Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Pat Narduzzi expected to be next Pitt football coach

Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is expected to be named the next Pitt football coach, probably in the next few days. The 48-year old Youngstown, OH native is considered one of, if not the best, defensive coordinators in the country. 

He has been the defensive coordinator under Mark Dantonio since 2003 at Cincinnati. He was the coordinator there for three years, after a one year stint as the defensive coordinator for Miami, OH.  In 2007, Narduzzi followed Dantonio to Michigan State where he has been the coordinator until now.

Narduzzi's defenses have been in the top 10 nationally for the past four years. They are his creation so this is not the case of former defensive coordinator Dantonio calling the shots. Complete creation and implementation has come from Narduzzi.

The defensive style calls for aggressive play, especially from the cornerbacks who are in the face of the receivers at the snap. His defenses make a lot of big plays and are often among the national leaders in turnovers.

As for his staff, Narduzzi will probably try to bring DB coach Harlon Barnett and LB and Special Teams coach Mike Tressel. But Barnett is a Michigan State alum who could very possibly stay to take over for Narduzzi. That may leave Tressel to get a promotion to defensive coordinator for Pitt.  Tressel, who is the nephew of Jim Tressel, has been a coach at Michigan State for eight years. He is the Spartans' main recruiter for Pitt target Anthony McKee. 

For offensive coordinator, QB coach and recruiting coordinator Brad Salem may be an option. It's been rumored that Vanderbilt is interested in hiring to be their offensive coordinator. He has mentored  probable future first round draft pick Connor Cook, and when he was the running backs coach prior, he mentored Le'Veon Bell.

Back to Narduzzi, he seems like a perfect fit. He is from the same part of the country, he's a tough no nonsense guy, and he loves coaching football. From what I hear he really wanted this job and he considers it a destination job. 

There's always a concern of a learning curve since he's never been a head coach before, but his defenses should be spectacular eventually, and much improved immediately. He will also keep the pro style balanced offense that Pitt has been built for. If he finds an excellent offensive coordinator, then I think Pitt could be excellent in the near future. 

Narduzzi will also get a budget that's better than Pitt has ever had. New ACC money and a new chancellor is a good start for that, but also Narduzzi would not take this job unless he got a high budget for his staff.

Bottom line, I had him on my list and if I knew Pitt was this open to coordinators then he would have been near the top of my list. Part of me is still a little frustrated that Pitt has to hire coordinators instead of hiring away Power 5 head coaches like others do. And while I don't know any names I have no doubt that some big names were interested. But Pitt clearly fell in love with Narduzzi. And that's easy to do, to be honest. If Pitt built a head coach in a lab he might be Narduzzi. A better fit would be hard to find. I think he has a much higher ceiling than Paul Chryst and he's a much better fit. Because he was never a head coach I wouldn't consider him a home run hire, but he is definitely a big swing that could be a home run.

Friday, December 19, 2014

An Early Look at the loaded 2016 and 2017 classes in PA

1.  Michal Menet, Exeter Township HS (Reading) OT- At 6'5" and 270 pounds he already has nice size and his frame can add a lot more weight in future years. Tenacious and moves like a cat. Has the makings of an elite offensive lineman. It's rare for an offensive lineman to be so far along in his development this early but before his junior season started he was loaded with major offers. His current top five, all whom have offered, are Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State, Florida State, and Duke. Other offers include Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Virginia, Michigan, Miami, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Rutgers.

2.  Kaezon Pugh, Aliquippa HS (Aliquippa) LB/RB- The next great Quip and that's saying something because they have supplied some of those most talented players to ever come out of the state. And Pugh is right up there with them. Already a solid 6'1" and 210 pounds to go with his very good speed and athleticism. I always thought he'd end up at linebacker but he may be just as good if not better at running back. Runs angry. Could be a big star. Offers include Pittsburgh, Nebraska, Michigan State, Auburn, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Miami, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Arizona, Missouri, and many more.

3. Miles Sanders, Woodland Hills HS (Pittsburgh) RB- Looks much more slight than his listed 5'11" 195 pounds, but he's a game breaker with excellent speed, quickness, and vision. As a bonus he also has great hands and could always end up at wide receiver if he gets beat out at running back. Committed early to PENN STATE or he'd have a lot more offers. Still got offers from Pittsburgh, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, and Virginia Tech.

4.  Naseir Upshur, Imhotep Institute Charter HS (Philadelphia) TE/DE- A little small for tight end currently at 6'3" and 230 pounds, but he's a very good athlete who is just flat out vicious at the line of scrimmage. As a blocker he locks on the defender and destroys him until he's 10 yards downfield. More than a blocker, though, thanks to his speed, athleticism, and hands. Projects just as well as a defensive end. Major offers include Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Virginia Tech, Arizona State, Arizona, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Mississippi State, Florida, Nebraska, and Florida State.

5.  Karamo Dioubate, William Penn Charter HS (Philadelphia) DE/DT- A beastly lineman that came out of nowhere this season thanks to his athletic 6'3" 265 pound size and big time explosion and quickness. Right now he could play end, but if he keeps getting bigger, which is a real possibility, he will move inside. Either way, he's beastly. Offers include Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Ohio State, Michigan State, Florida, Miami, Virginia, Boston College, Rutgers, and Temple.

6.  Damar Hamlin, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) CB- Great cornerback height at 6'1" and when he fills out his 175 pound frame his size would be even more of a plus. Very good speed and quickness. Should be one of the best cornerback prospects in the country. Offers from Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Maryland, and Duke.

7.  Brandon McIlwain, Council Rock North HS (Newtown) QB- Of all of the top prospects on this list he's probably the one that could go either way the most. At 6'0" 205 he doesn't have ideal size, and he's still raw as a passer, but on the other hand, he has a very strong arm and excellent speed and running ability for a quarterback. A lot will depend on the system he's in as he clearly isn't a pro style quarterback, but if he's allowed to run a lot then he could be very good good at the next level. Major offers include Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Ohio State, South Carolina, Auburn, Florida, Virginia Tech, Duke, Clemson, North Carolina, Miami, Arizona, and Tennessee.

8.  Connor McGovern, Lake-Lehman HS (Lehman) C/G- The best thing you can say about him is that major colleges are still finding him even though he's outside of Wilkes-Barre. It's not exactly a recruiting hotbed and to be honest I never heard of the high school before. Big at 6'5" and 290 pounds. Plays center, which is his preferred position, and he explodes onto his defender with quickness and tenacity. Offers include Pittsburgh, Penn State, Michigan State, Miami, North Carolina, Boston College, Duke, Georgia Tech, and Maryland.

9. Cary Angeline, Downingtown East HS (Exton) TE- At 6'7" and 230 pounds his size is obviously one of his biggest assets. He's basically just a wide receiver now but he'll be a tight end in college. Needs to fill out obviously, and he will will need to learn to block from the tight end position, but with his very good speed, size, and length he is destined to be a pass catching tight end at the college level. Has early offers from Penn State, West Virginia, Ohio State, Miami, Michigan State, Duke, Boston College, Iowa, North Carolina, Northwestern, Rutgers, and Virginia Tech, among others.

10. Aaron Matthews, Clairton HS (Clairton) WR- To say this kid is a tall drink of water is an understatement. Already 6'5" and may not have stopped growing yet. At just 175 pounds his thin frame makes him look eight feet tall. The best part about his length is that he knows how to use it by using his frame to shield defenders and jumping to meet the ball. When he does that he's virtually unstoppable. Good, but not great speed, but with the skills he has he could be a force in college. Has early offers from Pittsburgh and West Virginia, among others.

11.  Khaleke Hudson, McKeesport Area HS (McKeesport) LB/S/RB- Not huge at 5'11" and 200 pounds but he's rock solid. In my opinion, he's best suited at safety but he could project as a smaller linebacker or a running back, too. Good athlete that hits like a ton of bricks. Offers so far include Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Michigan State, Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, and Boston College.

 12. Anthony Long, Bishop McDevitt HS (Harrisburg) DT- Strong 6'3" 290 pound interior lineman with a good burst and athleticism for a man his size. Has a lot of potential. Early offers have come from Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Boston College, Maryland, Georgia Tech, Temple, and Purdue.

13. Kobay White, Bishop McDevitt HS (Harrisburg) WR- In college football these days schools want either really big receivers or small receivers with ungodly quickness. But every year there's a good receiver in PA that falls between those two. This year that's the 6'0" 180 pound White who has good speed, quickness, and hands. Among his offers are Pittsburgh, Michigan State, Virginia, Rutgers, Maryland, Georgia Tech, and Boston College.

14. Andrew Pryts, Hickory HS (Hermitage) S- The John Lynch of high school football, the 6'2" 195 pound Pryts can really lay the wood. Just a vicious hitter. Also has good range and hands. Early offers are from Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Virginia, and Northwestern.

15. Aidan Howard, Gateway Area HS (Monroeville) WR- Tall, very athletic wide out at 6'5" and 165 pounds. Way too light now but once he fills out he could be a big time player. Very good speed, too. So far only UMass has offered but there will be more.


These players just finished their sophomore seasons so this is just a preliminary list. There are more out there from this class that will be very highly recruited, and some of these players may not develop as expected. But for now these are some of the class that are already getting some college attention. I have separated the first two players because they are already in an elite category and it's going to be hard for anybody to pass them up as the two best players in the class. It's too early to rate the rest this early so they are listed in alphabetical order.

D'Andre Swift, St. Joseph's Prep HS (Philadelphia) RB- He was already considered one of the top two players in the state for the '17 class even before the state championship game, but that showed that he could be one of the best in the country for the class. At 5'9" 195 pounds he's solid, but he also has great speed, quickness, and vision. Could be a superstar. Already has offers from Pittsburgh, Penn State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Rutgers, Iowa, Syracuse, and Temple.

Lamont Wade, Clairton Area HS (Clairton) CB- The eastern side of the state has Swift but the western side has Wade. A rock solid 5'10" and 185 pounds already, he possesses excellent speed, athleticism, and quickness. Had an amazing year as a running back this season and could be an elite running back or wide receiver in college just as easily, but it appears that cornerback is where most will want him. Already has offers from the likes of Pittsburgh, Penn State, and West Virginia.

David Adams, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) LB- Took over for injured college prospect Ron George this season after an injury ended George's season, and he didn't miss a beat. Already 6'2" and 215 pounds, he is a tough, old school linebacker that just knows how to play football. No offers yet.

Damion Barber, Harrisburg HS (Harrisburg) DE- Highly athletic and quick pass rusher and he's already 6'4" and 220 pounds. Once he fills out he's going to be even more of a terror. Will definitely be among the top players in the class. Has early offers from Rutgers and Temple.

