NCF Nation: Steve Pederson

ACC hits the road vs. Group of 5

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
The ACC schedule this weekend should come with some theme music.

"On the road again ... "

Nobody travels to quite as many nonconference road games as the ACC, most especially road games against Group of 5 opponents. Four are on the docket for this weekend when Syracuse plays at Central Michigan; Pitt goes to FIU; NC State travels to USF and Wake Forest hightails it across the country to Utah State.

In all, the ACC has 11 road games this season against Group of 5 opponents, twice as many as the next-closest Power 5 conference. By comparison, the SEC plays just three road games against Group of 5 opponents.

This all begs the all-important question: Why?

The answer: It's complicated.

Every team faces scheduling dilemmas at one time or another. Realignment has wreaked havoc on some schedules. Sometimes, series are abruptly canceled without much advance warning. And not everybody has millions of dollars to shell out for multiple guarantee games like the SEC does. So sometimes, programs schedule home-and-home games against smaller conference schools to help fill holes that need to be filled.

[+] EnlargeDuke's Issac Blakeney
Kevin Liles/USA TODAY SportsLast week Duke traveled to Group of 5 member Troy. This week four more ACC teams will travel to Group of 5 venues.
Ideally, each conference team wants seven home games. But in some cases, that does not work out. Take Wake Forest. The Deacs had seven home games scheduled for 2014. But last year, their series with Vanderbilt was canceled, taking a home game with the Commodores off the schedule. A game against Northern Illinois also was postponed.

Wake Forest also was supposed to play Notre Dame as part of the new ACC scheduling rotation, but the Irish couldn't make it work. The two are scheduled to play next season.

So Wake Forest had to scramble to fill some holes quickly and agreed to a series with Utah State. It just so happens the Deacs have to travel out to Logan this year, the same season they already had a road game scheduled with Louisiana-Monroe. Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman said Utah State will play at Wake Forest twice as part of the contract.

"We were in a situation in both of those circumstances where it was very late in the scheduling process, one had postponed their game with us and we had a hole in our schedule so those were the teams that were available and they ended up being good to schedule series with us," Wellman said.

As for Pitt, some of the home-and-homes against Group of 5 teams still on the schedule were made when the Panthers were still in the Big East. Scheduling in that conference was much more difficult because teams had to find five nonconference games.

The game at FIU is a return game from the first meeting in 2010. Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said FIU was good enough to fill a hole in the schedule for that season, but the school wanted a return game in exchange. He agreed to avoid having to play two FCS teams in one year.

"We're grateful to them for helping us out of that tough situation," Pederson said. "I guess we approach it as the best deal we can make at the time in general terms. If we have to go on the road, we'll have to go on the road in some cases. That's not where we generally want to start, but we also understand they have schedules to fill and games to play as well."

What about strictly sticking to guarantee games to ensure more home games? That also is not so easy in the ACC. Many schools in the SEC can dish out the cash to spend up to $1 million each for multiple opponents. Guarantee games exist in the ACC, but it is difficult for many league teams to schedule more than one.

The most Wake Forest ever has paid for a guarantee game is $400,000. Because of its small stadium, the program simply does not have the revenue stream to pay out hefty guarantees. Pederson said sometimes schools don't want the guarantee money -- they want a home game in return.

"We've tried to be reasonable in what we can pay in guarantees," Pederson said. "There doesn't seem to be any consistent theme to how these things all work out. Sometimes, it's just important for schools to have you come down. Sometimes, they'll come here twice, you'll go there once. That's the way it goes."

Balancing the schedule is obviously important, too. NC State's game against USF has been on the books since 2006. While there's no issue with a game in Florida, NC State's future schedules feature road games against Group of 5 schools in the same geographic vicinity as a way to limit travel and also help recruiting.

Duke has not been shy about playing Group of 5 teams on the road, either. Last week, the Blue Devils went to Troy and won, 34-17. They have also played at Memphis, FIU, Army and Navy under David Cutcliffe.

"If we weren't on the road, our first road test would be Miami in Miami so I think it's good for your team," Cutcliffe said. "It's a little bit of the things you see basketball teams do before they get into their conference games, so I think it's been beneficial to us. Most years we've played pretty well doing this."
Paul ChrystCharles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPaul Chryst's commitment to his players has helped make Pitt an attractive option for transfers.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Paul Chryst was canvassing Heinz Field before last year's Notre Dame game when he made a beeline for David Robinson, whose son played for the Irish. Chryst re-introduced himself to the NBA legend, who was at Navy when Chryst's brother, Rick, worked for the Midshipmen's media relations staff. Robinson laughed during the conversation, and he could not help but relay it to Rick minutes after.

