A lot of talk about Pitt's current attendance woes, but it's not hard to understand why. First of all, no urban university that also has popular pro teams, does well. Columbus helps Ohio State get huge attendance figures, but it only has an NHL hockey team, plus is the major state university. Hell, they even have The right there in their name. Boston College (38k), Cincinnati (35k), Georgia Tech (46k), Miami (52k), Minnesota (49k), Northwestern (36k), San Diego State (34k), SMU (23k), South Florida (41k), Temple (20k), Tulane (23k), and UCF (39k) are all in major cities and not the large state university. Enough said. That doesn't mean Pitt can't do better, but that will come with winning. But it won't ever be huge because it's not just physically possible. However, it doesn't mean that Pitt doesn't have fans. A recent study by the NY Times shows that Pitt is No. 37 in the country when it comes to the amount of fans they have. And that's especially impressive when you realize that Penn State has the third most fans in the country and is not far from the city.
I'm in the middle of a great new book about the trials and tribulations of Rich Rodriguez's three seasons at Michigan, and man, is it enlightening. It definitely shows you that you can't have blind faith in your administration or even you local media. Then Michigan AD Bill Martin and Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman were completely incompetent. At one point, when it was erroneously reported (by Kirk Herbstreit) that Les Miles was getting the job (despite Michigan never even talking to him), the university had to let that report fester for three days without a denial because Martin was vacationing in Florida and didn't know how to work his new cell phone. And that was just one of many errors he made, which puts Steve Pederson mistakenly hiring Michael Haywood into an even more interesting light. Clearly, big time ADs can make colossal mistakes rather easily. Then the university completely mishandled Rodriguez's tenure the entire time, especially since departed coach Lloyd Carr stabbed him in the back. In the media, Detroit Free Press writer Michael Rosenberg apparently made it his mission to destroy Rodriguez, and basically made a career out of it, even going as far as flat out making stuff up.
Which brings me to Pitt's local media. While I don't see anybody flat out trying to destroy Pitt, or anybody at the school, it's also obvious that the local media is pretty uninformed when it comes to the Panthers football program. Maybe it's because Pitt football comes after the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, and Pitt basketball in their minds, but clearly they need more time to actually look at what's going on. This is not meant for everybody since some make a great effort to be informed. I can speak from experience that Bob Smizik pays attention to the program because I've had many discussions with him about it. But when a Pitt beat writer says that he doesn't know about Chad Voytik because he's not tall enough, or the most popular TV newscaster in town say at least twice that he doubts Voytik because he saw him play in one game and he didn't do well, or you see at least two columnists trash attendance, you have to wonder if they ever do any research at all. I've already proven that many great college quarterbacks are Voytik's size, or smaller, that many experts who watch more than one game says Voytik is excellent, and as I proved above, city schools that aren't big state universities never have high attendance.
Adam Pankey is not an elite recruit, but he is a solid recruit that could be a starter in his redshirt junior, at least. If Todd Graham and his staff can now land juco Tavon Rooks, the offensive line could be very good in the future, and much improved next year.
The Panthers have had better recruiting year's as far as the number of elite prospects, but you can't discount the excellent job of recruiting for need that Graham has accomplished this year. His needs included a QB to run his offense, a big time RB to replace Ray Graham, a handful of quick receivers, much needed depth and talent on the OL, a pass rusher or two, some depth at linebacker, and some speed in the secondary. All were accomplished and Graham isn't done yet.
One of the best things about being a recruiting writer is that you get to know some future stars. One of my favorites was LeSean McCoy. I was the first to write a recruiting article on him when he was just fifteen years old. I was talking to his teammate at Bishop McDevitt, Jeremy Ricker, and we were talking about McCoy and Aaron Berry. As it turns out, both were close with Ricker and were at his house. I talked to McCoy and immediately thought that he was a nice, polite kid. And he remained that way for all the times I talked to him. In fact, he would call me from time to time just to talk football, and I always thought he was a good person. That's why I never believed the stuff that supposedly happened when he visited Penn State. He was young for his age, for sure, and because of that he seemed a tad immature. But it wasn't a bad immature. He was just a normal teenager. Unfortunately too often we forget that these football prospects are young because they are built and sound like grown men. Then they will say something where they sound very young and you remember. Anyway, I'm very happy to see how well he is doing both on and off the field.