Paris Ford, Seton-LaSalle HS (Pittsburgh) S- An Ed Reed-type of safety who has the length, speed, quickness, and range to be a big time safety in college. At 6'2" and 175 pounds he has a great start on size and he already uses it with his hard hitting style. Also a very good basketball player. No offers yet but they will be coming.

Robert Hainsey, Gateway Area HS (Monroeville) OT- Already 6'4" and 270 pounds so he should be big enough by the time he enters college. Very good feet which is what gets you offers as a lineman. And he already has offers from Penn State, West Virginia, Michigan State, and Temple.

Josh Lugg, North Allegheny HS (Wexford) OT- Has a chance to be the the top lineman in the state thanks to his 6'6" frame and great feet. Just 260 pounds now but he will fill out over the next two years. Pittsburgh is his only offer now but there will be plenty more.

Dewayne Murray, Stell Valley HS (Munhall) RB- At 5'10" 180 pounds he has the speed, quickness, athleticism, vision, and toughness to be a big time running back in college. He also has great hands and is an exceptional punt returner. Barring injury, he's on pace to be the top rusher in WPIAL history. Old Dominion is his lone offer this early but many more will come soon.

CJ Thorpe, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) OT- Just a sophomore this year but he's already 6'5" and 300 pounds. He uses his size well by aggressively knocking the hell out of anybody that gets in his way. West Virginia is his first major offer.

Darius Wise, Beaver HS (Beaver) CB- Big time athlete with excellent speed and quickness. Also another kid who could get basketball offers. Could get a lot of offers at cornerback. Already has a BYU offer for some reason.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Final PA Top 20 for the 2015 Class

1. Jordan Whitehead, Central Valley HS (Monaca) CB- Excellent speed and quickness on a now muscular 6'0" 185 pound frame. He can also play on offense and is an excellent return man. Throw in the fact that he's a good kid that is very mature and he's the closest thing to a sure thing in this class. Chose to stay home and play for PITTSBURGH over Penn State, Ohio State, West Virginia, Alabama, Michigan, Michigan State, Georgia, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Tennessee, and Virginia.

2. John Reid, St. Joseph's Prep (Philadelphia) CB- A bit on the smallish size at 5'10" and 180 pounds, but he was born to play cornerback. Possesses excellent speed and plays bigger than he is. Willing in run support despite size, but it's his ball skills that are really impressive. Great instincts and knowledge of the position. Has the potential to be an excellent college cornerback. Chose PENN STATE over the likes of Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Michigan, Michigan State, Alabama, Miami, Virginia, Maryland, and Arizona.

3. Ryan Bates, Archbishop Wood HS (Warminster) OT- You know you're an exceptional offensive lineman when you commit a year before you can sign and you still can chose PENN STATE over schools like Pittsburgh, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Auburn, Miami, and South Carolina. Needs to add a lot of size as he currently looks almost like a tight end at 6'5" and 280 pounds, but he has good length, and excellent quickness, flexibility, and feet.  He's also very aggressive. Bottom line, once he gets bigger and stronger he may be a beast.

4. Saquon Barkley, Whitehall HS (Whitehall) RB- Has impressed more and more over the past year and now he's a legitimate elite prospect. Solidly built at 5'11" and 200 pounds, he has very good speed to go with excellent quickness and vision. Also has good hands. Plays with a swagger. Committed to PENN STATE way back in February or he would have a lot more offers, but it was enough time to get them from Pittsburgh, Rutgers, North Carolina, Boston College, Syracuse, and Temple.

5. Shareef Miller, Frankford HS (Philadelphia) DE- This is a player I like the more and more I watch him, even though there's not a lot of film on him. Great length at 6'4" and 232 pounds but obviously he needs to add a lot of size. He's very thin right now, but he's also highly athletic with an excellent burst coming off the edge. He looks physically more like an elite wide receiver at the moment but once he gets bigger he has the potential to be a big time pass rushing end. Offers include Pittsburgh, Penn State, Oregon, Michigan State, West Virginia, Miami, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Arizona, and Arizona State.

6. Kevin Givens, Altoona Area HS (Altoona) DE/OLB- I know many will think I put Givens so high because he's going to Pitt, but the truth is, I had him at No. 16 until some assistant coach sources I know kept raving about him to me. So I put on his senior tape and I was wowed. Last season he was promising but raw. Now he's a beast. At a rock solid 6'2" and 230 pounds, Givens already has the physique of an NFL linebacker. He's also very quick and explosive with above average speed. He can project on offense at running back but he's best on defense. He's expected to get a look at linebacker first and I think that's his best position. He's already so thick that I don't see him gaining much more size. For that reason he may have less than ideal size for end, especially since 6'2" is a little short for end. Committed to PITTSBURGH very early so he didn't get any other major offers.

7. Sterling Jenkins, Baldwin HS (Pittsburgh) OT- One of the more controversial prospects for those that have seen him beyond combines and game tape (meaning not national recruiting websites) because the truth is, he isn't elite as an actual player in high school. In fact, despite his great offer list, he didn't make all-conference as a junior and was only honorable mention as a senior. He's huge at 6'8" and 300 pounds but he's not nearly as strong as his size. Not yet, anyway. He also has good feet for his size, but he also doesn't always use them well. You get the point. Basically he has huge potential because not many linemen are that big and can still move. But he is very much a boom or bust player. Chose PENN STATE over Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama, Nebraska, Virginia Tech, Georgia, Mississippi, Virginia, and Tennessee.

8. Andre Robinson, Bishop McDevitt HS (Harrisburg) RB- Stocky at 5'9" and 205 pounds. Runs hard between the tackles despite size. More quick than fast and doesn't project in college to be a breakaway threat though he has good speed. Excellent vision and fantastic hands. Committed to PENN STATE over Pittsburgh, Ohio State, Michigan State, Minnesota, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Maryland, and Rutgers.

9. DJ Moore, Imhotep Institute (Philadelphia) WR- Worked hard since last season and made himself a top recruit. He doesn't stand out in any one facet but his strength is that he has no glaring weakness. Not big, but solid at 6'0" and 200 pounds. Not a speed demon, but fast. Not highly athletic but makes all of the catches and runs well with the ball once he grabs it. Very good hands and route runner. Chose MARYLAND over Pittsburgh, Virginia, Duke, Rutgers, Illinois, Indiana, and Temple, among others.

10. Ryan Buchholz, Great Valley HS (Malvern) DE- Size is what makes Buchholz a very good prospect and you can't teach 6'6'. That wingspan could help him be a big time defensive end but if doesn't pan out there he can add to his 240 pound frame and be a defensive tackle or offensive tackle. Not a great athlete, but he does move well for somebody his size. Committed to PENN STATE over Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Rutgers, Boston College, Cincinnati, Duke, Purdue, and a few others.

11. Nick Bowers, Kittanning HS (Kittanning) TE- Very good all around football player who already has good size at 6'4" and 240 pounds. More of a receiver than a blocker right now, so blocking is a skill that he will have to work hard on, but as a receiver he has good speed and athleticism, and he catches everything in sight. He even runs the ball out of the quarterback position and runs reverses. Committed to PITTSBURGH over Penn State, Temple, and Purdue.

12. Jake Cooper, Archbishop Wood (Warminster) LB- Tough and athletic natural football player that has good strength and quickness. Solidly built at 6'1" and 230 pounds. Is probably best suited for the inside.  Excellent against the run but needs a lot of work on pass defense. Committed to PENN STATE over Pittsburgh, Duke, Boston College, Northwestern, Syracuse, Temple, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Virginia, and Rutgers.

13. Josh Adams, Central Bucks South HS (Warrington) RB- Dominant in his area thanks to his 6'2" 210 pound size and very good speed and athleticism. Runs effortlessly but there's always been a worry that he'd get too tall, never a good thing for a running back. There's been talk that he'd move to wide receiver or linebacker, but it appears he'll be tried at running back first. That will happen at NOTRE DAME where he committed after offers from Pittsburgh, Penn State, Stanford, Boston College, Rutgers, and Temple.

14. Jay Stocker, Coatesville HS (Coatesville) S- Very athletic with good speed. Very skinny at 6'2" and 185 but has the frame to add a lot more. Great range in the passing game and against the run he attacks the line of scrimmage like a bullet. Has a lot of potential. Offers from Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Duke, Maryland, Syracuse, Boston College College, Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, Virginia, Illinois, and Rutgers among others. Pittsburgh and Syracuse appear be the current leaders.

15. Kyle Shurmur, La Salle College HS (Glenside) QB- Good 6'4" height with the frame to add more muscle to his 215 pounds. Father is current Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, so he has a high football IQ. A pocket passer without running skills, but he has an accurate arm and can make all of the throws. Chose VANDERBILT over Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Central Florida, Illinois, and Temple.

16. Alex Paulina, Canon McMillan HS (Canonsburg) C/G- Big and strong at a rock solid 6'3" and 290 pounds. Moves very well despite his size. Will probably end up at center at the college level. Played on a very bad team in his career and he's had some concussion issues which could be a factor in the future. Chose PITTSBURGH very early so his only the other offer was Virginia Tech.

17. Freddie Simmons, Catholic HS (Bethlehem) WR- Exciting receiver and return man that runs extremely well after the catch. Very good speed and quickness. Good 6'3" height but must fill out his 180 pound frame. Originally committed to Rutgers but he has recently decided to go back onto the market. Has offers from not only Rutgers but also West Virginia, Virginia, Wake Forest, Purdue, Kansas, California, San Diego State, Hawaii, and Central Florida.

18. Hayden Mahoney, Malvern Prep HS (Malvern) OT- Played right tackle and protected the blind side of star lefty quarterback, and future Pitt Panther, Alex Hornibrook. Great length at 6'5" and 280 pounds though clearly he needs to add at least 20-30 pounds at the college level. Moves very well. Needs to get stronger. Committed to MIAMI, FL over Northwestern, Boston College, and Virginia Tech.

19. Johnny Petrishen, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) S- Another sleeper heading into the season but he's wide awake now after an excellent senior season. Very good size for the position at 6'2" and 200 pounds. Good speed and athleticism. Very good range and football instincts. Very accomplished return man and returns a lot of punts for touchdowns. Pittsburgh, Penn State, and Virginia appear to be the favorites. Among the other 30+ offers are Maryland, Northwestern, Wake Forest, and Syracuse.

20. Amir Ealey, Coatesville HS (Coatesville) TE/DE- A little bit of a sleeper heading into the season but his combination of a solid 6'4" 230 pound frame and good athleticism and speed was too good to stay hidden for long.  Could project as a defensive end but it looks like he could get a good at tight end first. In a bit of a surprise he chose SYRACUSE over Pittsburgh, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Rutgers, North Carolina, Temple, Central Florida, and UConn.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Next Pitt coach (continually updated)

Top Choices

Justin Fuente
Age: 38
Born: Tulsa, OK
Alma mater: Oklahoma, Murray State
Salary: $1.066 million

One of the hottest coaches in the country after turning around a previously awful Memphis program.  In just three seasons he has directed Memphis to a 9-3 record. The three seasons before he was hired Memphis was 5-31.