"He goes, 'David, Paul Chryst. I'm Ricky's brother,'" Rick recalled. "David goes, 'I thought you were the head coach.'"

Perhaps no story better encapsulates Chryst's understated approach as the public face of a storied program. The son of a Div. III coach, he has been in coaching his whole life, with his only "real" job coming as a teenager when he helped his two brothers on their paper routes. He has had 12 different gigs as a college and pro assistant at 10 different stops, including three separate stints as a player and coach at Wisconsin, where he ended up playing for three different head coaches as a result of the death of Dave McClain.

His background is familiar to a Pitt program that he has brought some stability to now in Year 3, as the Panthers remove further away from the unceremonious exits of Todd Graham and Mike Haywood. And it might also explain the ease with which Chryst has handled one of the team's biggest building blocks: transfers.

It's not that Chryst has welcomed in others at an alarming rate; it's just the success he's had doing so. Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson thriving after joining the Badgers from NC State is one thing. Turning a nearly-broken Tom Savage last year into an attractive NFL quarterback — while relying this year on three different starters who began their careers elsewhere — is quite another.

Chryst insists he hasn't drawn up a secret formula for properly integrating newcomers, saying that simply doing enough homework raises the odds of them turning into success stories.

"If you're bringing someone in, we are truly spending time — even when Russell came in — spending time getting to know them," said Chryst, who was the Badgers' offensive coordinator for Wilson's lone year in Madison. "Spend time talking to people that know them, people that don't necessarily have a vested interest in them, and finding out who they are. Knowing if you have a need. Do they fit a need?"

This year's Pitt starters are expected to include a former Michigan safety (Ray Vinopal), a former Ohio State end (David Durham) and a former Wisconsin receiver (Manasseh Garner).

Vinopal had transferred before the 2011 season, sitting out during Graham's lone year at Pitt. A product of Youngstown, Ohio, powerhouse Cardinal Mooney, Vinopal found a sense of familiarity with Chryst when the coach initially addressed his new players.

"When I first met him, it was like he was saying everything that I did in high school, just on a grander stage," Vinopal said. "And that's when I knew — I had success in the past with it, and I know that Pitt's going to have success with it, in the future and this year."

Chad Voytik saw enough of the same in Chryst in a short amount of time to resist bolting for greener pastures after the coach he committed to, Graham, left for Arizona State. The quarterback even went as far as to help patch the rest of Pitt's 2012 class back together, sold on Chryst's refreshing blueprint to rebuild the program from the inside-out.

Chryst cited the wayward career of Voytik's predecessor, Savage, as an example of why he feels the need to make things right when players enter a new program. Savage sat out two straight seasons before 2013, having been at Rutgers and Arizona before departing the Wildcats due to a coaching change.

"I think you owe that to the player, too," Chryst said of his due diligence. "I know what happened to Tommy when he had to transfer again. That's not right. And so I think you maybe have to be a little more sure that it is a good fit for them and for us, because they don't have another opportunity. That's it."

Rick said his brother took a cue in his approach from their late father, George, who coached Wisconsin-Platteville for 14 years and, like Paul, reveled in camp two-a-days and other fundamental aspects of the profession. Rick said that mentality served the brothers well as they worked their ways up in the sports world. (Rick is a former Mid-American Conference commissioner, while their other brother, Geep, is the 49ers' quarterbacks coach.)

"Whatever we were doing or wherever my dad was, that seemed like it was the biggest thing at the time," Rick said. "The Platteville Pioneers were playing Whitewater, and what could be bigger than that?"

When Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson had trouble one day reaching Chryst out at the Rose Bowl shortly after hiring him, Chryst called back the next morning apologizing, saying that Wilson had pulled him aside for a film session that went late into the night.

"You never have to apologize to me for that," Pederson said. "And I said that's exactly what you want. [He's] just totally committed to his players."

Vinopal echoed that sentiment, saying his ability to approach Chryst is night and day from that of past coaches. Chryst likes to think his open-door policy is more than just a saying, and the success rate of others walking through those doors to Pitt speaks to that.

