year“. Shhhh, nobody show that quote to Narduzzi.
The hilarious and superbly ironic thing about his saying that is the fact that he inherited a BCS bowl team with a solid nucleus of good players, including a great QB in Tyler Palko… then didn’t have a winning season or get to a bowl game until his fourth year:
The Panthers didn’t have a winning record during Wannstedt’s first three seasons, then failed to meet expectations even while going 9-4 in 2008 and 10-3 in 2009. Last-minute losses to West Virginia and Cincinnati to end the 2009 regular season cost Pitt the Big East title and a BCS berth after the Panthers moved into the AP Top 10.
You readers will come to understand I don’t hold Dave Wannstedt in highest opinions but even I couldn’t have written a scenario where he’d make an ass out of himself as he did with that singular quote.
Hell, I’m getting that inked right next to the “We have to run faster” tattoo I have across my lower back.
I’ve already mailed out a hand- written thank-you note to Dave for that one… and really, you can’t make stuff like that up.
But aside from that unfortunate phrasing DW also makes some very good points about the team as he sees it and he expounds on why he thinks things will quickly progress under Pat Narduzzi. He especially likes the defensive mindset of Narduzzi which makes sense because that was his also forte’ when he was here.
Back in those good winning years of 2008, ’09 and ’10 Wannstedt’s defense held the opponents to 21.5 ppg, 19.8 ppg then 19.0 ppg respectively which, in 2010, was good for 15th nationally. He went out and got hard nosed and tough against the run defensive lineman and smart linebackers. Which is exactly what we expect to see from Narduzzi over the next few years – with the addition of fast defensive backs who Narduzzi churned out to the NFL when he was at MSU.
DW also says this about the offense:
With arrows pointing up for the Panthers, the next step toward building on last season’s 8-5 effort is a Coastal Division title. Wannstedt thinks that’s possible, because of the solid foundation on defense and the play of senior quarterback Nate Peterman.
“I think their defense is going to be solid, but the biggest thing I think they have going forward to next year is the play of the quarterback,” Wannstedt said. “I think that Peterman is playing as good as any quarterback since I was there, I know that.
This kid makes a lot of plays, he gets them out of a lot of bad situations. He’s got the arm, he makes good decisions and at times, he’s been athletic enough to make a play with his feet
You all know I feel Peterman played well this year and I just today made a beer bet with a reader that Peterman will beat Palko’s productive year of 2004. Here is the wager:
I’ll go on record right now and say Peterman will have the most productive year at QB Pitt has had since 2004 with Tyler Palko when Palko threw for 3067 yards with 27 TDs and 7 INTs.
Bet you a beer right now Peterman tops those yardage #s and TD #s.
And I mean every word of it. Wannstedt isn’t the only one in the know who really likes Peterman – his offensive coordinator does also. We are going to score a bunch of points this season my friends and it won’t all be on the ground.
There are some things that DW really knows what he is talking about because he held those strengths himself. In addition to his thoughts about the D and QB above he also believes Narduzzi is the right recruiter for us and is doing it the right way :
One of the biggest factors in Narduzzi’s recruiting success has been his energetic personality and ability to connect with kids in a way that others have failed to do. Wannstedt thinks the key to Narduzzi’s success is that his amped-up style isn’t a front. He recruits the way he always is, and that passion is attractive.
“Kids are smart nowadays,” Wannstedt said. “They can tell if a head coach’s personality is not to be overly enthusiastic, and then all the sudden he is when he’s in the home recruiting them. I think players see that. High school coaches see through that. In Pat’s situation, it’s genuine. I think he has an enthusiasm about everything he does.”
DW echoes what I have heard every fan say since the day Narduzzi was hired – that there isn’t a phony bone in our current HC’s body. We have seen that energy crackle out since Narduzzi hit the tarmac running when his plane from East Lansing touched down.
Dave Wannstedt is an interesting cat. He is as genuine as it gets and tries to please everyone (too much when it came to his player though I strongly feel). But you can tell he loves Pitt and that is a good thing. Pitt’s program, struggling and directionless as it has been since Wannstedt left, needs the well-known alumni players and coaches to come back and be part of the program’s way forward (and up hopefully).
Not only does that show their interest in the team and the players but it also shows the kids on the roster that one can have great success if they stick with the program, go to class and study their craft. DW had a saying when he was coaching on the Southside that stated “You Stay, You Play” and I liked that very much.
He wasn’t the type of callous coach who discarded marginal players just because they weren’t on the two deep by the time they were juniors as so many of the ‘bigger’ programs do. DW and Pitt had an unwritten policy that if the players did what was required by the university’s rules and regulations they would have their fours years needed to get a Pitt degree. I think that is a wonderful thing to have in place and DW held to that.
It is no coincidence that everyone likes it when Wannstedt stays in touch with the university and does interviews like this one – and let’s be honest he’s mellowed a lot since the year 2011 when he took every opportunity to degrade other Pitt people on the airwaves.
I’ll say again that I have had very strong opinions about Dave Wannstedt’s tenure as the Pitt HC. Yet I also have to be honest and recognize that his time here was, just like in real life for all of us, peppered with both positive and negative decisions and actions. The parting of the ways between he and Pitt was, to put it simply, a show of egos and idiocy on both sides and reflected very poorly on the principals involved, the athletic department and the school as a whole.
Blame had to be shared on both sides of that mess because both sides deserved it. Afterward Wannstedt took his anger and hurt feelings on the road for all to see, almost wearing it like a badge of honor during his times as a NFL TV commentator. That was painful for us fans to watch no matter what opinions you held about the firing itself.
He looks to be over that now and good for him for doing so. In this interview, with his praising the program and explaining why he sees as a bright future for Pitt football, is nice to read and we fans hang on every one of his words. He knows Pitt and he knows football so we enjoy what he has to say – doubly so because it is presented in a way that shows us not only his football intelligence but his love for The University of Pittsburgh and its team.