He made his bones as the TCU offensive coordinator from 2009-11. In those three seasons TCU was 36-3 with the Horned Frogs setting records behind quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Casey Pachall.

But it's not offense that has been leading the way for Memphis where the Tigers were No. 50 nationally this season. The offensive coordinator is Darrell Dickey who was the head coach at North Texas for nine seasons. Even though the Tigers offense has not been fantastic yet under that has more to do with personnel. The things he could do with Chad Voytik, James Conner, and Tyler Boyd makes the head spin, though he is another spread offense devotee.

But it's defense that's been more impressive, ranking No. 22 nationally.  Missouri alum, and Oklahoma native, Barry Odom, has been the defensive coordinator for all three of Fuente's seasons, and his turnaround of the defense has been highly impressive.

Fuente may be too young for Pitt, which would be a major mistake. He had only 51 scholarship players when he got to Memphis and in three years he has proven to be one of the next big things in the coaching world. He's also a no nonsense coach, yet refreshingly honest and charismatic coach, that players, fans, and media would love.

Fuentes just got a one year extension that takes him through 2017.

Doc Holliday
Age: 57
Born: Hurricane, WV
Alma mater: West Virginia
Salary: $600,000 + $145,000 possible bonuses

Much older than the other candidates and he'll be 58 before next season started. But with age comes experience and Holliday has tons of it. He started at his alma mater, WVU, where he stayed for two decades. He finished there as the associate head coach, and then followed that up with two more associate head coach stints at NC State and Florida before returning to WVU to again be the associate head coach for Bill Stewart for two years. When Dana Holgerson replaced Stewart instead of Holliday he went to WVU's hated rival, Marshall, where he struggled for three seasons before going 22-5 in the last two seasons.

This year Marshall is 12-1, though admittedly it's against one of the easiest schedules in the country. But the Thundering Herd have been destroying people. Marshall is No. 2 in total offense nationally, including No. 6 in rushing and No. 17 in passing.

Holliday not only has the experience, and the success as a head coach, but he's also one of the best recruiters in the nation, especially in Florida. There seems to be a lot to like on paper, and it helps that he probably will never end up at WVU at this point. As an added bonus for some, he so dislikes WVU now that he'd probably lobby the administration to play them again.

Next Level

Current Head Coaches

Mark Hudspeth
Age: 46
Born: Louisville, MS
Alma mater: Delta State
Salary: $1.025 million

Probably the top non-Power 5 head coaching candidate currently. In fact, he's been called the next big thing for the past few years and is said to have the "it factor". He's never coached outside of the south which is good because he has a lot of connections in the talent rich south. I'm sure some will wonder if somebody that has only been in the south could succeed in the north, but they're both in the US. It's not like he has to move to Russia. Johnny Majors was from Tennessee, Jackie Sherrill was from Oklahoma, and Ben Howland and Jamie Dixon were from California. In other words, if you can coach you can coach anywhere.

As a head coach he was 66-21 in seven years at South Alabama. Five of his seven seasons resulted in double digit victories. He left to become the WR coach and Passing Game Coordinator for Dan Mullen at Mississippi State for one year. The next season he took over at Louisiana-Lafayette where he was 9-4 each of his first three seasons, and 8-4 so far this season. The university's only other 9-win season came in 1976 so that record is much more impressive than it sounds. In his first season he led the Ragin' Cajuns to their first bowl in 41 years. He's 3-0 in bowl games beating San Diego State, East Carolina, and Tulane. Overall, his career record is 101-37 in 11 years, and his first year at South Alabama is the only losing year in his career.

Hudspeth is a very passionate player's coach who has gone into the team's weight room and bench pressed 370 pounds and 225 pounds 25 times. He is also revered in Mississippi where both Mississippi State and Ole Miss fans want him to be their coach should they need one.

He just signed a six year extension that will pay him an average of $1.075 million over the contract. That's a very good contract for the Sun Belt Conference, but Pitt would pay more than twice that amount.

While he's known as a very good recruiter, Hudspeth runs a spread offense which the Panthers may not want to go back to. It's not a highly productive spread, however, and his teams at Louisiana-Lafayette generally finish around the middle of the pack nationally. His defenses have also been average. But, it is at a very low level program so you can only expect so much from him.

Bottom line, he'd easily be in the top list if he wasn't so beloved in southeast. He has the look of somebody that will end up in the SEC very soon. For that reason, he may not be interested in Pitt and vice versa. Would be a major hire, though.

Matt Wells
Utah State
Age: 41
Born: Sallisaw, OK
Alma mater: Utah State
Salary: $600,000

One of the top young head coaches in the country even though he's only been a head coach for two years. Wells finished 9-5 last season and 9-4 so far this season. This season was even more impressive considering the Aggies were down to their fourth string quarterback. Star quarterback Chuckie Keeton played in just the first three games. Utah State finished No. 78 in total offense this season, obviously a product of their quarterback problems.

The defense under Wells has been better finishing No. 36 this season after being No. 12 last season. The defensive coordinator is Todd Orlando, the former UConn defensive coordinator from Pittsburgh. He's one of the more successful defensive coordinators in there country over the last decade. Why his coordinator career consists of stints at UConn, FIU, and Utah State is anybody's guess.

Wells was the offensive coordinator for this first two seasons at Utah State, under Gary Anderson, and in 2012 his offense set multiple school records with Keeton as the starter.

He's considered one of the top young head coaches in the country and even though he is currently at his alma mater he has not closed the door to getting a bigger job. Of course as somebody that lives and works almost his entire life in the western part of the country, there's always a chance that he could want to go back west eventually if he came to Pitt.

Would be a big get for Pitt but he's a western guy so the match may not be there.

P.J. Fleck
Western Michigan
Age: 34
Born: Sugar Grove, IL
Alma mater: Northern Illinois
Salary: $392,000 + a possible $236,000 max in bonuses.

A future star at a top program, but he's only 34 (barely) so that's probably a deal breaker. The former Northern Illinois star wide receiver was the WR coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012 and that was one day after accepting the offensive coordinator job at his alma mater. The one day is his grand total of coordinator experience. But even though he's young, Fleck has coached under some impressive people. He got his start as a graduate assistant under Jim Tressel. He's also worked under Greg Schiano

At Western Michigan he took over a 4-8 team and immediately went 1-11. At 32 he was the youngest major college head coach in the country. He immediately rescinded all of the offers for players that already committed. That was very controversial and it didn't help that he followed it by winning just one game in his first season.

With the hounds already at his door he responded by signing the best MAC recruiting class since the internet sites started rating them. The result is that he was 8-4 this year and was named the MAC Coach of the Year. He also is a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award for national coach of the year.

To say Fleck is an interesting personality is an understatement. At practice he lined up at receiver and torched the team's best cornerback. He also has done the polar plunge for charity (shirtless), and did a coaches only video of "Harlem Shake". His mantra of "Row the Boat", which is a sensation in Kalamazoo, is a call for the team to focus as one.

Bottom line, his age alone is something that will probably keep him from ending up at Pitt, but then you throw in his over the top personality that probably won't go over well in a pro city like Pittsburgh. He's somebody that seems very unlikely to replace Paul Chryst unless Pitt really changes how they do things. He just signed an extension through 2020, though it's doubtful that the buyout is prohibitive.

Pete Lembo
Ball State
Age: 44
Born: Staten Island, NY
Alma mater: Georgetown
Salary: $475,000

This is a name that's been bandied about by college insiders for awhile now, but some of his buzz may have lessened after Ball State ended up 5-7 this season. In four years Lembo is 30-20, but it was in his second and third seasons, when Lembo went 19-7, that he gained the buzz in the first place.

Lembo also had head coaching stints at Lehigh (44-14, 5 years), and Elon (35-22, 5 years). Overall in 14 seasons Lembo is 109-56, an average of 8-4. He's also 0-5 in playoffs and bowl games. But that can be a bit deceiving. The best program he's coached is at Ball State and they've only had two winning seasons in the 14 years before Lembo arrived. The two seasons prior to Lembo's arrival the program was a combined 6-18. The school thinks enough of him that he got a recent five year extension that made him the highest paid coach in the MAC. At Elon, the program was 14-42 in the five years before he arrived.

Bottom line, he's a very good, well respected coach, but he's more about solid efficiency than an exciting coach with a high ceiling. It seems like the Panthers could do better, but he's the kind of solid citizen that Pitt may like. And after all, they hired Michael Haywood from the MAC, and Lembo is much more accomplished.

College Assistant Coaches

Mario Cristobal
Alabama OL
Age: 44
Born: Miami, FL
Alma mater: Miami, FL
Salary: $475,000

Yes, it's him again, and this time he's an even better major college head coach candidate. I know Pitt fans downplay Cristobal but he's a great candidate. He did a remarkable job at Florida International, a place where it's nearly impossible to win. But he did win in his fourth and fifth seasons (the only time in the program's 13 year history that they had a winning record. After a 3-9 record in his sixth season, Cristobal was fired. After he was fired, the FIU athletic director received massive criticism in the college football world for the decision. FIU is 5-19 since Cristobal was fired.

After being hired by Miami as the TE  and associate head coach under Al Golden, he left six weeks later to be the offensive line coach at Alabama. There, under Nick Saban, Cristobal raised his profile by continuing his excellent recruiting. In fact, he's considered one of the best recruiters in the country.

Still young and charismatic, and with head coach and recruiting experience, Cristobal will become a Power 5 head coach soon.

Of course there's the big elephant in the room and that's that Pitt tried to hire him before. What happened exactly, nobody knows for sure. Did Pitt or Cristobal pass? And if Cristobal passed, what would it take to change his mind?

Truthfully, though, I don't expect the Panthers to go down this road again, especially since Steve Pederson wanted to hire him last time and the administration may not be too dependent on his opinion anymore.

Pat Narduzzi
Michigan State DC
Age: 48
Born: New Haven, CT
Alma mater: Youngstown State, Rhode Island
Salary: $907,000

Considered by many as the best defensive coordinator in college football over the past few years, Narduzzi has interviewed for a handful of jobs over the last few years. Last year he won the Broyles Award as the best assistant in college football.

Narduzzi started his coordinator career at Miami, OH in 2003. After just one year he was hired by Mark Dantonio for the same position at Cincinnati. After three successful years there he moved with Dantonio to Michigan State. He was up for the Cincinnati job but it went to Brian Kelly instead.