Speaking of great Pitt players, the university already are among the leaders for NFL Hall of Fame players. Then you realize that Curtis Martin, Chris Doleman, and Ruben Brown aren't even in there yet, but will be. Then you can go even further and see not only McCoy, but Larry Fitzgerald and Darrelle Revis. It's too early to know if McCoy will ever be destined for enshrinement because running backs careers are too iffy, but Fitzgerald and Revis are guaranteed to be in if they keep their current pace.
That brings me to Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I find the guy endlessly entertaining on the local TV sports discussion programs because he is not only usually more informed than most of the others on the shows, but he also goes so ballistic that you almost expect him to start kicking people. But I don't understand his comments on last night's show when he said that maybe 8-9 win seasons are all that Pitt can expect. If that's the case, how can you explain a very similar program- WVU- get up to 11 wins on various occasions? When Pitt gets their Rodriguez, they will win 11 games, too. It will happen eventually. I don't know if it will be Graham, or the next guy, or the next guy, but the percentages say that eventually Pitt will find a coach that brings them to a top ten team. I don't know how often he will do it, or if he'll bolt right after he does it, but he's out there somewhere.
Back to the book on Rodriguez for a second. The parallels to Pitt this year are many. For instance, Rodriguez found that he wasn't left much, especially on offense, when he got to Michigan. He told the administration that it always takes three years for the players at his new school to learn his system. And that's exactly what happened. And now, after they fired him, Brady Hoke is reaping the awards of Rodriguez's classes. His first class are now redshirt juniors and seniors, including Denard Robinson. Three years to be good, four years to be great. It's always been said that a new coach needs four years so that the entire team is his players. Yet for some reason, Todd Graham does not get that luxury by many, including the Pittsburgh media.
I'll have more on Pitt basketball in time, but truthfully there is not much to say right now. I'm told no verbal commitments are imminent, and there really isn't much more to say for now. The truth is, they will probably will 25-30 games and lose around the second round. But I am really excited about the future. For the first time I see the potential for a Final Four team if everything comes together. I still think a big time scorer at the two or three is needed, but Khem Birch and James Robinson have me extremely intrigued about the future. Both are the types of players that Final Four teams have. If they live up to their potential and a talented wing can be found either on the roster, or coming onto the roster, then the breakthrough may finally happen. Unfortunately, Steven Adams became too damn good too damn fast or the Panthers would have the three stars you need to go all the way.
I still don't think Pitt will be in the Big East for long. The Big East is a mess and it will be even more of a mess if they try to keep three teams that don't want to be there. Even they aren't that stupid.
Speaking of conferences, I still say that the ACC is going to eventually land Notre Dame. No way can I see them playing sports like women's volleyball with the likes of Central Florida, Houston, and SMU. They've all but said they don't want the Big Ten, despite the Big Ten fanatics saying they will eventually get them, and going to the Big 12 for all but football will make that conference split up sooner rather than later because they are already mad at Texas for having an unfair advantage. That leaves the ACC who Notre Dame prefers anyway.
Lastly, just to make clear how I feel about the current Pitt football program:
1. New coaches, especially with a vastly different system, have a transition period of a few years. The first year is the worst, but theoretically in year three you will see a big difference and in year four you will potentially see a great end result.
2. Graham has made some coaching errors, but it's not like he's the only one. Even Bill Belichick is being criticized for making bad calls. It happens. He will hopefully get better with more experience.
3. Graham has recruited well after a slow start and some of his lesser recruits early on are having very good years. He has some very good recruiters on the staff and I think they will get much better after being settled in for a year.
4. I think Pitt will get both Robert Foster and Patrick Kugler next season. I also think they could end up with Tavon Rooks, Deaysean Rippy, and Bam Bradley to close out this season. I'm unsure on Dimitrius Cox but a friend of mine sat with Cox's dad at the Jeannette game this weekend and the dad pointed out that Pitt was the only school with a coach there. He then said Pitt was after his son very hard and that Pitt told him he could play on both sides of the ball. If the staff can steal Jerald Hawkins out of Louisiana and away from LSU then you can go ahead and officially say that this staff is big time recruiters who have really hit their stride.
5. In Dave Wannstedt's first year, I saw a lot of warning signs that made me very worried that he was not going to be the guy to take Pitt to a higher level. I can't say I've seen the same thing with Graham yet. In fact, I think he has done well and I'm very anxious to see how he finishes this season and how much he will progress next season.
Note: Book about Rich Rodriguez at Michigan.
Three and Out