"I think you're a better coach if you know your players better," he said. "And I don't think by any stretch that I've arrived or any of our coaches have arrived. I think we still need to do a better job of getting to know our players, and them getting to know us. And to me that's part of the fun of it, and there's nothing wrong with enjoying it."
Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson has taken his share of criticism since returning to the university in 2007.

It's hard to go unscathed when your football program features a revolving door of coaches over a two-year span, ultimately turning the Panthers into a punchline.

[+] EnlargeSteve Pederson
Keith Srakocic/AP PhotoPitt has rewarded athletic director Steve Pederson with a five-year contract extension, thanks in part to his leadership in getting the university into the ACC.
Now, though, there is no punchline, and there are no more jokes. Despite the strikes Pederson made in the football hiring department, he saved himself with one grand slam stroke of maneuvering that has secured the Pitt athletic department well into the future.

He got Pitt into the ACC.

So it comes as little surprise to see that Pederson has earned a five-year contract extension through at least 2018. Getting Pitt into a stable conference home should qualify as his crowning achievement. Because Pitt has a future now. A solid future. Now, there are undoubtedly those staying behind in the Big East who blame Pitt and Syracuse for what has happened to that league. Their surprise defections triggered yet another wave of realignment, and ultimately spelled doom for the Big East as everybody knew it.

Fingers have been pointed countless times. What ifs have been asked even more. What if Pitt and Syracuse had stayed? Would college football have realigned again? Those questions are not based in reality, of course. Reality says the Big East was a fraying league at the time Pitt left, one that many believed would eventually be torn apart because of its clashing football and basketball interests. Reality says realignment was set in motion before Pitt and Syracuse left. Reality says Pitt looked far into the future and saw the ACC -- not the Big East -- still standing.

It is hard to blame Pitt for doing what was in its best interest. The ACC was always the more stable, lucrative conference. It made perfect sense for the Panthers to make the jump. So quietly, Pederson worked backchannels to make the move happen. In the news release announcing Pederson's contract extension, Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg only mentioned the ACC move in his statement.

Nordenberg said, in part, "Just two years ago, during a period of significant conference instability, Steve was a driving force in helping us to find the best possible conference home. When we received an invitation to join the ACC, Pitt not only had the chance to move to an outstanding athletic conference but also became aligned with some of the nation’s most prestigious academic institutions."

Now, take a gander at what is left of the soon-to-be renamed Big East:

No guaranteed tie-in to the Orange Bowl.

No high-profile bowl tie-ins, period.

No big boy seat at the College Football Playoff revenue distribution table.

And, most important of all, no TV contract that pays $17 million per school per year, potentially on the way up to $20 million per school per year.

Had Pitt not been proactive, it could be sitting where UConn sits today.

The move in itself is a program changer. And it is enough to gloss over the bad football hires Pederson made in succession (Mike Haywood, Todd Graham) and the other criticism that has drifted his way. Pederson deserved the extension the second Pitt joined the ACC.

The next challenge is for the Panthers to prove themselves worthy.
Head coaching salaries have been on the rise for years. So have assistant coach salaries, sparking a further separation between the programs that can pay and the programs that cannot.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that athletic directors have seen their salaries grow as well.

USA Today, which annually compiles head coaching salaries, recently found FBS athletic directors make an average of $515,000. That is an increase of more than 14 percent since USA Today last reported on AD salaries in 2011.

The ACC beats that average. Of the available salaries compiled by USA Today, ACC athletic directors were set to make an average of $602,829 in 2013. All but two made more than $500,000 -- Kevin Anderson at Maryland ($499,490), and Randy Spetman at Florida State ($350,00).

That doesn't count incoming Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich, who makes a cool $1.4 million -- the highest paid athletic director at a public school. Only nine athletic directors make $1 million or more. The next highest paid public school AD is Dan Radakovich at Clemson, checking in at $725,000.

Boston College and Miami, two private schools, did not disclose figures.

While Spetman's salary has remained the same for the past several years, it still surprises me that the athletic director at one of the most high-profile football programs in the nation is the lowest paid in his league. And one of the lowest paid in the entire state of Florida. Florida AD Jeremy Foley makes more than $1 million; USF AD Doug Woolard makes nearly $500,000; Todd Stansbury at UCF makes just a smidge more ($375,000); and FIU AD Pete Garcia makes $441,832.

I know Spetman has faced his share of criticism, and the Noles have fought through some financial problems. They do pay Jimbo Fisher $2.75 million -- the highest paid coach in the ACC. But something seems off when the ADs at FIU, UCF and USF make more than the guy at Florida State.

