Pitt football hasn't covered itself in glory recently. And by recently I mean about 30 years. They have won four bowl games since 1981. They have finished in the AP Top 25 six times in that period, only once during Dave Wannstedt's six year tenure as head coach. Expectations have been sky-high the past three seasons. The program appeared to be loaded with talent and turning the proverbial corner. Each season the opportunity was there. The Panthers started 2008 7-2, but faltered down the stretch. They started 2009 9-1, but lost to West Virginia and Cincinnati, missing out on the Big East Championship. This year, despite a disastrous non-conference start, they had a two game conference lead with four weeks left. They lost two and again missed out on the BCS. Dave Wannstedt was fired.
Many in the world of college football believe the expectations of Pitt's small but rabid fanbase, that Pitt annually challenge for the national title and BCS bowls, are delusional. Pitt should be happy to win eight or nine games a year. They argue that Pitt will never consistently keep pace with the big boys surrounding them like Penn St and Ohio St. They are a decent program playing in a terrible conference and should adjust to that reality. Steve Pederson, Pitt's Athletic Director, has never bought that. Pederson is the man who hired Jamie Dixon to lead Pitt basketball after Ben Howland left for UCLA. He figured he could do the same for Pitt football. Find the right man and make Pitt a player on the national stage.
In his search Pederson said he wanted a man with prior head coaching experience and a man of high character. Dana Holgorsen, the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma St, had never been a head coach and apparently liked to party a bit too much (he has since been hired by WVU as head coach-in-waiting). Mike Leach had some issues with players at Texas Tech and was probably too expensive (he is considered a leading candidate at Maryland). Tom Bradley's calls weren't returned despite his interest in the job.
Pitt hired Mike Haywood the 46 year old head coach at Miami University. Prior to that Haywood had been an assistant at Army, Ohio, Ball St., LSU, Texas and his alma matter Notre Dame. By all accounts he was a man of high character and a disciplinarian. The Pitt fanbase had mixed feelings and it certainly didn't grab the media headlines. Pitt again went the cheap and conservative route. That doesn't mean that Haywood couldn't be successful. It means that Pitt didn't do something dynamic to excite its fans, which seemed to be the reason they fired Wannstedt in the first place.
Yesterday Mike Haywood was arrested on a domestic violence charge in South Bend, Indiana. While no one is going to condone domestic violence, it is certainly a charge that can vary in degree. Pitt and Pederson are going to come out of this looking badly no matter what decision they make regarding Haywood. The University is taking a wait and see attitude as Haywood sits behind bars in South Bend. There is nothing to wait for. Pitt has no choice but to fire Haywood. It's the easy choice and it's the right choice. With a second bite at the apple, let's hope Pederson makes a more inspired choice for his next head coach.