While we like to live our personal lives with as few regrets as possible but that just isn’t the way it works when you are a dedicated sports fan as we all are on here. Then sometimes regrets are a big part of it.
What I mean is that we tend to live our fandom lives vicariously through the decision-making of the actual players, coaches, administrations, etc… who we follow so closely. In our role as fans that would be the University of Pittsburgh, the football program and the personnel involved.
It’s a Monday and we are bored – so let’s pretend we are one of those ‘involved’ persons and have a chance to go back in time and correct our mistakes. Man, just reading that makes me glad I’m a Pitt fan because think of all the great examples of poor decision-making we have witnessed in the football program alone… An embarassment of riches as it were.
So I’ll start of with my situation that I feel we completely blew and in doing so cost us dearly. Yours may have extracted it price in wins, maybe in reputation or even costing someone their jobs. This is mine and it hit on all three cylinders. Please add yours when you comment.
Imagine yourself in a time and place far away and long ago. Well, not that far away if you live near Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field and, I suppose, not that long ago since it was only 2009.
Anyway, Pitt is having a second good season in a row after a long string of average at best years. The year before we won nine games, the second time that had happened since 1982, and going into the last game of 2009 season we were again at nine wins set against two losses.
We have a match in front of us against Cincinnati for the Big East conference title and a shot at a coveted BCS bowl game which we hadn’t been to since five years earlier. In essence the winner of this game has a real shot to finish the season in the Top Five nationally. Plus it is a home game and our fans are rip-roaring ready to help make something great happen.
Too bad Dave Wannstedt wasn’t. Nor were his staff coaches. In fact it was clearly evident that they couldn’t handle the pressure of an impending win as Pitt jumped out to a commanding 21 point lead in the first 29 minutes of play.
Then came the decision. You remember – the choice to kick the ball directly to Cincy’s master kick returner, speedster and supremely confident WR Marty Gilyard after our QB Bill Stull crammed the ball over the goal line to make it 31-10 Pitt with 70 seconds to go in the 1st half.
What do we do then? We basically hand the ball to one of the most dangerous offensive players in college football, Marty Gilyard, and double-dog dared him to do something with it. That right there was a perfect instance of a coaching staff, and their Fearless Leader, who just plain refused to do their homework to understanfd their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.
Boom! In the blink of an eye Gilyard takes the ball on his own one yard line, starts forward then dances his way through our boys enroute to a touchdown. 99 yards long on his part and a season’s excitement and joy lost on ours.
Gilyard wasn’t a brighter than the sun flash for only that Pitt game. He had been tearing up the nation in kickoff returns and doing it on a consistent basis even before getting to Heinz Field. As you can see below in the three games prior to playing us he was superb in that role.
UCONN – 5 returns for 144 yards (29 ypr); WVU – 3 returns for 98 yards (33 ypr) and Illinois – 2 returns for 131 (66 ypr) and 1 TD
So – tally that up and he averaged 3.3 returns and 370 yards per game with an average gain of 37.0 yards. Pretty damn impressive. Here is what he did over the whole season when he touched the ball…so you can see he had a very impressive KO returners’ resume’ before meeting up with Pitt.
My God, what part of that didn’t scare the holy crap out of Pitt’s Special Team’s coach? Oh wait – that’s right, we didn’t have one. By default the blame rests solely on Dave Wannstedt’s broad shoulders.
In what might be the most beautiful example of irony uttered by any college football player after a game Gilyard said this about Pitt:
“I don’t know what their scheme was, but they kept kicking it to me,” said Gilyard, who has 2,442 all-purpose yards this season, an average of 203 per game.”
“I don’t know what their scheme was…“. Man, I laugh my ass off every time I think about him sitting there with a quizzical look on his face and saying that. This kid was sitting at 7th nationally in that job description and had to feel good about the fact that Wannstedt coached the Panthers.
Hey, it wasn’t just in 2009 that Gilyard kicked opponents’ special teams all over the field. He set an all-time return record just the year before against a better team than Pitt in Oklahoma.
Well, we know what the final outcome of the game was – a 45-44 loss when the only time Cincy held the lead was at the end of the game.
Pitt finished the regular season at 9-3 which in itself is a very good showing for us but the excitement and confidence level of all involved – directly or indirectly as in the case of us fans – was shot to Hell.
Some fans even point to this game, with this clear and stupendous example of poor decision-making on Wannstedt’s part to be the beginning or the end of his time as Pitt’s HC. That may well be true.
Look, I know I’m harsh on Dave Wannstedt – I have been, am now and probably will be in the future whenever his decision-making skills come up in conversation. It is a bad habit of mine and one I’m trying very hard to break.
So upon reflection maybe I’m not giving Wannstedt enough credit for preparing his kids for the ‘Gilyard Effect’. Perhaps he called up Oklahoma Head Coach Bob Stoops the night before the Pitt-Cincy game and asked for advice:
BS: Who’s calling please?
DW: Bob – How are you?
BS: Who the hell is this?
DW: Davey Wannstedt over at Pitt. Do you have a second? I want to bounce something off you… you played Cincinnati last year right?
BS: Yeah…. Hey coach – it’s midnight over here.
DW: Really? Wow, it’s 1 am here. Wonder how that happens… weird huh?? Anyway – So how did you handle that Gilyard kid on kickoff returns? He’s pretty good isn’t he?
BS: Dave, is this a crank call? Did Jimmy Johnson put you up to this?
DW: Oh, Hell no – he won’t talk to me anymore after I quit on the Dolphins. So – Gilyard?
BS: Oh man!. I don’t even hardly know you and here you are ruining my day. This is NOT what I want to talk about during game week.
DW: Hey, we’re all busy Bob. Just answer one question for me. I just wondered that if I keep kicking the ball to Gilyard he’ll run out of steam at some point. Is that the way you played him? My DC Phil Bennett told me that’s the best way to deal with him…. wear the kid out.