Bishop McDevitt coach Jeff Weachter told me the other day that he believes Ohio State defensive end Noah Spence, a five-star McDevitt graduate, could have ended up at Pitt.
“He would have went to Pitt, if they hadn’t fired Dave Wannstedt,” Weachter said.
Of course, even if Wannstedt had stayed, Spence still could have had his head turned by Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. Which is what happened when Meyer swooped in and got a commitment from Spence in December, 2011, three weeks after he was hired in Columbus. Actually, Meyer was lucky: Spence grew up loving Penn State, but looked elsewhere when scandal rocked the school.
Spence, a sophomore, had 14 tackles for a loss, including 7 1/2 sacks, for Ohio State this season.
The story shows how firing a college coach who is popular with high school coaches can set back a program. Wannstedt was a star when he walked into a high school, but he was an underachiever as Pitt’s coach. The administration correctly believed it was time for the program to start making more positive strides, both on and off the field.
Pitt’s mistake was following up with two unfortunate hires — the clumsy Michael Haywood and the impatient and ambitious Todd Graham.
Weachter wasn’t especially impressed with Graham.
“He was in that job for four months before he decided to contact Noah,” he said.
Although the two events are not related, it’s funny that Spence committed to Ohio State a few days after Graham left for Arizona State.
Weachter said he and his players had a better relationship with Wannstedt, and they are developing good rapport with Pitt coach Paul Chryst.
Chryst, by the way, is closely monitoring 2015 Bishop McDevitt running back Andre Robinson and a few other juniors and sophomores at one of the state’s top football schools.
Johnson could make a difference
Someone asked why Bowling Green, a Mid-American Conference school without the resources enjoyed by the ACC, can be a six-point favorite over Pitt in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
One reason is quarterback Matt Johnson, overlooked by major schools, including Pitt, largely because he is 6-foot-tall. But Johnson threw five touchdown passes against Northern Illinois in the MAC championship game in which he was the best quarterback on a field that included Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch.
Johnson played at Bishop McDevitt where Weachter marveled at his pupil’s work ethic. Weachter said Johnson worked hard, even in the offseason and during breaks in the school day.
“The joke was I had lunch with Matt more than I did my wife,” he said.
Weachter likes to tell the story of the 2010 state semifinals when McDevitt was trailing Erie Prep, 21-3, at halftime. Johnson had been working with former Steelers and Maryland quarterback Dick Shiner, a friend of quarterback Frank Reich, who led memorable comeback victories from 31- and 32-point deficits when he was with Maryland and the Buffalo Bills. Shiner spent a lot of time talking to Johnson about Reich.
“Matt looked at me and said, `Hey, coach, Frank Reich,’ ” Weachter said. “He brought us back and we won, 24-21. That’s just Matt.”