Narduzzi has interviewed for head coach jobs in the past and would have had the UConn job if he wanted it. But he has been picky in finding the right job. Texas A&M tried to hire him away at one time, but thanks to a family of Michigan State donors that donated money to raise his salary, he stayed with the Spartans. He's currently the highest paid assistant in the Big 10.


Greg Schiano
Age: 48
Born: Wyckoff, NJ
Alma mater: Bucknell

This may be a long shot but the former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach is obviously a big marquee name that would immediately give the Panthers instant credibility. While he was a disaster at Tampa Bay he did the seemingly impossible and turned Rutgers into a winner. He was 68-67 overall at Rutgers but 49-28 in the last six seasons, including an 11-2 record in 2006.

Schiano, who is still only 48, would recruit extremely well in eastern PA and New Jersey, and he would no doubt have great defenses, but his personality may be a bit too big for the conservative Pitt administration.

Removed from the list:

Tom Herman
Ohio State OC
Age: 39
Born: Born in Cincinnati, OH and raised in California
Alma mater: California Lutheran
Salary: $555,000

The administration will probably want to go for somebody with head coaching experience this time, but if they want to take a flyer on a coordinator, this is the ideal choice. Herman is literally a genius and by that I mean he is actually a member of Mensa. On the football field he may be a genius, too.

The former wide receiver started as a wide receiver coach but after just four seasons he became the offensive coordinator at Texas State. He was just 30 at the time and in his first season Texas State finished No. 8 nationally in offense. After two seasons he moved with head coach David Bailiff to Rice where Herman led the Owls to two amazing offensive seasons. In the second season, Rice had not one but two receivers with over 1,300 yards receiving, a tight end with 111 catches, and a quarterback that was the conference MVP.

Herman then moved on to Iowa State to work with then new head coach Paul Rhoads. Again he broke school records which caught the eye of Urban Meyer at Ohio State. Now in his third season with the Buckeyes, Herman just won the Broyles Award given to the top assistant coach in the country. Ohio State finished No. 7 nationally in total offense despite playing three quarterbacks due to injuries.

Herman, who is also considered an exceptional recruiter, runs a no huddle, fast paced, spread offense, but not a fancy, gimmicky one. Like Pitt, Ohio State has massive offensive linemen so the Panthers biggest asset, the offensive line, should not be compromised.

Bo Pelini
Age: 46
Born: Youngstown, OH
Alma mater: Ohio State

Pelini was just fired from Nebraska in what was considered a controversial move by many, mostly because in seven seasons Pelini was 67-27, including 9-3 this season. Pelini lost four games in every season but this season when he didn't get to coach in the bowl.

Pelini will get paid nearly 8 million dollars total for the next four years so he's in no hurry financially to find another job. He may not find it at Pitt anyway. At one point the Panthers were interested in Pelini but his volatile personality is contradictory to the image that Pitt tries to follow. For those reasons he seems like a long shot.

Teryl Austin
Age: 49
Born: Sharon, PA
Alma mater: Pittsburgh
Salary: ?

Have to put a Pitt guy on the list but he's only been a coordinator for two years. Of course one of those years was in Florida and one is this year with the Detroit Lions where he's leading one of the best defenses in the NFL.

He was a very good recruiter in his day but he's only recruited one year in the last decade. He may also be getting NFL interviews after this season. It's debatable if he's really a "Pitt guy" that would find this his dream job since he's never coached at Pitt and he doesn't seem to talk about them a lot.

But I have to add him because you never know if the administration wants a Pitt alum.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Pitt 76 Duquesne 62

Good performance by Pitt tonight and I much needed win. The Panthers were favored by 8.5 and won by 14.

1. The most impressive layer was clearly James Robinson, who has been a whipping boy for many, so it was good to see him come up big. On the night he had a career high 23 points, while also adding 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and a block. Very impressive.

2.  Robinson is averaging 12.7 ppg this season. As a freshman he averaged 6.1 ppg and as a sophomore he averaged 7.6 ppg.

3.  Josh Newkirk was also very good and added 16 points, including 3-4 from three. He also added 4 rebounds and 5 assists.

4.  Another player who has had a lot of criticism, Joseph Uchebo, came up with his best performance of his career with 12 points and 9 rebounds.

5.  Chris Jones had another good game with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, and a block. He's now averaging 9.8 ppg for the season.

6. In the last two games Newkirk is averaging 16 ppg and Jones is averaging 15 ppg.

7. Mike Young had just one point and went 0-3 from the field, but he also had 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a steal.

8. Jamel Artis had a dry spell but he's been more productive lately,. He was both good and bad in this game (sometimes on the same play), but he did come up with 9 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists. In the last three games he's averaging 8.7 ppg and 7.3 rpg.

9.  Pitt held Duquesne to 37.1% from the field.

10. The Panthers out rebounded the Dukes 45-37.

Pitt Football Final Unit Grades for 2014 Season- Special Teams and Coaching

Special Teams:  This unit has been feast or famine in recent years with some aspects good and some aspects bad. There was improvement this season as most aspects ranged from good to mediocre rather than good to bad.

For the first half of the season Chris Blewitt looked like an all-star but things went south in the second half of the season. In the first six games he was 9-9 in FGs. In the last six games he went 5-10.  Punter Ryan Winslow averaged just 39.9 per punt and finished No. 83 nationally. The team also finished No. 73 in net punting. In other words, out of the Panthers two kickers they got a half of a good season out of one of them.

The return teams had better luck. The team finished only No. 65 in punt returns but Tyler Boyd finished No. 17 nationally thanks to a hot finish. The kickoff team finished No. 43 nationally. The defense for the returns were pretty similar finishing No. 67 in kickoff return defense and No. 30 in punt return defense.

Overall: A good, but not great year and that's an improvement. It could have been significantly better if Blewitt didn't, well, you know.

Last Season's Final Grade: C
This Season's Preseason Grade: B
Midseason Grade: C
Final Grade: B-

Coaching:  The most controversial facet of the team which is understandable when the head coach that is 19-19 has some questionable coaches on his staff. It's not fair to name names, but if I did I would name Matt House, Inoke Breckerfield, and Chris Haering as coaches that Pitt should upgrade.

As for Chryst, first of all, he needs to correct his staff. He also has to stop losing to teams like Akron. Yes, Pitt is young and young teams sometimes do the unexplainable, but that's an inexcusable loss.

On the bright side, the team is extremely young, and in fact was the youngest team in the nation. I will get into details in a future article, but the offense improved immensely and it's obvious that Paul Chryst is in the process of doing wonders with Chad Voytik. The offensive line has been totally transformed with top talent and the running back unit is loaded. The wide receivers need to develop because it's pathetic that there's only one accomplished receiver on the team right now, and the tight ends are still criminally underutilized, but all in all the offense is good and getting better. In fact, next year, on paper, Pitt has the offensive talent of a top 20 team- at least.

Then there is the defense. I've said this before but it's important to keep reiterating it. When a head coach has his expertise on offense he needs to have an experience coordinator and staff on defense. Instead he has a neophyte coordinator who has yet to prove his worth and a few other members of the staff that have yet to prove themselves as coaches or recruiters.

The recruiting on defense and at quarterback are still questionable as is recruiting so many running backs. The front seven has no elite prospects at all as of this writing. There's no doubt that some defensive linemen an linebackers will develop well, maybe even into stars, but you can't count on that all the time. The same can be said for young quarterbacks like Adam Bertke and Alex Hornibrook. Either may turn into a big time quarterback and both are fine development prospects, but it's still a failure on Chryst's part, with his lofty reputation, not to be able to land an elite quarterback. And why the Panthers need seven running backs, and counting, is beyond me, especially since they only play one at a time.

No head coach is perfect. Nick Saban and Bill Belicheck has made mistakes, too. But the mistakes Chryst are making are correctable. if he can correct them and continue to add personnel that fits his personality then he may eventually succeed. But at the moment he is still a .500 coach that is still trying to find his way.

Last Season's Final Grade: B-
This Season's Preseason Grade: B-
Midseason Grade: C
Final Grade: C

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Pitt Football Final Unit Grades for 2014 season- Defense

Defensive Line: This is where things start to get ugly. The one thing that stands out in this unit is that Aaron Donald's greatness made up for a lot of holes last season. Senior David Durham, a former fullback, was the best defensive end. That's a problem. Durham was better this year than last year but he still had just 28 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 2 pass breakups, and 1 fumble recovery. Shakir Soto, who the defense was depending on entering the season, was even worse. For the year he had 30 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, no sacks, no pass breakups, and no fumble recoveries. Throw in his embarrassing tirade against Miami and he was a total disaster this season.

At least there is some hope with the reserves, especially true freshman Rori Blair, who ended up with 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, and 2 pass breakups. Redshirt freshman Luke Maclean was looking good through the first four games, but an ankle injury cost him the rest of the season. But in those first four games he had 7 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and 0.5 sacks. In other words, in just four games he did more than Soto did all season.

At tackle, like Soto, much was hoped for from Darryl Render. The replacement for Donald was never going to live up to that level, and he surely didn't, but he played much better than Soto. On the season he had 31 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 4 pass breakups, and a forced fumble. Beside him, nose tackle KK Mosely-Smith had 27 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, no sacks, a fumble recovery, and 3 pass breakups. The numbers don't wow, but the nose tackle in Pitt's system is to hold the line so those numbers are actually pretty solid.

Redshirt freshman Justin Moody played little but when he did he showed flashes. He totaled just 8 tackles on the season, including a tackle for loss, a half of a sack, and a pass breakup. Yes, even he joined the "more production that Soto" group. Tyrique Jarrett was the primary backup up at nose tackle until he missed the last five games of the season with an injury. He still hasn't lived up to his potential and totaled 7 tackles (all assists). He didn't record a tackle for loss, sack, pass breakup, fumble forced, or fumble recovery.

Bottom line: Obviously another Donald was not expected, but this was a bit ridiculous. The pass rush was virtually non-existent, and it wasn't much better against the run. The Panthers were No. 51 nationally against the run but they also gave up 4.4 yards a carry and 24 rushing yards. Pretty bad. And how bad were the defensive ends? Donald had more sacks as a sophomore tackle than the entire group of ends. The good news is, Blair and Maclean appear to already be better than Soto and Durham.

Last Season's Final Grade: B
This Season's Preseason Grade: C
Midseason Grade: D+
Final Grade: D

Linebackers: Big things were expected from returning seniors Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas, and while they had decent seasons, they did not progress from last year. Gonzalez had 74 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 pass breakup (compared to 6 last year), and one fumble recovery. Thomas had 71 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, no sacks, 2 pass breakups, a fumble recovery, and an interception. Again, these aren't bad numbers from these two but they aren't necessarily good numbers for starters either. Middle linebacker Matt Galambos got the start in the middle but he also disappointed. He finished with 64 tackles, one tackle for loss, no sacks, one pass breakup, and one interception. He did finish better, though, with 23 tackles in the last 3 games. That projects to 92 tackles over the season.

