Mike Haywood, Pitt have lot to prove

December, 16, 2010
12/16/10
5:17
PM ET
Pittsburgh athletic director Steve Pederson lost his job at Nebraska for hiring an NFL coach who failed with the Cornhuskers. This time around, he said he only focused his search on college head coaches. Miami of Ohio's Mike Haywood had all the traits he was seeking.

[+] EnlargeUniversity of Pittsburgh head football coach Mike Haywood
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesMike Haywood had all the traits Pittsburgh athletic director Steve Pederson was looking for.
Haywood, though, isn't really the guy a lot of Panthers fans envisioned when Dave Wannstedt resigned under pressure last week. They, like most fans in that position, looked forward to a splashy hire. They were excited at the initial reports of interest in hot offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, who ended up an hour south at rival West Virginia.

In Haywood, they got a guy who has two years of head coaching experience and a 10-15 career record. Not exactly someone who gets people rushing out to renew season ticket orders. A natural reaction followed: They fired Wannstedt for this? For a guy whose team lost 45-3 to Cincinnati in October?

Pederson is on a limb with this hire, but it's easy to see why he was impressed with Haywood. Miami went 9-4 this season and won the MAC title, a year after going 1-11 in Haywood's first season. Haywood came across as a non-nonsense guy who really commands a room with his presence and intimidating stare during his introductory news conference. He makes his players wear coats and ties to games, and he instituted 6 a.m. practices this season for the RedHawks.

That type of personality plays well in Pittsburgh, which likes serious men leading the sports teams they are serious about. Think Chuck Noll and the Rooney family and Bill Cowher and on and on. Wannstedt was a players' coach, and some of his players took advantage of that with some off-the-field chicanery this and a lack of on-the-field focus this year; Haywood strikes a pose as a stern disciplinarian who will demand his teams play hard at all times.

When asked what type of player he wants, he responded: "Are you familiar with Freddy Krueger?" He's looking for guys who keep coming back even after you think they're dead, who are in his words "dangerous and relentless for 60 minutes." Wannstedt's teams often lacked that kind of killer instinct, especially against opponents they should have handily beaten.

Still, Haywood -- who turns 47 in February -- was starting to be seen as a career assistant before Miami gave him his long-awaited break. Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis took over playcalling duties in the 2008 season, Haywood's last as the Irish offensive coordinator. Would Haywood have even been on Pitt's radar had Akron -- yes, 1-11 Akron -- not fumbled inside the 15 late with a chance to beat the RedHawks a month ago?

Haywood could turn out to be the perfect fit for Pitt, which is sitting on a reserve of untapped potential. They don't call Miami of Ohio the cradle of coaches for nothing, after all. Who knew much about Randy Edsall, Bobby Petrino or Doug Marrone -- none of whom had been head coaches before coming to the Big East -- until they got their shot at the big gig?

But it's understandable for Pitt fans to feel a little underwhelmed right now, especially given the flashier hire West Virginia just made. All that matters, though, is who will have the better team by the time the next Backyard Brawl rolls around.

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