Here are is the complete list of AD salaries in the ACC, thanks to USA Today.
  • Tom Jurich, Louisville: $1.4 million*
  • Kevin White, Duke, $906,536
  • Dan Radakovich, Clemson: $725,000
  • Ron Wellman, Wake Forest: $688,000
  • Mike Bobinski, Georgia Tech: $625,000
  • Jim Weaver, Virginia Tech: $621,529
  • Steve Pederson, Pitt: $596,595
  • Craig Littlepage, Virginia: $586,750
  • Daryl Gross, Syracuse: $570,057
  • Bubba Cunningham, North Carolina: $565,000
  • Debbie Yow, NC State: $500,000
  • Kevin Anderson, Maryland: $499,490**
  • Randy Spetman, Florida State: $350,000
  • Brad Bates, Boston College: NA
  • Blake James, Miami: NA

*Louisville expected to join ACC in 2014

** Maryland will depart ACC in 2014
Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami did the dirty work. They’re the ones who made the Big East angry -- so angry that BC and Connecticut still haven’t played each other since the Eagles left to join the ACC. They’re the ones who were mired in acrimony, tangled up in lawsuits, and portrayed as the Big East’s Benedict Arnold (who, ironically, was born in Connecticut).

Pitt and Syracuse?

They’re practically tap-dancing out of the Big East.

“It was a tumultuous time for everybody,” said one ACC source who was involved in the first expansion. “People didn’t know there was going to be this much turmoil and griping. It was unprecedented in that time. Everybody has changed now. In 2003, it was new. Three teams were leaving. You go back and look at the newspapers, it was all anyone talked about for the months of May, June, July. It was huge. No conference had ever done anything like that.

“It’s easier for Pitt and Syracuse because they’re coming into a league where three other teams have already broken it in.”

Having gone through expansion before, with the additions of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, the ACC had a blueprint for Round 2, and Pittsburgh and Syracuse had footsteps to follow. This time, though, was vastly different. Ten years ago, the news of three teams leaving the Big East was shocking. Now, it’s more surprising to hear of anyone who’s staying in the Big East. The ACC’s first round of expansion was a messy trio of divorces with enough lawsuits to fill TruTV. This time, Pitt and Cuse were just following the national trend. The ACC’s first round of expansion was a dramatic, shocking blow to the Big East. This time, the Big East was already doubled over.

Steve Pederson
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic"We haven't gone to environments where the kids were put in a tough spot, or were uncomfortable," Pittsburgh AD Steve Pederson said leaving the Big East for the ACC. "Everyone has been good."
The change in circumstances both within the conferences and within the entire national college football landscape has made for a much smoother transition. The ACC has since changed its bylaws and no longer requires campus visits to approve potential expansion candidates; the conference turned to a committee comprised of presidents, athletic directors and faculty representatives to discuss the pros and cons of further expansion and possible candidates.

“Certainly there were things we learned from the first time around that made the next time more fluid and more efficient,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said. “It did happen very smoothly. It was internally unanimous, and that always contributes to a smooth transition internally, and I think, too, the landscape nationally changed a great deal from when we expanded the first time to the more recent expansions.”

Pittsburgh athletic director Steve Pederson said there has been no animosity from the Big East.

“The institutions of the Big East have been very good in their dealings with us,” he said. “We haven’t gone to environments where the kids were put in a tough spot, or were uncomfortable. Everyone has been good. Of course, everyone is going their own way a little bit. It’s hard to be too judgmental when you’re leaving, too.”

When the ACC announced it would add Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the league on July 1, 2013, the first person to call Pederson was the late, former Miami athletic director Paul Dee, a good friend who had once successfully led his athletic department through the same move almost a decade earlier.

As the transition began, Pederson continued to seek advice from Dee and Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver, also a very good friend.

“It was kind of interesting to talk to somebody who now wasn’t in the heart of it,” Pederson said of Dee. “He was hearkening back to the transitional period of time. He was very helpful in that way. We talked a lot about just about every issue you could think of. Those two were very helpful, and to some extent, they were very helpful in navigating the remaining time in the league, too.”

That time is quickly coming to an end, as Pittsburgh will join the ACC’s Coastal Division and Syracuse will join the Atlantic Division this summer. Both schools have been attending conference meetings for two years. Pederson said he was at the ACC’s winter meetings in January 2012, and last month. He raved about the reception they have gotten from the league office and its members, calling them “organized,” “professional” and “first-rate.”