Bam Bradley was solid, if not spectacular, in reserve, with 32 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, one sack, 2 pass breakups, and an interception. Fast Nicolas Grimsby had a position invented for him that would enable him to make big plays. It didn't work. He finished with 24 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, and no sacks. He was actually better the year before when he had no position invented for him.

Bottom line: This was supposed to be the strength of the defense but they weren't much better than the other units, even with the return of veteran starters Gonzalez and Thomas.

Last Season's Final Grade: C
This Season's Preseason Grade: B
Midseason Grade: C
Final Grade: C

Defensive Backs: With offseason losses this unit was looking like a disaster, but to be honest thanks to Troy Douglas this unit wasn't as bad as it looked like it was going to be.  In fact, it was the best unit on the defense. Let's start with the weak link, despite his experience, and that's Lafayette Pitts. The redshirt junior had 36 tackles, a tackle for loss, 4 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. That doesn't look bad until you realize that he was picked on more than any starter. That's especially bad when the other starting cornerback, Reggie Mitchell, was never a cornerback until the offseason. He did very well and ended up with 55 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, a sack, 2 forced fumbles, and 6 pass breakups.

True freshman Avonte Maddox struggled at times but he clearly made strides as the season progressed. He finished with 27 tackles and 3 pass breakups.

At safety, Ray Vinopal had 62 tackles (down from 83), and 2 tackles for loss, 7 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions. He was probably the best player on defense but statistically he actually had a better season last year. Terrish Webb began the season as the other starter and played well until he was lost for the season with an ankle injury. Through the first eight games he had 33 tackles, a tackle for loss, a fumble recovery, 3 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. Pat Amara took over for Webb and performed very well, especially for a true freshman. He ended up with 18 tackles, a tackle for loss, one pass breakup, and an interception.

Bottom line: Thanks to Mitchell's successful move and the development of true freshman Maddox and Amara, this unit was actually pretty good. They finished No. 21 in pass defense, No. 34 in pass efficiency defense, and No. 39 in third down defense. On the downside, the Panthers finished No. 74 in interceptions.

Last Season's Final Grade: C
This Season's Preseason Grade: C-
Midseason Grade: C-
Final Grade: B-

Overall: This defense finished No. 28 nationally in total defense but they weren't nearly that good. When you look at the personnel and some of the stats it's amazing that they managed to rank so highly. The defense had no touchdowns, and they were also No. 113 in fumbles recovered, No. 65 in red zone defense, No. 110 in sacks, No. 121 in tackles for loss allowed, and No. 107 in turnovers gained. That's quite awful.

On the bright side, the secondary was good and could get much better next season. Also, the young players on the team seem to already be better than the upperclassmen.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Pitt Football Final Unit Grades for 2014 Season- Offense

Quarterbacks: This was quite an iffy position for the first half of the season. Redshirt sophomore Chad Voytik struggled passing in his first season as a starter, but he compensated some by running well. In the second half of the season, however, Voytik's passing improved while he continued to be successful running also.

In the first six games Voytik was 84-143 (58.7%) for 949 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. He also ran for 169 yards. In the final six games Voytik was 74-109 (67.9%) for 1,062 yards, 7 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions while running for 257 more yards. For the season Voytik completed 62.7% for 2,011 yards, 15 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, and ran for 426 yards. He was also only sacked 19 times. He ranked 30th nationally in passing.

Voytik clearly got better as the season progressed, even more impressive when considering the fact that the competition was tougher. Voytik got more confident as he gained experience. He's also tough as nails and a great leader.

Behind Voytik there was virtually nobody else and the Panthers dodged a major bullet with Voytik staying healthy. Former walk-on Trey Anderson completed 11 of 18 passes and threw a touchdown. Adam Bertke successfully redshirted.

Bottom line: Voytik made strides though he still isn't capable of winning a game by himself. That day may come, though, if he continues to improve. With the lack of depth and a starter that can't win games by himself, the grade can only be so high, but the future with Voytik is bright.

Last Season's Final Grade: B-
Preseason Grade: C-
Midseason Grade: D+
Final Grade: C

Running Back: James Conner had an All-American caliber season and had more votes than any player on the ACC all-conference team. He was virtually unstoppable when the offensive line and the threat of Voytik gave him any chance at all. On the season he ran for 1,675 yards and an impressive 6.0 yards a carry. That was the fourth highest total in the country.  He was also second in the nation with 24 TDs, which also broke Tony Dorsett's school record. Not much more to say then he's a superstar.

As if Conner wasn't enough, backup true freshman Chris James displayed lightening speed and a tantalizing future by rushing for 404 yards and a 4.9 average. He also had 4 touchdowns. Isaac Bennett ran hard and averaged 5.3 yards a carry and 255 yards. He also caught 12 passes with an impressive 10.4 yards a catch. He had both a rushing and a receiving touchdown. Rachid Ibrahim was even more impressive with 221 yards rushing and an incredible 7.9 average. He also showed his normal great hands out of the backfield with 9 catches. If that wasn't enough Jaymar Parrish is one of the best blockers in the nation. He's technically an H-Back but he is often in the backfield as if he's a traditional fullback.

Bottom line: This is my first ever final grade of an A+, and for good reason. An All-American caliber 250-pound record setting halfback, lighting speed with James, tough runner with Bennett, versatility with Ibrahim, and a devastating blocker. The Pitt backfield is the real deal.

Last Season's Final Grade: C
Preseason Grade: B
Midseason Grade: A
Final Grade: A+

Wide Receiver: This unit has a superstar in the fantastic sophomore Tyler Boyd, and then an enormous drop off.  Even with the passing game struggling for much of the season, and no other viable options to throw to, Boyd still came up with 69 catches for 1,149 yards, a 16.7 avg., and 8 touchdowns.  As Voytik progressed, so did Boyd. In the first half of the season Boyd had 428 receiving yards. In the second half of the season he had 721 yards receiving yards.

Manasseh Garner was the other starter for most of the season though injuries cost him the last three games. Even before that, though, his season was a disappointment with 17 catches for 211 yards (11.8 avg.), and 2 touchdowns. Sophomore Dontez Ford filled in for Garner but has only 3 catches for 50 yards on the season. Kevin Weatherspoon chipped in 12 catches for 149 yards. Ronald Jones has 9 catches for 79 yards but he's back in the doghouse and he hasn't played in the last four games. Adonis Jennings inexplicably had his redshirt burned for 6 catches and 55 yards.

If you're counting at home that means Boyd had 69 catches and the other six wide receivers that caught a pass totaled 48.

Bottom line: Boyd is one of the best Pitt Panthers ever but the rest of the unit was extremely weak this season.

Last Season's Final Grade: B
Preseason Grade: B
Midseason Grade: C
Final Grade: C

Tight Ends: Every time I get to this unit I am disappointed. The talent is there, but unfortunately they don't get to show it. Unless of course you watch them block. The starter, J.P. Holtz, had just 18 catches for 166 yards, and 3 TDs. But he continues to be a devastating blocker. Injury prone Scott Orndoff continues to disappoint and had just 3 catches on the season. The H-Back Parrish added 4 catches for 25 yards.

Bottom line: I used to give this unit the benefit of the doubt but with Orndoff disappointing so much I finally have to lower their grade. But Holtz and Parrish are such wonderful blockers that it still gets a positive grade.

Last Season's Final Grade: B
Preseason Grade: A-
Midseason Grade: B
Final Grade: B-

Offensive Line: It seemingly took forever for the Panthers to have a good offensive line again but that day has finally come. Right tackle TJ Clemmings completed his transformation to defense by becoming All-ACC First Team and a possible fist round draft pick. Guard Matt Rotheram made third team and had a good year. The other three starters were more hit or miss, but thankfully more hit than miss.

Starting center Artie Rowell went down very early but redshirt freshman Alex Officer proved that he could be an all-star in the future. He didn't have the experience or leadership qualities of Rowell but he still didn't miss a beat because he is more physically talented than Rowell.

The other two positions were divided by redshirt sophomore Adam Bisnowaty, true sophomore Dorian Johnson, and redshirt freshman Jaryd Jones-Smith. The youth is evident, but the talent is there. Bisnowaty started at left tackle, but would rotate to guard in place of Johnson, and Jones-Smith took over for Bisnowaty.  All three were inconsistent at times, especially in the middle of the season when even Clemmings had some bad moments, but the fact that the Panthers are No. 14 nationally in rushing and Voytik was sacked just 19 times is all you need to know.

Bottom line: Finally the day has come and it was worth the wait. And the best part is, the unit should be even better for years to come.

Last Season's Final Grade: D+
Preseason Grade: C+
Midseason Grade: B-
Final Grade: B

Overall:  It's pretty obvious that the offense was mostly Conner and Boyd, but it worked. The coaches used them as often as they could, they stayed healthy, and they didn't buckle. They lived up to their lofty reputation as players and leaders. And when Voytik noticeably improved as the season went on, Conner and Boyd improved even more. The offensive line also improved as did the great blocking from Holtz and Parrish.

Put it all together and the Panthers were No. 41 in total offense, No. 14 in rushing, No. 28 in first downs, No. 13 in fourth down percentage, No. 21 in 3rd down percentage, 23rd in red zone offense, and 12th in tackles for loss allowed. Put it all together and that's an offense that's much better than average. And this is with a quarterback that's not a finished product, one passing target, and a majority of the line that's still very young.  What does it all mean? Mostly that Paul Chryst has built a very good offense, but it's still only half built. It should only get much better.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The place to rant or cheer

I'm going to be visiting my wife's family in North Carolina until Sunday afternoon so I won't be able to write much about the Miami game or Maui. I will have my phone with me and I can write comments or confirm or deny comments, but it's pretty impossible to write a long article on a phone. So if you want to make any comments from now until Sunday, this is the place. Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

My All-American picks

As a member of the FWAA, I get to vote for both All-American as well as some major awards. If anybody is interested, this is how I voted.

