27 November 2010
As I thought about the 103rd Backyard Brawl, I tried to see if I could think of something good to put in this post; anything positive to temper what I knew was going to be an overwhelming negative post.
I couldn't think of one.
There is absolutely nothing positive to take from yesterday's disaster at Heinz Field. Sunseri is still missing open receivers. Running backs and receivers are still dropping the ball. The linebackers still can't tackle anyone. The secondary gives up big plays. And the offensive line still can't make running room. I guess it's good news that Dan Hutchins made a 40+ yard field goal.
Sure, it's hard to look at the Pitt mistakes against West Virginia individually and blame any on Wannstedt. This wasn't like the 23-17 loss to Notre Dame in October when he inexcusably called a timeout late in the game only to punt. Do you blame Wannstedt for the poor throws by quarterback Tino Sunseri, including a killer interception early? The dropped passes? The three lost fumbles? The snap over Sunseri's head in the shotgun? Sunseri's failure to fall on the ball? The inability to field a kickoff cleanly? The penalty for calling for a fair catch and then blocking? The missed tackles? The total collapse of the defense in the second half against an offense that has been mostly putrid all season?
But here's the big problem:
The mistakes keep happening to Wannstedt's teams. It has been that way for six years. It seems like the same story every week, even in games that Pitt wins.
Ron Cook jumps around a bit in his opinions, so we can take what he has say with a bit of a grain of salt, but hey, at least he's true to form after calling for the losing coach to be fired yesterday. Ken Gorman, who I consider the most respected Pittsburgh sports columnist, echos Cook's sentiment:
The West Virginia game was another reminder of what has become a recurring theme under Wannstedt. Pitt falls flat before national television audiences. The Panthers are embarrassed in nonconference games. And, despite the best efforts of the athletic department to create a lively game-day environment, Pitt couldn't sell out the Brawl.
The Panthers aren't entertaining to watch, either, despite talented skill players like tailbacks Dion Lewis and Ray Graham and receiver Jon Baldwin. For all of Wannstedt's talk about building a program that runs the ball and stops the run, the Panthers allowed Connecticut's Jordan Todman to rush for a career-high 222 yards and ran for only 78 against West Virginia, with 38 coming on scrambles.
Those were only the two most critical games of the season for the Panthers, who like their coach were at a loss for explanation as to how they could blow a chance to win the bumbling Big East three years in a row.
"It's the same old story," senior left tackle Jason Pinkston said.
The final chapter should end with an expression Wannstedt likes to use about making cuts in the NFL.
Pitt didn't fire you, Dave.
You fired yourself.
Hard to be any clearer than that. Sure, they might just fire defensive coordinator Phil Bennett and move on. They'd be justified in the firing, too. But it's not enough. I've been a Wannstedt defender. He's a "Pitt guy." He loves the university. Pitt has been a clean program with few off the field issues - this offseason being the exception. I hated the arrogance of his critics from his NFL days, and I desperately wanted to disagree with the obnoxious Skip Bayless. More than anything, I didn't want to be one of those semi-anonymous bloggers hiding behind a keyboard calling for the coach to be fired.
But it's time. This season has been a disaster beyond disasters. As Chaz over at Pitt Blather has wondered, how will this team sell season tickets next year with Wannstedt at the helm? I'll be there, along with about 35,000 others who will do rain or shine. But what about the other 30,000 seats? Pitt didn't even sell out the Backyard Brawl.
And it's not like Pitt has played a "murderer's row," to steal a phrase from OSU president Gordon Glee. Utah is ranked 23 in the AP after losing 2 straight. Miami is unranked. Notre Dame and UConn are nothing less than terrible. West Virginia is certainly not a powerhouse this year. Though this was touted as a championship caliber schedule, I fail to see an opportunity for a marquee win. There is no excuse for not having at least 9 wins and winning the pathetic Big East conference.
For the good of Pitt football, Dave Wannstedt needs to be replaced.
As for who'd they replace him with, that's a question for another day. Pitt cannot sit still with the wrong coach for fear of who they'd hire. Pitt would likely fund some hot-shot coordinator looking for a chance. And if he doesn't work? Fire him and move on. During the Dave Wannstedt era at Pitt, Louisville has won the Orange Bowl, lost their coach, hired a coach, fired that coach, hired a new coach and are now going to a bowl. The difference? Louisville swung for the fences. They had a championship winning coach and they lost him. Big deal. Then they hired a hot mid-major coach and he didn't work out. They had the good judgment to cut their loses and move on. And now? They have 6 wins just like Pitt and they appear to have found a very good leader in Charlie Strong.
Louisville was not paralized by fear. They didn't think, "we could do a lot worse than Steve Kragthorpe." They demanded better. And it appears they got it. Pitt, for all it's former prestige and 9 claimed national championships, could learn a lot from a program that was in C-USA just a few years ago.
After extending him through 2014, Pitt would owe Wannstedt a hefty sum of money if they fired him. But perhaps more importantly, Steve Pederson and Mark Nordenberg would have to admit that they were wrong for the hefty extension after nothing more than a Meineke Car Care Bowl win. Wannstedt will likely be back for the 2011 season. But Steve Pederson and Mark Nordenberg must realize that despite all the losing - much of which preceeeded Wannstedt - that Pitt fans expect conference championships. Mediocricy will not cut it. If next season starts out 2-3 - and it might with games against Utah, Notre Dame and at Iowa - then there will be no excuse for not making a change then and there.
But they shouldn't wait until then. It's time to fire Wannstedt.
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