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Pitt coaching search continues, but we see some light (maybe)


Driving into the office Tuesday afternoon prior to the Pitt basketball game against St. Francis (Pa.) at The Pete, word came through the car radio that West Homestead native Jim Tomsula was a candidate for the football job vacated by Todd Graham.
Tomsula? Tomsula? How do I know that name?
Turns out, Tomsula is the defensive line coach of the San Francisco 49ers, a highly respected coach, good man and someone who wouldn’t mind having his name tied to the Pitt job. I had written a story last year about Tomsula coaching the 49ers on an interim basis when Mike Singletary was fired with one game left in the season.
Yesterday’s story about Tomsula and Pitt — a blog post, really — was written by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Kevin Lynch, a 19-year veteran of the written word as it pertains to the NFL.
Lynch said Tomsula either had been interviewed or will be interviewed.
The story didn’t sound right because I had been told that Mario Cristobal’s agent had begun preliminary talks with Pitt over the weekend, and had support throughout the university community. But Cristobal, the Florida International coach, had no offer from Pitt as of Tuesday. And what if Cristobal or Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst weren’t interested?
Pitt needed a Plan B, and maybe Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson was impressed with how Tomsula’s D-linemen had stuffed the Steelers on Monday night.
Hey, I don’t explain ‘em; I just report ‘em.
Anyway, I called the one person in town who knows Tomsula better than anyone — Woodland Hills coach George Novak.
When Novak was coach at Steel Valley, Tomsula and Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak lined up side by side on the offensive line. Novak spoke glowingly of his former player.
“He would be great,” said Novak, who has sent many players to Division I schools, including Pitt. “He’s a Pittsburgh guy, lot of energy, tireless worker. When he first went to (San Francisco), he slept on a mattress in his office and just watched film. His family wasn’t there yet.”
Also, Tomsula, 43, had started the Camp of the Stars in Pittsburgh, teaching football to athletes with Down’s Syndrome.
“He’s got a big heart,” Novak said.
Hmmm … interesting candidate.
Our next call was to Tomsula’s agent, Joe Linta, a straight-shooting Freedom guy who represents several NFL players and coaches. I knew him years ago when he worked for several Steelers, including former quarterback Jim Miller and linebacker Eric Ravotti (now the football coach at Fox Chapel).
Kevin Gorman, my well-connected colleague at the Trib, got Linta on the phone.
“He’s not been contacted,” Linta said of Tomsula. “He’s really focused on the season they’re having (in San Francisco). If a team like Pitt from back home would contact him, he’d be happy to talk to them. Everybody wants to be the head guy. He’s one of those guys that doesn’t only want to be a HC in pros; he’s interested in the NFL or Division I level.

“He’s such a regular, grounded, down-to-earth guy, but he’s brilliant when it comes to football. I’ve known him for a long time. From a professional sense, people gravitate toward him. From a recruiting sense, he would be magnificent. (49ers coach Jim) Harbaugh said, ‘Everybody wants to be on his bus.’ ”

After some more research, Tomsula isn’t even a blip on Pitt’s radar, with Pederson focusing on Cristobal and Chryst.

Meanwhile, FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said last night at his team’s Beef ‘O’ Bradys Bowl game that he will sit down today with Cristobal to discuss the future.

Asked what it might take to keep Cristobal in Miami, Garcia said, “A lot of love.”

That’s spelled C-O-N-T-R-A-C-T R-E-N-E-G-O-T-I-A-T-I-O-N.

Cristobal, by the way, told the Miami Herald after FIU’s 20-10 loss to Marshall that he doesn’t comment on jobs outside the FIU program. He didn’t say he has no interest in Pitt, so his candidacy lives on, but I don’t expect Pitt to get into a bidding war for him.

Pitt’s search starts its second week today, with everyone telling me the committee wants to have this wrapped up before Christmas.

I want it to end as much as anyone in the media chasing this story, but I wonder if a week and some change is long enough. With the ghosts of Wannstedt, Haywood and Graham hanging over the program, Pitt can’t afford to get this one wrong.