“There’s probably not an athletic director in the ACC I haven’t been able to ask a little advice and counsel of as we do this,” Pederson said. “We’re joining their league. I think we bring value and unique things to the league, but this has been a long-term, successful league. We’re joining them. We want to make sure we’re doing this the right way.”

This time, both the ACC and Big East have found a way to do it better.
This is not a recording.

Pitt is going back to the BBVA Compass Bowl for the third straight year, making Birmingham its (almost) official home away from home. The Panthers (6-6) will take on Ole Miss (6-6) this time on Jan. 5, kicking off at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN. Pitt is 1-1 in its last two appearances in this game.

"We've been given a great opportunity to play a quality program like Ole Miss," coach Paul Chryst said in a statement. "I know they finished the season strong and looked impressive in winning the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State. We are appreciative of the City of Birmingham and the BBVA Compass Bowl for giving us the chance to play one more game this season."

"As we move another step closer to our future in the Atlantic Coast Conference, we are thrilled to be matched with Mississippi of the Southeastern Conference," Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said. "While it is unusual to play in the same bowl three years in a row, we are excited to be facing a traditional program like Ole Miss. This game is held in a great football city and our hosts have already discussed giving our team some different experiences on this trip. We are proud of how our team finished the regular season and we're excited they can play one more game together."

Big Ten Friday mailblog

October, 12, 2012
Wishing you a good weekend of game watching.

Tim from Hermosa Beach, Calif., writes: Adam,Should Wisconsin win out, win the Big Ten Championship, and win the Rose Bowl, could Bret Bielema be considered for Big Ten coach of the year? Yes, losing two games (one to a pretty good OR St. team), is bad, but with all the turnover on the field and the sidelines, wouldn't it be phenomenal to accomplish that feat?

Adam Rittenberg: Tim, if the Big Ten awarded Coach of the Year after the bowl season, I would agree with you 100 percent. But the major awards actually come out after the final regular-season games are played. Would Bielema win the award if Wisconsin merely wins the Leaders division, which everyone predicted it would before the season? Highly unlikely. Although it would show he helped right the ship in Madison after a very shaky start, I'd be surprised to see him claim the award over, say, Bill O'Brien, Urban Meyer, Pat Fitzgerald or Jerry Kill. There's a long way to go and anything is possible, but the timing of when the award is presented -- before the league title game and the bowls -- probably eliminates Bielema from the discussion.

Michael from Saginaw, Mich., writes: I know this is thinking really far ahead, but I cant help myself. This mediocre season that seems to be going down for my beloved Spartans may have one of those double edged sword mentalities i think. Instead of losing possible greats to the draft such as bell and Gholston, do they come back for unfinished business? Ive read many times how much Gholston appreciates the staff and the college life and opportunities that were afforded to him. Bell could possibly have a healthy and strong O-line next year with a (god willing) much improved pass game. Do seasons such as this give way to possible great follow-ups? (or am i asking the football gods for too much?)

Adam Rittenberg: Michael, while there could be an unfinished business mentality for Michigan State's draft hopefuls, it ultimately comes down to a set of individual decisions. I would be very surprised if Le'Veon Bell returns in 2013, even if Michigan State falls short of its goals this fall. Bell plays a position that has a very short shelf-life in the NFL, and despite his size, he has taken a ton of carries -- and hits -- this season. He projects very well to the next level and doesn't need to prove much more to the scouts after the durability he has shown this fall. Gholston is a different case because of the position he plays and whether he'll benefit more from another year at the college level. I think he could, but again, I'm not in his shoes and dealing with the circumstances in his life. Gholston hasn't been as dominant as many of us thought he'd be, but his natural ability certainly could springboard him to the NFL if he chooses to come out. If I had to make a prediction right now, I'd say Bell goes and Gholston stays.

