- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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New Pittsburgh coach Mike Haywood is a no-nonsense guy, and he was ready to get down to business immediately after being officially introduced on Thursday afternoon. I had a chance to catch up with Haywood before he rolled up his sleeves, and here is the first part of my two-part interview with the Panthers' new boss:
You won the MAC championship game earlier this month and now are the new Pittsburgh coach. Sounds like it's been a whirlwind couple of weeks.
Mike Haywood: We traveled to Mobile [Ala.] for a [GoDaddy.com Bowl] press conference, luncheon and dinner, and then I got a phone call on the way to New Orleans to go recruit that Pitt wanted me to come back in for a final interview. I was like, 'I'll be there tomorrow, just tell me when.' So it's been really hectic, but it's been rewarding.
Pitt doesn't play in a bowl game until Jan. 8 so the team will be practicing the next couple of weeks as you get started. What are your immediate plans with the program for the next few weeks?
MH: The first thing we've got to do is get really heavy into recruiting, and that's going to start [Thursday night]. After going to a couple of functions, we're going to meet with some of the people already on staff to discuss recruiting. Not just the players who are committed, but how do these players fit in the system, what type of athletes are they and, also, are they a strong verbal commit or a soft verbal commit? We'll talk about what we have to do to make sure we keep these young men in the picture.
The late bowl game means you can actually see the team up close in action instead of coming in after the season is over. How much will you be involved in watching practice?
MH: I'm going to watch them in practice, but I can also sit in and watch games [from this season] and evaluate players in the video room. So I'll spend a lot of time watching tape and live practice as well. It's like going to the Senior Bowl or watching guys get ready for the draft.
Your predecessor, Dave Wannstedt, was very popular with the players and there were some hurt feelings when he was fired. What do you say to the players to make sure they're in your corner?
MH: I met with them, and I really talked about what we're expecting for them to do over this period of time. I talked about the team which I left [at Miami of Ohio] and what great men they were. How they understood the transition and what I was doing and why I was doing it. I told them about the standing ovation they gave me [Wednesday] night and how well that made me feel as a head coach. At the same time, I wanted them to understand, "I'm here for you. The most important thing for you to do is do a great job studying for finals. The second most important thing is to go out and practice well each day so you can provide yourself an opportunity to be successful in that bowl game on the 8th, so you can send Coach Wannstedt out with a win and at the same time win one for the University of Pittsburgh."
You said you'd like to keep one or two of the current assistants. Is that just for continuity?
MH: Yes. I'll meet with some [Thursday] night and some [Friday]. I'd definitely like to keep some guys on staff for the continuity of the program.
How familiar are you with the western Pennsylvania area? Did you recruit that area while at Notre Dame?
MH: I used to come over when I was at Notre Dame, because I would fly around and see all the offensive guys we were recruiting. At the same time, we signed two players out of Gateway High School that were freshmen this year [at Miami], so I've spent some time over here in the Pittsburgh area recruiting as well.
How much potential does this program have, given its recruiting area?
MH: Oh, I think there's unbelievable potential. The number one thing that interests me in a job is making sure the university has a recruiting base, and what a great recruiting base we have here and a great opportunity to sell the great academic institution, along with a rich, historic, nine-championship-winning football team. There's a great opportunity to sell this program.
At the same time, Wannstedt won nine games in 2008, 10 last year and even in a down year won a share of the Big East title this season but got fired. Are you worried that expectations will be too high for you if that's not good enough?
MH: We're just looking forward to doing the best job we can so we can develop our team and compete for the Big East championship each year.