Not everything Steve Pederson touches turns to gold. It just seems that way since he returned to Pitt as athletic director.
I talked to Pederson today, shortly after it was announced that Pitt was awarded the role of host for the 2010 NCAA women’s basketball tournament first- and second-round games at Petersen Events Center after hosting the same event last year.
That wasn’t the only good news Pederson delivered. He reported that Pitt sold 250 football season tickets on Sunday, the first day they went on sale, and another 800 on Monday.
Not bad for a team that went 5-7 last year.
But there has been a spirit of optimism surrounding Pitt’s athletic department since Pederson was reintroduced as athletic director on the last day of November 2007. Consider:
• On Pederson’s first day, Pitt announced that football coach Dave Wannstedt was receiving a three-year contract extension, through 2012, despite three bowl-less seasons. The following day, the Panthers scored one of the biggest upsets of the college football season by beating No. 2 West Virginia, 13-9, in Morgantown.
• The men’s basketball team has withstood injuries to Mike Cook and Levance Fields to stay in the top 25 of national rankings and the hunt for the Big East title. The Panthers have defeated top-10 opponents Duke and Georgetown, beating both the Blue Devils and West Virginia in dramatic fashion on last-second 3-pointers.
• The women’s basketball team is ranked 18th nationally, has Big East Player of the Year candidates in senior center Marcedes Walker and junior guard Shavonte Zellous and is starting to draw a following.
• Wannstedt signed his third consecutive top-25 recruiting class last Wednesday, one that included three U.S. Army All-Americans among its nine WPIAL stars and 14 players from Pennsylvania in what is regarded as one of the best local crops of talent in decades.
All are pluses for Pederson, who was fired at Nebraska last fall after accusations of alienating alums and overseeing a faltering football program that he had professed not to let gravitate toward mediocrity.
Perhaps Pederson just has the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time, but it’s also possible that his positive presence has something to do with Pitt’s run of luck.