But Pederson knows the healing needs to begin as quickly as possible. Graham left behind wounds and scars that the new coach won’t be able to erase easily.

Better the new guy starts now.



  1. Ron Zorn says:

    Boy, Dave Wannstedt doesn’t seem so bad anymore!

  2. Jimbo says:

    Pitt needs to strongly consider Luke Fickell. He is a great guy, and managed Ohio State through a very tough year, and has been on the staff of an “actual” winning program. “Actual” means they had a track record. No flash in the pants like Graham or some of the other meantioned.

    Plus, there will be lots of OSU’s assistant coaches looking for jobs, and they can follow Fickell. Pitt could be back to winning.

    Pederson really needs to get this right. This is his last hire either way. He just has to decide if it’s the one that’s going to allow him to stay on board at Pitt.

  3. Rob says:

    You do realize that there is no way Pitt would get into a bidding war for Cristobal, right? Pitt paid the last coach $2 million. FIU will not be able to approach that. The money is there. Just depends if he wants the job.

  4. In the old days, coaches like JoePa and Amos Alonzo Skagg stayed on seemingly forever while everyone kept pushing them to step aside in favor of someone younger. And now, we’re witnessing the alternative, which everyone naturally likes even less. Now seeing that the colleges and the NFL aren’t willing to go back to the old days, I, for one propose that coaches be required to stay on for at least a three year trial basis, followed by a full 5 to 10 years depending on how successful he or she may be, and the coach should be allowed to quit only under unavoidable circumstances. Otherwise, he or she should be required to forfeit a year.

  5. Mike Jones says:

    as long as Steve Pederson is making the decision I dont trust it. The fact you guys are still writing “cant afford to get this one wrong” is mind blowing. Pederson reminds me of Norv Turner, continues to fail but inexplicably continues to have a good job.

  6. ROBERT says:

    I am curious about why Teryl Austin is not on Pitt’s short list of coaches. He is a Pitt alum and is a VERY SUCCESSFUL coach. His resume ( which includes two super bowl and five BCS appearances) is MORE successful than anyone on the list and he currently is a coach on one of the top defenses in the NFL. And I know nobody wants to mention it but Pitt does not seem to be fond of hiring African Americans for (any of) the three Major coaching positions, why is that ? Just look at the short list!! And please don’t mention Mr. Heyward because he made a mistake does not mean that African American coaches should not be considered( again). Don’t forget Nebraska, where Mr. Pederson also did not hire Turner Gill. Either way if the AD (Pederson) is not being fired then he needs a committee or something to help with the search. His past two head football coach hires were not successful (again Nebraska, where his handpicked coach was not a winner). Walt Harris was the best of the past three coaches that he hired, and Dave Wannstedt who he fired matched him (and surpassed the other two). Mr. Pederson also stated that this was a limitless search and there would be no timetable for (finding) a replacement. However it seems the search is already being limited to three coaches. I’m not saying anything other than maybe the AD has tunnel vision !!!!!!

  7. newportrijim says:

    Yes, Pitt, (Pittsburgh) was NOT a good fit for Graham…Graham Graham is distinctly classless, unlike the solid citizens, students, and people of Western Pa…I just can’t wait to see who will want him after he sucks at AS, like he did at PITT…I would attribute the majority of loses he had at PITT NOT to our excellent committed players, but to him…In spite of this idiot, our players hung in there, and often took heat, when he was the one to be sun deviled…I beg the commits to hang with us, as we will with them…With our new coach; all will fall in place….Trust me guys, Graham was nothing but crackers and a total crumb or Bum

  8. Jesse says:

    To: Mike Jones

    Mr. Jones, Pederson will not be fired-PERIOD, He and Nordenberg has too much to hide. If he is fired, it will not be on the recommendation of Nordenberg. That I can guarantee.

  9. Jesse says:

    To: Robert

    The Haywood hire and fire was done under extreme pressure, Pederson had other very serious issues going on at the time of the hiring and firing of Haywood regarding coaches and black athletes. What doomed Haywood was the timing of the minor dispute with his child’s mother, not the dispute itself.

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