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Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Big-game failures cost Dave Wannstedt

By Brian Bennett

Coach Dave Wannstedt is not coming back next season for Pittsburgh.

Wannstedt will formally announce his resignation Tuesday night, a source told me, and will stay on in the athletic department in some capacity. That move in itself shows you the love he has for his alma mater and the respect people around the program have for Wannstedt.

Dave Wannstedt
Pitt was 42-31 in six seasons under coach Dave Wannstedt.
Unfortunately, he just didn't win enough games for the Panthers. Or, I should say, he didn't win enough big games. Pitt has won 26 games the past three seasons, with a bowl game still to go this year. That's not too bad. In fact, it's one of the best three-year stretches in the past quarter-century for the program.

But Pittsburgh never could quite get over the hump and to the next level under Wannstedt. Despite having arguably the best talent in the league, the Panthers never won an outright Big East title in six seasons under Wannstedt.

They sure came close. They could have won it in 2008 but lost at Cincinnati. Last year, after reaching the top 10, they lost in the last minute to West Virginia then missed an extra point and fell to Cincinnati 45-44. This year, either a victory over Connecticut or West Virginia would have sent Pitt to the BCS; instead, it lost to both and settled for a hollow co-championship while going 7-5. The reward: a berth in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

Wannstedt seemed to be on very safe ground coming into this year. He signed an extension in the offseason, and spirits were high about the team after a 10-win campaign in '09. The Panthers were picked as overwhelming favorites to win the Big East and as a preseason top 20 team. But they lost three nonconference games and, after starting 3-0 in an imminently winnable conference, fell flat on the road at UConn. The 35-10 loss at home to West Virginia when the BCS bid was still achievable used up any remaining goodwill Wannstedt had built up among the fan base.

It was that lack of confidence in Wannstedt's ability to ever lead the program to bigger things that ultimately undid him. Fans already had lost faith, and in a pro sports town where Pitt has had trouble filling its stadium for home games, selling season tickets next year would have been difficult with Wannstedt coming back.

Let it be said that Wannstedt did a lot of good at Pitt. He recruited great players, most of whom graduated and conducted themselves with class, despite a string of arrests this year. He was a terrific ambassador for the program. He has taken the team to three straight bowl games after needing a few years to get things going.

It's funny: Maybe just one more win in '08, '09 or this year would have saved Wannstedt's job and changed perceptions entirely. But Pittsburgh under his watch just never could quite get there.