QB- Marcus Mariota, Oregon
RB- Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
RB- James Conner, Pittsburgh
WR- Amari Cooper, Alabama
WR- Kevin White, West Virginia
TE- Clive Walford, Miami
OL- Brandon Scherff, Iowa
OL- AJ Cann, South Carolina
OL- Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
OL- Spencer Drango, Baylor
C-  Reese Dismukes, Auburn

DL- Joey Bosa, Ohio State
DL- Shane Ray, Missouri
DL- Leonard Williams, USC
DL- Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
LB- Scooby Wright, Arizona
LB- Shaq Thompson, Washington
LB- Hau'Oli Kakana, Washington
DB- Gerod Holliman, Louisville
DB- Senquez Golson, Mississippi
DB- Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech
DB- Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon

P- Austin Rehkow, Idaho
PK- Roberto Aguayo, Florida State
Return- J.J. Nelson, UAB

Bronco Nagurski Trophy (Best Defensive Player)- Gerod Holliman, Louisville

Outland Trophy (Best Interior Lineman)- Brandon Scherff, Iowa

Eddie Robinson Award (Best Coach)- Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Pitt 63 Samford 56

This was not a good performance by the Panthers, who were favored by 30, but to be honest, they weren't blatantly awful. In fact, it seems like they won by 25 then 7, but that wasn't the case. Mostly because of Samford's Tyler Hood making six three pointers.

1.  Mike Young continues to be aggressive offensively and the result is 20 points on 10-13 from the field.  He also had 5 rebounds.  For the season he is averaging 13.5 ppg and 6.0 rpg.

2.  Jamel Artis, Durand Johnson's replacement at small forward, again had a good game with 12 points and 5 rebounds.  On the season he had 13.0 ppg and 4.5 rpg.

3.  James Robinson did not shoot well going 2-6 from the field, but he was 4-4 from the line and had 8 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks, and a steal.

4.  Cheick Diallo was visiting with teammate Damon Wilson and it's obvious that somebody like him is needed. Joseph Uchebo and Derrick Randall combined for 4 points, 3 rebounds, and a block.

5. Sheldon Jeter was impressive off the bench with 8 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks. he was also 3-3 from the field, including a massive dunk.

6. Pitt shot 51.1% from the floor compared to Samford's 32.2%. Pitt also made two more FTs. The problem was that Samford out rebounded the Panthers 33-31 and 8 three pointers to Pitt's 3.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

North Carolina 40 Pitt 35

Stop me if you've heard this before- Pitt offense did well, especially James Conner and Tyler Boyd.  Pitt's defense is awful. The Panthers have now lost 6 of their last 7 and they would have to win at Miami to make a bowl. In other words, this year was a disaster.

1. James Conner and Tyler Boyd are superstars. Both maybe among the top 10 to ever play at Pitt. And their reward is a losing season. I can't help but feel awful for them.

2.  Conner was his normal superman self with 220 yards and 4 TDs on 30 carries. Boyd had 5 catches for 160 yards and a TD.

3.  Chad Voytik was his normal up and down self. He had some bad throws and fumbled to end the game, but he also 11-16 for 218 yards and a TD. He had no interceptions and also ran for 41 yards on 10 carries.

4.  The defense doesn't have the talent or the coaching. If Pitt does not make drastic coaching changes on the defensive side of the ball then the program is doomed.

5.  I don't really have anything else to say. I'm just disgusted by the Pitt football program. The leadership is incompetent.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Pitt 78 Niagara 45

For at least one game, Pitt showed that it is more than just Durand Johnson. Obviously this was bad competition, but the Panthers played well. Some thoughts:

1. The best thing in this game is that the four Panthers in double figures are players that will get more minutes with the absence of Johnson. It's always nice to have a veteran scorer, but the truth is, Pitt has so much depth that his loss may not be a huge deal. That's if there aren't more injuries, suspensions, etc. 

2.  Johnson's replacement in the starting lineup, Jamel Artis, led the Panthers with 14 points.  He also had 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and made 2 of 4 three pointers.

3.  The biggest surprise (though maybe it shouldn't be) is freshman Cam Johnson, who had 11 points in his first game, including 4-5 from the field.

4.  Josh Newark came off the bench to get 12 points and 5 assists. James Robinson had 8 points and 7 assists. Chris Jones, starting in place of injured Cameron Wright, had 10 points.  Combined, the guard trio had 30 points and 13 assists.

5.  Mike Young was not needed but had an efficient 7 points and 7 rebounds.

6.  Joseph Uchebo started at center and 1 point, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists.  Backup Derrick Randall added 4 points and 5 rebounds.

7.  Sheldon Jeter pitched in 7 points in reserve.

8.  The Panthers shot very well going 52.6% from the field, while making 7-18 from three, and 11-14 from the line. Five different players made a three pointer, with Artis and Jones both having two.

9. The Panthers out rebounded Niagara 28-16, and held them to 25% from the floor. In fact, Niagara only had 12 field goals in the game. 

Durand Johnson suspended for the season

Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon just announced that Pitt junior forward Durand Johnson has been suspended for the entire season.  Obviously that's a bad blow for the team. Jamel Artis and Sheldon Jeter will have to pick up the slack, and now Cameron Johnson may get more time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Panthers offers Temple Gibbs

Jamie Dixon finally got around to offering Temple "T.J." Gibbs.  The 6'2" combo guard is the younger brother of former Pitt star Ashton Gibbs. Like his brother, Gibbs plays at Seton Hall Prep in Scotch Plains, NJ.

Gibbs is generally considered a top 50 prospect (Ashton was not in the top 100), and has offers from Georgetown, Virginia, St. John's, Boston College, Miami, Georgia Tech, Providence, Virginia Tech, Auburn, Oklahoma, USC, and Xavier, among others. His offer list should be even more impressive as he's still in the 2016 class.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Duke 51 Pitt 48 (2OT)

Another day, another loss. Unlike like last week when Pitt just didn't show up, this time at least the offense did show up. The bad news is, the defense, the kicking game, and the coaching did not. Some thoughts:

1. James Conner is a manchild. I don't know how many times I can say it. He's now on pace for about 1,800 yards this season and he's doing it without a passing game. Today he ran for an incredible 38 times for 263 yards, a 6.9 avg., and 3 touchdowns.  He's an absolute superstar.

2.  Speaking of superstars, in the last two seasons Paul Chryst has had three of them in Conner, Tyler Boyd, and Aaron Donald. His record with them is 11-11.

3.  Speaking of Boyd he had 7 catches for 140 yards.

4.  Chad Voytik is still improving but he's not yet at the stage where he can win a game all by himself.  His running is still very good, but his passing is still just okay at best. On the day he was 16-24 for 236 yards, 2 TDs, and 0 TDs. He also ran 14 times for 58 yards, and ran for another TD.

5. Pitt had an incredible 594 yards and still somehow managed to lose the game.

6.  Chris Blewitt, well...you know the rest. He's been great all year. It's too bad that he chose this time to realize that he plays for Pitt.

7.  I can't point out any defensive standouts because there weren't any.  Duke had 438 total yards.

8.  Chryst again made some curious (bad) decisions.  The hash mark on the potential game winning FG was an obvious one, but in the 2nd OT Conner didn't touch the ball, which was also not smart.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Why Pitt is Failing- and How They Can Succeed

It's been over thirty years since Jackie Sherrill left the University of Pittsburgh for Texas A&M University and the Pitt football program has never recovered. In the 33 seasons since Sherrill left, including this season, Pitt finished in the top 25 just six times. They've also only finished in the top 10 just once and that was No. 10 the year after Sherrill left. After that there have been three decades of mediocrity for Pitt. Why, and what can be done, if anything, to change this long futility? What does the program possess that could help them be a power, and what does it need that it doesn't have now? And most importantly, will the university ever identify and then improve on their weaknesses? Some of those answers follow.

What Pitt has:

1.  Tradition- At first this seems contradictory to what I've already written and what will follow, but believe it not Pitt does have tradition. Western Pennsylvania loves football, and Pitt is still the most popular college football in the area. The high school kids now haven't experienced Pitt at their best, but their parents, coaches, teachers, uncles, etc. grew up with, and have an affection for, Pitt. Good luck talking to any Pittsburgh sports fan that doesn't wax poetic about Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett, Dan Marino, Ironhead Hayward, Larry Fitzgerald, and many others. 

2.  Recruiting area- We've heard many times that the Pittsburgh area doesn't have the same amount of top prospects now than they did in the 1970s, and that's true, but it's also an overrated problem. Even in the loaded 70s and early 80s, the program usually would only land 7 or 8 WPIAL prospects, not the 20 that many assume. But then most of the top prospects went to Pitt. Very few were lost to an outside program, including Penn State. 

If the Panthers landed the top programs in the WPIAL from recent years, Aaron Donald would have been paired with Delvon Simmons at defensive tackle, instead of having to be a one man wrecking crew. Simmons went to Texas Tech and currently is at USC where he's starring. Robert Foster and Troy Apke would join Tyler Boyd at wide receiver instead of Boyd being the only wide receiver that is currently capable of producing. The current weak secondary would be loaded with Demetrious Cox, Montae Nicholson, Malik Hooker, and Dravon Henry. Chase Winovich and Khaleke Hudson would be huge additions to the future linebacker corps. 

Paul Chryst has landed some good WPIAL prospects, and even a few excellent ones, but most of the top five prospects from the WPIAL, i.e. the ones with great options, usually go elsewhere. This also happened to a lesser degree with Dave Wannstedt, too. When Pitt was a top program, it wasn't even an option for most kids to go elsewhere. There was an excellent program right in their own backyard so why go anywhere else? 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Pitt can live with local prospects alone. But the elite Pitt teams didn't either. Many of the best Pitt players ever came from outside the WPIAL. And that's what Pitt still has to do but that's possible because the recruiting regions outside of western PA are still good. There are many excellent players in eastern PA, Washington, DC, Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, Michigan, and of course like everybody else, Pitt can try to get players out of the unbelievably fertile state of Florida.

3. Conference- The ACC has been a disappointment as a football conference, but it's still a Power 5 conference, and any football program in one of the five major conferences should be capable of being at least a top 25 program. In other words, Pitt is one of the haves in the college football world when it comes to a conference. That's a huge advantage. Just ask UConn or Cincinnati. 

4. Campus and city- Not every kid wants to go to school in a city but on the other hand many do. And it's a world class city at that. Any real Pittsburgher knows that the city routinely finds itself on favorable top 10 lists. In fact, hardly a month goes by that Pittsburgh doesn't find itself on a top 10 list that shows how awesome the city is. Enormous advantages can be gained by going to school in a major city. Do you want to be an FBI agent some day? Well, as luck would have it, you can possibly intern at the Pittsburgh FBI office like some past Pitt athletes have. You want to work in medicine? Well, UPMC is one of the highest rated hospitals in the country. Law is your dream? Pick a major law firm because you'll get a lot in a major city. Bottom line, you have more career advantages in a major city like Pittsburgh than you would in someplace like Morgantown or State College. 

As for the campus, it's beautiful and dominates an entire section of an exciting, busy section of a wonderful city. The Cathedral of Learning is one of the most famous school buildings in the entire world and it rises above the horizon like a beacon. Like I said, it's not for everybody, but most kids that actually visit are very impressed by both the city and the campus.

