Pitt players upset over Wannstedt dismissal
However it's phrased, the Pitt football program will be undergoing a search for a new coach, and the current players on the team are not pleased about it.
While most of the players who attended Wannstedt's press conference Tuesday evening at the UPMC training complex on the South Side did not speak to the media, some had plenty to say on the viral side of it.
In a Twitter message posted shortly after the press conference, offensive lineman Jason Pinkston stated: “These people don't know they made the biggest mistake ever letting OUR coach go. He's more than just a coach, he's a father to 96 kids on the team. We came from many different backgrounds. Some of us wouldn't be in college or have the chance to experience college football. We have players on our team who have been turned down at other D1 schools and he took them in and made them family. Thank you coach for everything. You've done so much for me and my family. I would never of had this chance if it weren't for you. I know my mother greatly appreciates what you have done for us. He didn't deserve this from a guy who only came and switched us from Adidas to NIKE. Thank you, God bless, Hail to Pitt and Coach Wann and his family.”
Pinkston, as well as teammate Dom DeCicco, stated on their Facebook accounts that they were not playing without Wannstedt.
In a Facebook message, senior strong safety DeCicco wrote: “This school made a terrible mistake, he's the best thing to ever happen to this program. No one cares more about their team more than Coach Wannstedt. He's a great coach on and off the field, we are sticking by him no matter what and I ain't playing without him.”
Offensive lineman Lucas Nix left a calmer message on Facebook, asking, “Where do we go now???????.”
His older brother Nate, a fifth-year senior, responded to Lucas's message by commenting: “Someone really made a huge mistake. But we will move on, bro.”
Wannstedt coached the Panthers for six years, accruing a record of 42-31. He took the team to three bowl games (with one yet to be played), winning one, last year's Meineke Car Care Bowl, where Pitt defeated North Carolina, 19-17.
“I had a few things to say, but I think this says it,” said a tearful Wannstedt, gesturing to his team, at the press conference Tuesday evening. “I appreciate the opportunity that this University gave me to come here, win games, and most importantly, make a difference in these young men's lives. Thank you.”
Players often respond negatively when a popular coach is let go, but a local high school coach with close ties to the program also considers the move a mistake.
“I don't think that you'll ever find a better Pitt guy than him,” said Thomas Jefferson head coach Bill Cherpak, who played at Pitt in from 1986 to 1989 and sent several of his TJ players through the program as well. “I think people outside the program don't know that there is so much more to him and how much he cared for the kids. I think it's a huge mistake. I don't think it's good for the program and it's not good for recruiting.
“That's how much he means to them. This is not their coach leaving, this is a father figure to them,” continued Cherpak. “They feel like they let him down. They feel guilty and responsible. It's devastating to them. And it's amazing because this program says they are in the best interest of the kids, and they are the ones who seem to have let them all down and have them angered. Every kid in that locker room knew he didn't want to leave them.”
Cherpak, a close friend to Wannstedt, also went on to talk about the impact the timing of the firing could have.
“This is the worst time to do this,” he said. “This was the biggest recruiting week coming up. I'm very disappointed with whoever made this decision. If it was all about money and going to a big bowl game, what's the big deal? The cost of this decision is much worse than just a game. Recruiting is just one of those costly things.”
Wannstedt's only other bowl appearance came in a 3-0 loss to Oregon State in the 2008 Sun Bowl.
Despite his struggles of advancing the program to a BCS level, Wannstedt did put together one of the most successful stretches in a three year stint since 1981-83, when he went a combined 26-12 from 2008-10.
The 34th head coach in Pittsburgh Panther history also helped push five players to the NFL, including current Philadelphia Eagles' running back Shady McCoy, who stated in a Twitter message that the decision was “a horrible mistake.”
“He helped put players who may not have been in the position in the NFL,” Cherpak said. “He came to the high schools, he came to the banquets, he's a Pittsburgh guy. He knew the university, he checked on every kid in class, and he made sure he gave every kid an opportunity. They (Pitt) just threw all of that under the rug for two wins.
Wannstedt and his Panthers had a 21-point lead at Heinz Field on Dec. 5, 2009, in the “Big East championship” game against Cincinnati, only to fall 45-44 to the Bearcats and miss out on an automatic BCS bowl-bid. That is one of the “wins” Cherpak referred to.
“At the end of the season, (Wannstedt and I) sat down and we talked about the entire season,” said University of Pittsburgh athletic director Steve Pederson. “Over the course of time, I think Dave and I have talked a number of times that he is not going to coach forever, and there might be a point in time in which he might want to do something else. The discussion we had after this season is that it became the appropriate time, and the timing made sense. So he decided to step down and assume this new role.”
Cherpak has his doubts as to whether Wannstedt will be able to accept that new role.
“I'm not sure that he'll be around to be honest with you,” he said. “Are you going to work with somebody who took away your dream job?”
According to Pederson, Wannstedt will have the opportunity, should he so desire, to coach the Panthers in their upcoming BBVA Compass Bowl game against the SEC's Kentucky Wildcats.
If he decides not to coach in the game, offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti will more than likely take over as interim head coach.
Anthony Jaskulski covers high school and college sports for the Pittsburgh Sports Report. He also publishes The Pittsburgh Paint at http://www.thepaint.net/.