Matthew from Charlotte, N.C., writes: Since the Pelini hot seat rumors seem to be firing up I thought I'd pose this to someone who might actually know:If we fire Pelini when he hasn't had a losing season and is 45-22 (if he's 6-6 this year) is any coach going to want to come here? Considering our treatment of Solich (who was 58-19) are good coaches going to think our expectations are grossly inflated and pass?And by good coach I mean someone who "everyone" is talking about as a good head coaching prospect, so they're likely to have options and future prospects. Yes I know that can backfire.(I know this isn't really unique to us, Georgia seems to be in the same situation. A coach you don't think is good enough to win championships and too good to fire)

Adam Rittenberg: Matthew, first of all, I'd be very surprised if Nebraska parts ways with Pelini after this season, even if he goes 6-6 (also unlikely). It's more likely he leaves for another job than gets fired. You bring up an interesting point, though, about the perception of the Nebraska job if the Huskers dump Pelini with a decent overall record, like they did with Solich. While I think the circumstances are a little different in Lincoln these days (no Steve Pederson), it's interesting to debate how the Nebraska job is viewed from the outside. Although the school and its fans want to compete for national championships, I also think there's a keen understanding of the difficulties (geography, recent history, rise of SEC) that make it tough. What Nebraska should be doing is competing regularly for Big Ten titles, occasionally for national titles and having fewer nights like last Saturday's, when it flat-lines in the national spotlight. If Bo can't do that, Nebraska will need to look elsewhere. And whomever succeeds Pelini, he needs to be keenly aware of the program/fan culture and embrace the unique elements of leading Big Red.

Grant from State College, Pa., writes: I was wondering your thoughts on Michael Mauti being left off of the Lombardi quarter-finalist list? Through the first half of the season, he is producing at a high a level as anyone in the Big Ten, and the country for that matter.

Adam Rittenberg: It's a joke, Grant. A lot of these awards embarrass themselves with preseason watch lists and sometimes with revised midseason watch lists. Anyone who has been paying attention knows Mauti has been one of the nation's top 3 linebackers this season. He is playing at an All-America caliber level, and if he keeps it up, he'll win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors. I hope the Lombardi Award folks reconsider their error and add Mauti to the mix. I agree with David Jones that these awards shouldn't be taken as seriously as they are, and there are PR agendas in play. I would hope Mauti isn't punished because of the uniform he wears, but the lack of analysis I've seen from those compiling these award lists rarely surprises me. Mauti will be recognized where it matters -- on All-America lists and with the Big Ten awards.

(Read full post)

What now for Pitt?

February, 14, 2012
Given the big news that West Virginia is indeed out of the Big East for 2012, many have wondered where that leaves Pitt.

Athletic director Steve Pederson released a statement this afternoon:
“Yesterday, the Big East communicated to us it had reached a settlement with West Virginia and would work to find us a replacement team for that home game. We will keep our fans informed as that develops.

“Given the conference transitions both schools are currently undergoing, it is difficult to speculate on the future of our series with WVU. Our more immediate focus is on finalizing our upcoming football schedule.”

The most interesting part about this statement -- no mention about if Pitt will try to join the ACC before 2014. West Virginia bolting certainly makes the case for Pitt and Syracuse to leave before the 27-month waiting period for their new conference home. Do each want to pony up a heavy exit fee the way West Virginia did? How much would they have to pay if they leave in 2013? Remember, the Big 12 needed West Virginia in place for 2012. There is no such rush for the ACC to add Pitt and Syracuse.

Scheduling is another story altogether. This already has been a nightmare for the remaining seven Big East schools. Everybody now has one hole; several schools like Pitt have two. Pitt only has two home conference games on the docket (Rutgers, Louisville) and is obviously losing the Backyard Brawl as an annual game.

West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck said earlier today the Brawl would be difficult to schedule, as both schools are only going to have three nonconference dates once they get into their new leagues. Pitt also has Penn State upcoming on the schedule as well. How far are they willing to go to preserve this rivalry? Is it even doable?

Pitt has to start over -- again

December, 14, 2011
Todd Graham arrived in Pittsburgh talking a big game, throwing around his ideas for a high-octane offense, for doing everything the Pitt way, for making the city and its fans get behind him and his players with the special brand of football he had to offer.

But from the start, it was obvious Graham did not do anything the Pitt way.

He did it the Graham way.

Graham took a sledgehammer to Pitt football in every way imaginable, gutting the true essence of what this program represented. He was flashy. Self-absorbed. Concerned for his own advancement. When his high-octane offense looked as exciting as a jalopy riding in a NASCAR race, he blamed his players -- not himself.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Jamie Rhodes/US PresswireTodd Graham notified his players via text that he would be leaving Pitt for Arizona State.
And when his first opportunity came to bolt, he did, taking a page out of the Randy Edsall Book of Class to deliver the message to his players via text message. Graham lasted less than a year at Pitt, compiling a 6-6 record after setting preseason expectations so high, the Panthers were picked to finish second in the conference.

