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Lost in the Urban Meyer Saga, Pitt Also Looking for a Coach

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Depending on which report you read, Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Dave Wannstedt was either relieved of his responsibilities as head coach or he resigned on his own accord. Either way, Wannstedt is out, and someone has to replace him. While the Pitt opening has been overshadowed by today’s news that Urban Meyer has stepped down, the Panthers still run a first class program. The correct hire could lead to them being a powerhouse in a Big East conference in need of someone to stand up and take charge. While thoughts of Big 10 expansion have reportedly been put on the back burner, a strong Pitt football program, paired with their already strong basketball and academic tradition could be a solid match.

Let’s examine a list of coaches who may be on the Panther radar. Thanks go to Sidepoints contributor Dennis Persin for his efforts in compiling this potential list.

Teryl Austin: A native of western Pennsylvania who starred at Pitt as a 4-year letterwinner and 3-year starter. He has since gone on to coach both in college as well as the NFL. He is currently the defensive coordinator at Florida, and is a stud recruiter. With Urban Meyer’s departure Austin’s job security is in question, but no doubt he will not have a problem finding a job. Austin certainly appears ready to be the face of a program, and now has the resume to match. He would also give Pitt the minority head coach that some inside the program would love to have on board.

Kevin Sumlin: Sumlin doesn’t have any strong Pittsburgh or Big East ties, but he does know how to coach offense, put points on the board, and would be a strong minority hire. In the Big East, a high-powered offense could take that conference by storm. Hard to say exactly how well it would work in cold, snowy areas like Pittsburgh, but if Denard Robinson is any example, it shouldn’t be a problem. Sumlin has brought decent classes to Houston, which is more than they were accustomed to. If given the chance, and upgraded facilities, he should be able to get talent on board. His defensive coaching style leaves much to be desired, but bringing in a solid defensive coordinator could make for a great pairing. He has also been linked with Miami and Minnesota, so Pitt may not even throw their hat in the ring on Sumlin.

Tom Bradley: Bradley would make for an interesting hire. He is a true blue Penn State guy, and has been widely rumored as the successor to Joe Paterno. Maybe Bradley has grown tired of being Paterno’s caddy. Maybe he realizes that Pitt provides an opportunity to lead a program that could be the best in their conference,  instead of competing with the likes of Ohio State and Wisconsin. Bradley is an expert recruiter and a Pennsylvania guy. Would he turn his back on a Nittany Lion program that he has been with since 1977?  If the answer is yes, it would send reverberations around the Penn State campus. Those in Happy Valley have always viewed themselves as superior to Pitt, but quietly Pitt may have become the big man on the block. Their basketball program is one of the best in the nation, and with this hire, it could vault their football program into prominence. Bradley would instill the discipline and hard working mentality needed to be successful on the national level and his recruiting skills would have the Panthers chock full of talent. Penn State fans are right to be worried about him taking the Pitt job, as it just may become a reality.

Dana Holgorsen: Holgorsen would be another step in the direction of a high-powered offensive coach. As the current offensive coordinator for Oklahoma State his squad led the nation in offense (538 yards per game) and averaged 45 points a game this season, hanging 41 on both Nebraska and Oklahoma along the way. The problem for Pitt is that he is on the radar at both Texas and Florida, but if he wants to be a head coach, and not just a coordinator, Pittsburgh may be the spot for him. If I were Pitt, I would try to lock him up before someone else does, but they have to make sure that a guy like Holgorsen, without ties to the program, wants to be there, and doesn’t just view it as a stepping stone. If Holgorsen commits long-term, he would be the dynamic candidate that athletic director Steve Pederson should be seeking.

Mark Stoops: Stoops, whose brothers Bob and Mike coach Oklahoma and Arizona respectively has ties to the area being from Youngstown, Ohio. He also has the pedigree of a future star in the coaching ranks. He is relatively young at 43, but he knows how to coach. He transformed the Arizona defense into one of the better units in the nation, and has done the same in his first year at Florida State. The Seminoles led the country in sacks this season and Stoops’ defense knows how to get after the passer. While he doesn’t fit the mold of a dynamic offensive coach, his defensive style would be embraced in the home of the Steel Curtain. Someone will give him a chance to lead a program, and Pitt may be well suited to make it them.

Paul Rhoads: It may seem far fetched to think that Rhoads would leave Iowa State high and dry only two years into his head coaching tenure, but he does have ties to Pitt. Rhoads was defensive coordinator from 2000-2007. During his time there, his defense was generally highly ranked with Rhoads himself earning various accolades. Since then, he had a one year stint as defensive coordinator at Auburn before taking over as head coach of Iowa State in 2009. In his first season Rhoads led the Cyclones to a bowl win over Big 10 Minnesota. He followed this season by notching the first Iowa State victory over Texas, and losing by a point in overtime to Nebraska. Rhoads may not be the offensive genius that Pitt is looking for, and may be a Wannstedt clone, but players seem to respond to Rhoads and the Panthers could do a lot worse.

Al Golden: At just 41 Golden is another young candidate, but what he has done at Temple can’t be ignored. When he arrived Temple was a perennial doormat, but the past 2 seasons has compiled a 17-8 record. With his success comes rumors. He has been mentioned as a frontrunner for the Penn State job when it inevitably opens, but he may not want to wait that long. He does have in-state ties, even though they are with rival Penn State. His desire to leave can be questioned as he has withdrawn his name from consideration at UCLA, Cincinnati, and Tennesee, but in Pitt’s case, you never know until you ask. If, in fact, he covets the Penn State position, this is a no-chance hire. Pederson would be the laughingstock of the state if his coach left to coach Penn State. However, if Golden wants a chance, and sells his commitment to the school, he would vault himself right to the top of the short-list.

Frank Cignetti Jr.: Cignetti is from Pittsburgh and is the current offensive coordinator at Pitt, so his ties are direct. If Wannstedt chooses not to coach in the BBVA Compass Bowl, Cignetti will get the nod. He knows the system and the program, but his offense won’t exactly remind you of the greatest show on turf, and he may be far too close to the current regime. He hasn’t exactly helped his chances by outwardly pursuing other opportunities, but he is a local guy, knows the area and can recruit. Sometimes that means more, but I just don’t see him as Pitt’s long term choice.

Other names are sure to be tossed around in the fanbase. Pipe Dream names like Chris Peterson, Jon Gruden, and Mike Leach will certainly be wished for the way that teenagers wish their parents leave the liquor cabinet unlocked. Other names like Marvin Lewis, Sal Sunseri, Mark Mangino, and Tom Bradley will be kicked around in the media, but none of these names would make the mark that I think Pitt wants to make with their hire. This is a make or break hire for the Panthers. They have been teetering on the border of national relevance and mediocrity all through the Wannstedt era, but this is their chance to vault themselves into prominence… or set themselves up for failure.


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