5. Money- I get asked all the time if Pitt has the money to be a major college program. The answer is yes. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise. But having the money and the willingness to spend it are two different things.

How much money does Pitt have? Well, let's start with a 3 billion dollar endowment. No, that's not a misprint. Pitt gets 3 BILLION dollars to invest and to run the university. That's the same as the entire Penn State school system. It's also just a hair under Ohio State, one billion more than Wisconsin, 700 million more than Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Washington, three times more than West Virginia, Baylor and Iowa, and more than twice the amount of Michigan State, UCLA, Florida, Missouri, and Nebraska, just to name a few.

In a 2011 article by Forbes Magazine Pitt was rated the second fastest growing endowment of any university in the country. And it's gone up a half of a BILLION dollars since then, just three years ago. Pitt has the 29th biggest endowment in the country, as of 2013, and the 13th biggest endowment of any Power 5 conference. You read that right. Only 12 universities that play major college football in the entire country have a bigger endowment than the University of Pittsburgh. Throw in the fact that the university's tuition was also just named the highest for any public university in the nation and you should scoff at any notion that Pitt can't afford to be a major college football program.

Of course it's true that that 3 billion dollars is allocated for the university and not for just the football program. But it's naive to think that the above mentioned universities, with much less endowment, can pay significantly more for their football programs. And don't use the argument that Pitt doesn't have a Phil Knight or a T. Boone Pickens. Do you know why every college football fan knows about their extravagant donations for their respective football programs? Because it's an anomaly. They're the only two who have given obscene amounts of money for sports. No, Pitt doesn't have a single over the top booster, but neither does just about anybody else.

What Pitt has to do:

1. Spend the money- All that money is useless if the school won't spend it. And Pitt has a long history of not spending it. Remember that Jackie Sherrill reference in the first paragraph of this post? The reason he left was because Pitt wouldn't pay him to stay. That was 33 years ago. At the time they decided that Foge Fazio, a great defensive coordinator, would merely be promoted. The university figured that they could save the money it would have to pay Sherrill with the assumption that Fazio would not miss a beat. But Fazio did miss a beat, and the result is that Pitt's football program has been beat to death ever since.

The salary of every head coach that followed was just as average as the next. Even Dave Wannstedt, a big name, famous alum, and former NFL Coach of the Year, was paid an average salary for a major college program.

Pitt's style is not to pay big money for a better shot at a sure thing. Instead they try to find a sleeper that they can get for a little less money. That's okay if you have the ability to find those coaches, but Pitt can't. There have been a lot of desperate times over the last three decades when the administration really needed to step up and pay money for somebody to stop the bleeding. Instead they were thrifty each and every time.

They've never went out and outbid another school for a big time coach. Mike Gottfried was hired after he turned lowly Kansas into a 6-6 team. Paul Hackett they got cheap because he merely got promoted and had no head coaching experience. The second stint of Johnny Majors? How awful this hire was, as well as the others, will be discussed later, but for now let's just say it was a cheap hire.

After Majors' second stint Steve Pederson made what turned out to be a solid hire in Walt Harris but the program was at an all time low then. If there was ever a desperate time to pay a big time coach to come in and right the ship this was the time. A quarterback coach from Ohio State and an unsuccessful head coaching stint at Pacific really doesn't match that criteria. But against all odds, and much to his credit, Harris turned Pitt into a better than average program.

Harris was replaced by Wannstedt, who didn't command the salary that many think. He wasn't going to get paid more by anybody else because he just quit on the Miami Dolphins in midseason and people weren't lining up to hire him as their head coach. It was a good hire by Pitt, but it was also a relatively cheap one. If Wannstedt wanted to be a head coach he was not going to get better than Pitt. He was used up as far as being a head coach. After he was fired came Michael Haywood, who was coming from that college football juggernaut Miami, OH. Needless to say, he didn't cost much.

After Haywood was dismissed (more on that later), Pitt was forced to pay a little more to go back to their first choice Todd Graham.  First Pitt offered 1.3 million for Graham, an amount he was already offered at Tulsa. Apparently the Pitt administration thought their 1.3 million came in crisper bills. When Graham said no, the administration upped it to 1.6 million. Graham still balked so Pitt eventually got to nearly 2 million. Graham finally said yes.

Graham got the going rate for somebody with his resume, though it took Pitt awhile to get there. In fact, Pitt was so cheap on their first attempt that they ended up hiring Haywood instead. Their initial refusal to give Graham he was worth cost Pitt many headaches with Haywood.

Of course the university should not just throw money at a prospective head coach just to do it. It has to be the perfect candidate. But Pitt doesn't even look to take an established major college head coach. Arkansas, who has an endowment of less than one billion, paid Bret Bielema almost 3 million a year to leave Wisconsin, and also paid for his buyout. Tennessee paid Butch Jones 3.2 million to leave Cincinnati, while also supplying the buyout. Washington paid 3.4 million to Chris Petersen to leave Boise State. Cincinnati paid Tommy Tuberville 3.2 million to leave Texas Tech. Clearly Cincinnati was a school that was sick of coaches leaving and they paid a lot to a coach that was desperate to get out of Lubbock. But they wanted to make sure they got a proven winner who wouldn't leave and they made it happen by paying him accordingly.

Chryst makes 1.8 million, and because he has no track record it's understandable why he makes less than those coaches. But then that's the point. Why pay almost 2 million a year for somebody with no head coaching experience when one to one and half million more, Pitt could land a coach like Bielema, Jones, or Petersen? All three coaches were hired at schools that has a significantly lower endowment. Of course it takes more than just salary to land this level of head coach. It takes commitment in every facet. But it's the first very big sign that a program is serious.

Of course that's just one way to land a top coach. Pitt could also target the right coach from a smaller program, as Mississippi did with Hugh Freeze, Baylor did with Art Briles, or Wisconsin did with Gary Anderson. But more on that later.

As for a staff budget, since Pitt does not disclose how much they pay (pretty revealing), it's hard to say just how they compare for sure, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it's average at best. Past coordinators like Matt Cavanaugh, Phil Bennett, and Frank Cignetti, Jr., had enough on their resume that they probably got the going rate, and Joe Rudolph probably got a nice amount to follow Chryst, but it's no secret that the Panthers don't keep hot assistants for long.

Bottom line, Pitt pays what their head coaches and staffs are worth. The problem with that is, because both the head coaches and their staffs are only average they are only getting paid an average amount. It's not rocket science. You get what you pay for and what Pitt is paying for is mediocrity.

EDIT: Apparently some are misunderstanding about what I'm saying with the endowment. Just to be clear, it's not as if Pitt gets to spend 3 billion dollars. It's an investment used to run the school, give out scholarships, etc. My point is that any university with that much of an endowment has large amounts of money moving through it. That money is not necessarily for the football program, and in fact only a small percentage would be allocated for that by donors. But it is indicative of the massive amounts of money that donors give to the university. And even if that money is not for the football program per se it shows that the football program has the potential to tap into the same donors for football if the university gives them a reason to do so. In other words, the money is out there.

2. Fire the athletic director- Of all the things that the university can do immediately to get things back on track, this is the quickest. Fire Steve Pederson. Do it as soon as possible. And then don't look back. The case can't even be made that Pederson is polarizing because the truth is, he's almost universally disliked by fans, alumni, and former players.

Let's start with his decision to change Pitt's brand. This was the first sign that Pederson was completely out of touch with not only the university but also with how major college football is run. A team's brand is essential. It's so essential that Jamie Dixon resisted moving from the Big East to the ACC at first because he was worried that it would hurt the Pitt basketball brand. And that's just from moving from one excellent basketball conference to another.

A unique brand lets you stand out from the masses. Schools would kill to have a unique brand. Pitt was one of the lucky few that had one. Everybody in college sports knows of "Pitt". So what does Pederson do? He changed from "Pitt" to "Pittsburgh". No matter how many excuses Pederson makes, this was a truly awful idea. "Pitt" tells people that it's the University of Pittsburgh. "Pittsburgh" makes people think of the Steelers, rivers, and steel mills.

Then there is the stadium issue, which I will go into more detail below. The idea of sharing a practice facility was an excellent one, as was building an excellent arena for basketball and other school functions. But the move to Heinz Field is hurting the program, and Pederson's stubborn refusal to admit this is a slap in the face to anybody with a brain.

The most important job for an athletic director at most major college sports universities, including Pitt, is supplying an accomplished football program. Football is where the money is. A well run football program can help fund all of the other sports. One that is badly run can make a university bleed money. And the best way to have a successful one is by hiring an excellent head coach. Unfortunately for Pitt fans, Pederson has proven to be a disaster at the process.

Pederson's first football hire at Pitt was Harris. As I stated before Harris did a great job of getting Pitt back from embarrassment and Pederson deserves credit for that. It wasn't a home run hire, but ultimately it has to be considered a success. Harris was eventually left go by then athletic director Jeff Long after Harris went 25-13 in his last three years.

Wannstedt was hired by Long but then fired by Pederson after six seasons. Wannstedt was 42-31 at Pitt, but 25-12 in the last three seasons. Wannstedt was not Pederson's hire and it seems pretty obvious that Pederson was looking for the chance to get rid of him. That chance came when Wannstedt was 7-5 for Pitt in 2010. The two previous seasons Wannstedt was 9-4 and 10-3.

To be honest, I think the firing of a Wannstedt was a good decision. I personally called for it myself just before it happened. Wannstedt had peaked. He was not going to get the Panthers back to anything more than an occasional borderline top 25 team, and frankly Pitt has the potential to be better than that. For that reason I had no problem with firing Wannstedt if Pitt came up with somebody better. But that wasn't the case.

Not only did Pederson make an egregious error by letting Wannstedt turn his departure into a near coup at his press conference, but Pederson followed it up by "improving" the coaching situation by hiring Michael Haywood. If there's anybody out there that still questions whether or not Pederson should be fired, first pity them, then say "Michael Haywood".

Haywood was a career assistant until a two year stint at Miami, OH, had the personality of a garden slug, and had red flags in his personal life. Pederson inexplicably either didn't know about Haywood's red flags or chose to ignore it. But the red flags were known. ESPN national football writer Pat Forde reported that at least one school shied away from Haywood because of those red flags.

When I heard that Haywood was hired, I did something I've never done and that's immediately come out against it as a horrible hire. Haywood was such a bad candidate that I didn't even have him on my list of 30 possible candidates. When Haywood gave his introductory press conference the fans saw why. To call it a disaster is an understatement. Haywood babbled incoherently and at one point I'm almost positive that he was speaking in tongues. Even the Pitt players at the time were baffled by what the administration was doing. When Haywood was fired two weeks later after allegedly beating his girlfriend the current players publicly admitted that they were shocked by how incompetent Haywood seemed.