The Graham way indeed.

The disaster started before Graham, of course, when athletic director Steve Pederson decided to fire coach Dave Wannstedt even though he delivered a share of the Big East championship last December. Wannstedt failed to live up to some pretty high expectations, but he never wounded his school, his players or his fans with such a reckless, selfish attitude. Nothing about Wannstedt ever screamed, "Me first." It was Wannstedt last week who astutely pointed out that Graham treated quarterback Tino Sunseri with little respect throughout the entire season.

After getting rid of Wannstedt, Pederson turned to Mike Haywood, but that turned out to be a disaster itself. Haywood was arrested on domestic violence charges a short time later, leaving the Panthers desperate. Graham had lobbied hard for the job before Haywood was hired, so Pitt already was familiar with him and his background at Tulsa.

So in came Graham, who professed his love for Pitt, for this being a dream opportunity, for all the amazing things he could do to get this team back into a BCS game. I sat down with him for the first time during the Big East spring meetings last May, and he went over all his talking points when I asked him why he wanted to coach at Pitt.

"I’ve spent my whole life working to get this job," he said. "This is the best job I’ve ever had. To get an opportunity in a conference like this in a place like Pitt where you can compete to win it all ... our goal is to win championships. We’re extremely motivated."

Not motivated enough. In hindsight, perhaps Pederson should have seen the signs. Graham now has two one-year tenures on his résumé, a man so completely consumed with finding a bigger, better opportunity that he has no sense of loyalty, relationships or how to tell the truth.

Just ask Pitt receiver Devin Street, who took to Twitter on Wednesday to deliver one harsh message after another:

"I feel like dirt and I was just abused. For a year"

"I'm literally sick. That man pulled me in his office one on one and lied to me"

"He's an actor he did it to rice then us now he's gonna do it to ASU... That energy is fake he has them fooled"

Or defensive end Brandon Lindsey, who tweeted, "For someone who said they read the bible everyday, he must've missed the pg that said 'thou shall not lie'"

It is understandable for the players to be reacting this way. They are going on their fourth head coach in a year. But we all know coaching changes are a necessary part of college football. Coaches lie to advance themselves. None of this is new to Pitt or to the sport itself.

What is so unsettling about this situation is the way Graham went about leaving. He asked for permission to interview at Arizona State but was denied. So he resigned anyway, after 11 months on the job and a .500 record to show for all his bravado. Whatever his reasons, his final day proved to fit Graham to a tee:

He did it the Graham way.

Pitt releases details on Graham exit

December, 14, 2011
Pitt released a few details from Todd Graham's exit as head coach in a press release, saying Graham resigned after being denied permission to speak with Arizona State.

Graham first contacted athletic director Steve Pederson in a phone call Tuesday night about his intentions. Pederson asked Graham to sit down in person to discuss the situation. Though Graham never gave any indication that he wanted to leave, he appears to have made this move based on personal family reasons.

Pitt has named defensive coordinator Keith Patterson the interim head coach for the BBVA Compass Bowl on Jan. 7. Here are the statements from the Pitt press release:
"Obviously this is not the way we would have expected Mr. Graham to handle any possible departure,” Pitt executive vice chancellor and general counsel Jerry Cochran said. “Beyond normal expectations with respect to professional conduct, he has failed to comply with the terms of his contract.”

From Pederson:
"First and foremost, I want to express the complete support of the University of Pittsburgh for the young men in our football program. Their commitment over this past year has been unwavering and they deserve better than this as they look forward to completing their season with a bowl. As always, we will base our every decision and action on their best interests as we move forward.

"We also understand the disappointment that will be felt by our many fans and supporters. Their emotional investment and pride have been important to our program, and we are committed to securing the leadership our football team deserves.

"The head football coaching position at the University of Pittsburgh is an outstanding opportunity. As rich as our history has been, I sincerely believe the future can be even greater. Everything is in place for a championship football program on and off the field at Pitt, including a world-class academic institution, state-of-the-art facilities and a tremendous city to call home.

"The search for a new coach has already begun and I am confident we will have great interest in the job from some outstanding candidates.”
When it comes to the topic of giving more scholarship dollars to student-athletes, Big East coaches, athletic directors and administrators do not have a consensus position.

Doug Marrone believes current scholarship dollars are enough for student-athletes. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano believes increasing scholarships to cover room and board would be a step in the right direction. Officials at USF and Pittsburgh believe the topic is worth further discussion.

