Rivals.com just did a poll on its message board asking Pitt fans to vote for who they thought was the best Pitt head coach going back to Foge Fazio. I didn’t vote because I was overseas for most of the 1980s and ’90s and couldn’t follow Pitt football except for the scores… but lots of Pitt fans did.
Here is the link if you can use it – it may be behind a paywall.
One of our readers who wishes to remain anonymous sent me a detailed email with his thoughts on this matter and here they are:
Today I spotted a poll on Pantherlair about the best Pitt coaches excluding the well known highly successful ones such as Sherrill, Majors, Warner, and Sutherland. What world of ignorance or just too young to know why things happened was my reaction.
Why is that people don’t understand as to what happened and why these coaches succeeded or failed?
Very likable DC under Sherrill, everybody loved him plus he was a former Pitt player. What Foge lacked was experience as a head coach so what he continued to do was be “everyone’s best buddy” and that didn’t work with the cast of talented and head strong team under his command. Players got into trouble as so many were destined to be in the NFL. He simply couldn’t handle offending and losing personal relationships. He was a great defensive coach and excellent lieutenant but not general.
Gottfried came from Kansas as head coach of all places. By Pitt standards, he was affordable, younger, and a former QB who was known for offense. Frankly, he worried a lot of Pitt fans as being so outside of the Tri-State recruiting grounds that he might fall flat. He didn’t fall flat as a recruiter thanks to BUD RATLIFF, the recruiting director. Ratliff was ranked as one of the top five recruiters in the country!! Imagine if Ratliff had been with Sherrill, Pitt would have made dust of Ohio State, PSU, and USC. Look at the talent that Ratliff brought to Pitt. So many of those recruits went on to the NFL. Gottfried’s teams were three deep in potential NFL players.
What people forget was the game day coaching by Gottfried. He didn’t overwhelm teams despite all the talent at hand. There were issues with his coordinators including one from Michigan that almost got Pitt noted by the NCAA.
The real undoing of Mike Gottfried was his emotional makeup. He would walk in the rain for hours after a loss or being out of communications if upset. Then there were the rumors about a little unsavory fraternization (edit note: true) . Put together and MG was no longer what Pitt’s administration wanted. Of course, there was a betrayal by OC Paul Hackett who wanted to replace Gottfried asap. That didn’t turn out well for Pitt.
Harris clearly saved Pitt from ending football by finding ways to keep Pitt competitive. No one seems to recall that his only head coaching experience was at Pacific University which disbanded football. He was Ohio State’s QB coach, not Offensive Coordinator, when he was hired to Pitt. He stayed with Ohio State for their bowl game and never got out of the gate with choosing assistants or recruiting until after the game, a la Todd Graham type of start.
Yes, Walt Harris had good passing and QB coaching abilities, but he never had strong rapport with Western PA coaches when Western PA still had a lot of talent. He made some mediocre quarterbacks look far better than they were but he also distained the running game for the passing game. Also, his defenses were mediocre, not able to stop teams. Now, he is the Gold Standard to many Pitt fans. Give me a break. He is a nice guy and he also had a problem at Pitt that went beyond his agent mouthing off about Harris’s better opportunities elsewhere. There were many stories about his marriage that didn’t help him with the administration. As for his recruiting, he appealed to those wanting a strong passing offense but that was it. He was not a natural recruiter.
People don’t recall that there was a lot of controversy about Pitt hiring DW. He was disliked in Miami and never had a good relationship with his Hall of Fame QB, Dan Marino, a Pitt guy. What made DW attractive to Nordenberg was his strong love of Pitt, donations, and hosting fund raisers for Nordenberg. Oh yes, he did have some National Championship rings plus a NFL Championship ring. Dave definitely is and was a likable guy who loved Pitt and his home town of Pittsburgh. That alone made him very unique for Pitt.
Game day coaching for DW was mediocre to be kind, but he could make a huge splash in recruiting with his rings, love of Pitt, NFL experience, media exposure, and being a Pennsylvania kid. Give him all the credit in the world for being the type of guy who might have remained at Pitt until retirement. I might add that there were no bad stories about DW or his family at any time. He was just a damn good guy and had the local accent to a tee.
What the fools voting forget is how rude and insulting Pitt fans were to DW’s family. One bragged about getting into an elevator at Heinz and bad mouthing Wannstedt with DW’s wife and kids in the elevator. Pitt fans were evenly split on getting rid of him and his game day coaching or loving him to stay forever.
What undid DW was the actions of those he recruited, not his game day coaching. Players being arrested and Pitt getting horrible press about the police reports and bar fights was the final straw for the administration.
When PC was hired, no one could figure out why other than Barry Alvarez recommending him to the administration. Alvarez wanted the Pitt job at one point in his career, so the administration knew him and knew how well he had done at Wisconsin, so why not take his recommendation. Plus, the price was right after the mess in coaches after DW’s exit. PC wasn’t a controversial figure or showboat. He was quiet with a good sense of humor but hardly what someone would call “pushy” in the age of flamboyant head coaches.
What PC knew was offense and he knew that Pitt needed line talent badly so that was his strength. PC never recruited bad actors or kids with character issues. He cared deeply about a kid’s family, his respect for his family, and loyalty to a commitment. PC was an all around good guy if not an exciting head line grabbing coach.
When PC left, he didn’t leave the cupboard bare. He didn’t leave problem players. He might have been a multi-decade coach at Pitt if his alma mater and Alvarez didn’t call for him to return to Wisconsin to lead the program. He sure didn’t hurt Pitt other than the departure before people wanted.
Nobody was whining when Pitt had two back to back eight win seasons, despite having a less than stellar defense. Last year was a big disappointment and I won’t sugar coat it that “if and what if” might have been the difference. A staff shakeout was needed and give credit that it was done. This year we’ll see how that works out.
Recruiting wise, we still have to wait to see what happens this year. If enough people who know Florida say that the kids who committed are really good, then many of them will get an additional star in their senior seasons. So, what is missing?
Yes, PN is more clandestine than his predecessors in preparation for games. Ok, maybe that was how they did things at MSU, maybe not. While it makes the life of some sports writers more difficult, that doesn’t mean that he dislikes them or that he is trying to be difficult.
There are no bad faith or bad acts by PN or his players that he doesn’t address. This administration is very happy with him. He is doing things the right way.
As of 8:00 pm the results were close with Gottfried, Harris and Wannstedt in the top three spots respectively. I won’t write on this but will say I agree with most of the above… some not so much though.