After Haywood was dismissed, Pitt was forced to go back to Graham, who Pederson wanted in the first place. Graham eventually reached a deal with Pitt after Pederson allegedly gave Graham the budget he wanted. It wasn't long before Graham, according to him, apparently realized that Pederson was not living up to his promises, and that he was not fitting in at Pitt. Obviously a lot of that is on Graham and his lack of commitment. He's a pathetic weasel. That itself does not eliminate somebody from being a head coach, obviously. There are a lot of big time coaches that are not overflowing with morals. And Graham is obviously a good coach. In fact, he's the most talent Pitt head coach since Sherrill left. But Pederson is the guy that sat down with Graham before hiring him. And his instincts told him that he was a good fit. Clearly he was wrong. A head coach and an athletic director have to have a symbiotic relationship for them to have success. But Graham and Pederson were like oil and water. Graham despised Pederson so much that he snuck out in the middle of the night, as weasels do.  But Pederson hired that weasel and should have known that two weasels don't get along well.

After Graham left, Pederson wanted Al Golden or Paul Rhoads. Golden wouldn't even talk to Pitt and Rhoads had no desire to leave his alma mater for Pitt. By this time Pederson made the Pitt coaching job a toxic situation and anybody that had options were not interested in working with Pederson. The final three of Mario Cristobal, Paul Chryst, and Luke Fickle were not exactly a scintillating trio. Even so, the apparent next in line was Cristobal, and that fell through too.

Finally, boosters got even more involved, including one that is close with Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez, who was pushing his offensive coordinator, Chryst, to Pitt. The plan worked for them. Whether it will work for Pitt and Chryst is still to be determined, but it's pretty telling that Chryst was not even responsible for this hire. Pederson desires head coaching experience, which Chryst did not have, so he didn't even get the type of candidate that he likes.

So Pederson wasn't allowed to hire the last head coach and now they've obviously gone around him to bring the "Pitt" back to Pitt. Why exactly is he still there? Especially since so many dispise him. There's not many times that an athletic director has routine coups against him from boosters and former players, but that's what has happened with Pederson.

One of the main excuses to keep Pederson from his apologists is that Dixon likes him. It's true. Dixon does like him. After all, Dixon gets paid a large amount of money for a basketball coach and his team is playing in a beautiful arena. And in the past Dixon may have taken another job if Pederson left. It's no secret that I highly respect Dixon but keeping a hated and incompetent AD just to appease him is not a good way to do business. It's football that needs to pay the bills at Pitt, not basketball. If there was a choice between a great football coach and a great basketball coach, Pitt should go with football. If Dixon would need to be sacrificed then so be it. But that is the worst case scenario. And it assumes that the new AD couldn't also work well with Dixon, who's not a petulant child. If you give him a competent AD who pays off his promises then Dixon would not go anywhere. And now Dixon won't be going anywhere anyway. His last contract was so lucrative in money and years that now he's cemented in at Pitt for a long time.

When all is said in done, the most successful basketball coach (Dixon) and the most successful football coach (Wannstedt) that Pitt has had in decades were both hired when Pederson was at Nebraska.

3. Get commitment and competency from the top: Chancellor Mark Nordenberg is an excellent man and was fantastic as the president of the university. Unfortunately he was also awful for the football program. And that begins with his total commitment to Pederson.

As discussed previously, Pederson is despised by most people that follow Pitt. That's enough to dismiss Pederson. After all, they are paying for the tickets and the merchandise, and they are donating  the money. But Nordenberg showed often that he was delusional when it comes to Pitt football. After all, this is the man who sat down with both Haywood and Graham in his office and then gave his approval. Pederson has stunk in his hirings but Nordenberg kept letting him do it, even after his failures were obvious. How oblivious was Nordenberg to what was going on? Let's examine some quotes he made after he announced his retirement.

Nordenberg: "People today are more proud of Pitt then they were in the mid-1990s... I think within the athletic department we've seen that same kind of change of culture. There's no comparison of what we had 20 years ago."

Truth: Pitt's facilities throughout their sports programs are better, though they were so bad a few decades ago that it's almost impossible not to improve.  And they are now down a football stadium (big negative).  But other than wrestling and basketball (and don't think for a second that Pederson would have promoted Dixon to coach), none of the sports are nationally recognized. And let me ask you Pitt fans. Are you proud of how Wannstedt exited? What about the hiring and firing of Haywood, or the disaster that was Graham? How about that loss to Akron this year or a 28 point loss as a favorite on homecoming? Sorry, but Pitt fans are anything but proud of the football program.

Nordenberg (on moving to Heinz Field): "People would say to me, 'This has got to be the hardest decision you've ever made.' I would say, 'It was actually one of the easiest decisions I've ever made and one of the hardest to sell.' Far more students attend games at Heinz Field than we had at Pitt Stadium. Now, it's an event for our students."

Truth: Ugh. I don't know if it's delusions or denial, but the kids weren't going to Pitt Stadium in the mid-90s because the program was at an all time low. Now students stand in long lines to get to and from the stadium and few stay around for the fourth quarter. Pitt football is anything but an event for the few that even bother to attend.

Nordenberg hired Pederson originally and then went right back to him after Pederson's disastrous tenure at his alma mater, Nebraska. In between stints Nordenberg hired Jeff Long, who he then let leave to Arkansas. Long is now considered one of the best ADs in the country. Long makes 900k at Arkansas and is the 11th highest paid AD. Peterson makes about 600k and is the 34th highest paid AD. The difference between one of the most revered ADs in the country and Pederson is just $300,000. And it's an AD that Pitt let go because they didn't want to pay him. Like head coaches, staff, stadium, and recruiting budget Pitt paid a little less than what is required to get the best.

Now Nordenberg and Jerry Cochran are out of the picture. Cochran was Nordenberg's right hand man for twenty years. He also handled the business side at Pitt, including negotiating contracts. He was a powerful man behind the scenes. He also, like Nordenberg, hurt the development of the football program by trying to get a great deal instead of a great coach.

Whether or not the replacements for Nordenberg and Cochran will do any better, time will tell. But when your football program has been struggling for three decades, and the people responsible for two of those bad decades are gone, then you have a golden opportunity to run the football program the way competent people would run it.

4. Build your own stadium: Yeah, I said it. Deal with it. Students and players should get the most out the college experience and Heinz Field does not provide that. People want to feel like they're at a college football game, but watching Pitt playing at Heinz Field is like watching a semi-pro game. There's no atmosphere. It's like playing in a morgue. Even if Pitt was a winner it would not be as exciting as possibly every other major college program in the country.

Pitt's zenith at Heinz Field was during the Cincinnati game when Wannstedt was the coach and the Panthers nearly won the Big East and made it to a BCS bowl. It was much more exciting than it is now but it still paled in comparison to the truly exciting college football stadiums.

It hurts recruiting and it hurts when trying to land a head coach. Any kid that visits Heinz Field and then goes to Morgantown or State College notice a big difference in atmosphere. Pitt will never have over 100,000 fans like Penn State but there's no reason why they shouldn't at least have the atmosphere of a big WVU game. When Pitt and WVU both play big games at night at the same time, switch back and forth on your TV. The difference in atmosphere is embarrassing.

As for prospective head coaches, any coach with options will look down at Pitt for playing in an NFL stadium. It reeks of amateur leadership and it shows them that the university does not take the football program seriously.

The solution is a stadium in the 40,000-45,000 range. Can it be built on campus? I have no idea and unless you are professional stadium builder you don't know either. And if Pitt takes a serious look at it and says that it's not feasible then that's fine. But tell us why. Explain it to us. But Pitt doesn't do that. More than that, Pitt acts like fans are crazy for asking. They insult them by continually telling us what a great idea it is to play in Heinz Field, totally ignoring the fact that the number of schools that play on an off campus stadium that's not their own are dwindling by the year.

Tulane just built a stadium in the heart of New Orleans. Minnesota built a 52,525 seat stadium in the middle of Minneapolis. They took out four parking garages to do it. Tulane's is right in the middle of a residential district.

Maybe Pitt can do that and maybe they can't. But explore every possibility instead of continually telling people that there's no need for it. There is a need for it and it can be done. If not on campus then someplace close by that suits Pitt's needs better.

Imagine a perfectly sized stadium open on one end to show the Cathedral of Learning. Imagine outside festivities with people playing music, food trucks, and merchandise booths lining the streets to the stadium. Imagine new traditions. Maybe the players run through the tunnel and all touch a statue of a Panther. Maybe when Pitt wins everybody watches the visible Cathedral of Learning to see the victory lights come on. Those are the kinds of things the players and students should be remembering. What they shouldn't be remembering is being shoehorned into a school bus to go to a half-filled stadium.

The fact that Nordenberg, Pederson, and anybody else responsible for this either can't see that, or don't want to see it, is shameful. Their ridiculous devotion to playing in Heinz Field is depriving people of a great college football atmosphere as well as hurting the program by not attracting the best players and coaches.

5. If he doesn't show signifiant progress next year, fire Chryst: I'm sure I will get a lot of heat for this one, but if you want big time college football you need guys who can hit the ground running. Hiring a neophyte head coach when the program has been struggling so much was a bad idea even if Chryst does end up succeeding. As I proved in a previous article, coaches that turn 6 win teams into 9 win teams do it in an average of two years. Even coaches who take over 4 win teams do it in 3 years. Chryst is now ending his third year and there's still no signs of progress. Save the youth excuse or the "I really feel he's the right man for the job" garbage. This isn't a training program. Either win or get out. Chryst has yet to prove that he's a great recruiter, leader, or game coach. He can't land an elite quarterback despite being a well known quarterback guru, and his coaching hirings have been uninspired. An offensive minded head coach needs an experienced defensive coordinator. Instead Chryst fired the experienced Dave Huxtable because he yelled too much, then hired first time coordinator Matt House who doesn't appear to be good at his job.

You can also save the "Pitt needs stability" reason for not firing Chryst. Pitt fans act like nobody has it harder. All Pitt did was hire some bum coaches. There have been programs who have suffered a lot more who have turned it around in a few years. Two years is an eternity in college sports. If Chryst fails next year, then the only stability he's bringing is mediocrity. Stability is only a good virtue when you're actually successful. A new coach, if he's the right one, can turn Pitt around immediately. It happens all the time. And if Pederson joins Nordenberg and Cochran in being out of Pitt, maybe this time the university will actually get it right. 

Bullet points:

1. Keep Pitt script and keep the brand strong.
2. Fire Pederson and hire the best AD you can find.
3. Commit to excellence in the football program by spending the money that is required to be a big time college football program.
4. If Chryst does not make significant progress next year, hire the best head coach you possibly can by giving him a highly competitive salary for him and his assistants, as well as an increased recruiting budget.
5. Build a stadium.