June 13, 2013
by Jerry DiPaola
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If anyone cares what I think:
Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg was right to extend athletic director Steve Pederson’s contract this week.
Yeah, the football program has fallen on hard, hard times in recent years, and Pederson must shoulder much of that blame. There is a lot of catching up to do, and the roster makeover will take time — lots of time.
How would history have been changed if Paul Chryst had been hired one year earlier — in December, 2010 — instead of Michael Haywood? I bet you never would have heard of Todd Graham.
And what was Pederson thinking when he gave Dave Wannstedt a contract extension through 2014 eight months before firing him? Wannstedt was fired at the end of his third consecutive winning season. Clearly, he had not built up enough equity, so how did he deserve an extension?
But Pederson got it right when he brought coaches Walt Harris and Ben Howland aboard during his first Pitt stint, resurrecting the football and basketball programs.
Also, the man knows how to shake the right hands. Petersen Events Center and Petersen Sports Complex were built largely on the backs of donors who had developed strong, personal relationships with the athletic director. Pederson protected the bottom line and improved the facilities in grand fashion. That can be as important as any eight- and nine-victory season.
I’m not a big fan of off-campus football, but renovating Pitt Stadium would have been costly and gotten in the way of the PEC. Where would basketball be without it? The move to the ACC might not have happened if Pederson was still trying to run a football program out of antiquated Pitt Stadium that would have had its 88th birthday this year.
Pederson made the correct, proactive call when he helped Pitt jump to the ACC — the football program’s only avenue of growth. When you’re watching Florida State, North Carolina and Miami this year at Heinz Field, ask yourself if you would have rather spent your money to see Memphis, South Florida and Tulane.
Could another AD have accomplished the same things? Maybe. Maybe not.
Pederson did, and Nordenberg was watching.
MORE ON PEDERSON
Pederson covered several topics this week when he spoke to reporters after receiving a contract extension that will keep him at the university through the 2017-2018 academic year.
Here are a few:
– He talked about the ambitious goal of hoping to sell 11,000 more season tickets to exhaust the allotment at Heinz Field for the entire season for the first time since 2003. That sounds like a lot of tickets to sell in less than three months, but Pederson said his staff is working “day and night” to make it happen.
In any case, expect attendance at Heinz Field to jump significantly this season over last year’s average of 41,494 and, perhaps, surpass 50,000 for only the fourth time since Pitt moved there in 2001.
– He talked about trying to save the league formerly known as the Big East and hoping to “lock arms” with his colleagues to make it happen. But he said not enough schools were interested, and the league fell apart.
“We were the ones saying let’s lock arms here and sort this out, but we could never get a full commitment from the people that had to be committed to this to have it happen,” he said.
My take: Lucky for Pitt the Big East eventually crumbled into two parts, a situation Nordenberg and Pederson were smart enough to avoid. Pitt is in a better place in the ACC and will enjoy financial benefits that its former league never could have offered, especially when the ACC finalizes its own TV network in the next several years.
– What interested me the most was his take on transfers and Pitt’s unofficial policy on accommodating those athletes who wish to leave.
The topic is particularly timely this year after the football team lost five players, including projected No. 1 tailback Rushel Shell, and basketball players Trey Zeigler, John Johnson and Malcolm Gilbert
left, possibly followed by J.J. Moore. Pitt, wisely, prefers not to release players to conference foes and schools on future schedules. I also find nothing wrong with Pederson blocking Shell from transferring to Arizona or Arizona State. (He finally settled on UCLA, although the Bruins have yet to acknowledge his presence).
Coaches at Arizona and Arizona State – and you know who I’m talking about — helped recruit Shell to Pitt and developed a relationship with him. Why should they use that relationship – born while they were employed by Pitt and making a handsome salary at Pitt’s expense — to lure him to another school?
I’m still puzzled why Pitt allowed cornerback Lloyd Carrington to go to Arizona State. There must have been some extenuating circumstances at play there.
Pederson said he understands why athletes want to transfer.
“Things get tough,” he said. “Coaches are demanding and they have high expectations and sometimes they don’t always tell you want you want to hear. Sometimes, they tell you what you need to hear. At some point we have to fight through that a little bit and say, ‘I’m going to stick through this and do this the right way.’ “If somebody just isn’t fitting in or they feel like they just aren’t talented enough to play here and they want to go somewhere else where they feel like they could play, then generally we’ve been pretty good about that.
“But there ought to be some rationale for leaving; that’s where we’ve gotten a little bit tighter in terms of departures. This shouldn’t be just free agency – when you want to leave, you just leave. We’ve made a commitment to recruit them and educate them and do the right things here. So there are just some times where we feel like we ought to encourage them to stick it out and get through this. “And in a lot of cases, then it ends up coming back around and they’re fine. They go through periods of time where they’re frustrated and they come back and they’re fine. And I think that’s part of life and a little bit of growing up, to have to fight through some of the tougher times.”
Well said, Steve.