As for the league itself, commissioner John Marinatto said at the Big East spring meetings in May it was hard to take a position on increasing scholarship dollars because no model had been presented. League athletic directors had a brainstorming session to discuss whether this is something the league could endorse, but they need to talk about the idea further.

"I haven’t heard any models to be quite honest so I don’t even know if there’s a viable model or non-viable model yet because nobody’s got into 'this is the model,'" Marinatto said. "It’s just a concept. Is there an economics model that allows us to provide a student-athlete with additional resources beyond actual room and attendance and tuition, particularly in the revenue generating sports of football and basketball? I haven’t seen a model if there is a model."

Therein lies part of the problem: How would this affect all student-athletes? Would this model be just for football and basketball or for every player on campus? Jurich is in support of pay for play, but only if this applies to everyone.

“I'm all for it if it's across the board for all sports, and that all conferences can institute it successfully," Jurich said. "I feel it maintains the integrity of college athletics -- that it's a level playing field across the board for all schools. I have zero interest in it if it's not for every sport. We have worked so hard through the years in gender equity that I feel it's important for all sports to be included in such a process.”

Indeed, making sure this is something that can be successfully instituted is a big question for other league athletic directors.

"Evaluating scholarship levels for student-athletes is definitely a conversation worth having," USF athletic director Doug Woolard said. "At USF, we are constantly trying to find ways to better support our student-athletes as they work towards graduating and earning success on the playing fields. There are certainly a lot of different aspects that would need to be taken into consideration before acting on any proposal, but if having the conversation leads to positive change for the student-athletes, then we would be more than willing to be involved."

Added Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson: "When you get into the discussion as to whether to pay student-athletes, the subject is complicated. Providing additional income in order to make their collegiate experience a more comfortable one is something, I believe, everyone would be on board with. However, there has to be a great deal of discussion on the topic before moving forward. The question as to where the supplemental income would be provided from is first and foremost. Additionally, each athletic department is in a different financial situation and the fair distribution of those funds lead to quite a few points of contention.”

Both Pederson and Jurich bring up excellent points. Is this something each conference across the board can enact? If we are talking about increasing scholarship amounts by, say, $3,000 for each student-athlete, the costs would rise well above $500,000 at most universities. With athletic departments already running deficits, who is going to pay those additional costs? Would the burden fall to conferences?

The Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 just got gigantic boosts from new TV deals. Can a league like the Big East afford to dole out a total of $4 million to football member schools to help cover the costs? Once you add in the basketball members, that number grows even bigger. The Big East is set to get a new TV deal in the next 18 months, but even then would there be enough in a new deal to help defray the additional costs of a scholarship?

There are so many unanswered questions, and so many different voices in the Big East, you can see why there is no consensus.

Pitt gets its man this time (maybe)

January, 11, 2011
If Todd Graham simply makes it to signing day as Pittsburgh's head coach, he will already have proved more successful than his immediate predecessor.

How much more success Graham will have with the Panthers remains to be seen, of course. But it looks like the school made the best of a messy situation with a solid hire this time around.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
AP Photo/Michael ConroyPanthers coach Todd Graham will bring the spread offense to Pitt.
I thought that Pitt should be bold and go after Rich Rodriguez or Gus Malzahn. Instead, it landed a coach who once worked under Rodriguez at West Virginia and who once was Malzahn's boss at Tulsa. Graham has a terrific record, going 43-23 in five seasons at Tulsa and Rice, winning at least 10 games in three of the past four years with the Golden Hurricane. He has also been a part of some major turnarounds, leading Rice to its first bowl game in 45 years in his lone season as head coach at that school, and working on the staff that brought Tulsa back from the dead.

Pittsburgh doesn't need to be resurrected. The Panthers just need a steady hand who can realize the potential for a program that has long underachieved. The foundation is in place, as former coach Dave Wannstedt left things in good shape before being forced out. Graham will have to hastily patch together a recruiting class that has gone up in smoke since Wannstedt's departure and the hiring and firing of Mike Haywood. It won't be easy, and the team could feel the impact of those losses in years to come.

But one recruiting class is less important than having the right man in charge. Graham makes for a considerably better choice than Haywood, who led his own impressive turnaround this season at Miami (Ohio) but had nothing else on his résumé as a head coach. Why didn't Pitt hire Graham in the first go-around, when he was one of the men considered? Mostly because of money, since Graham made $1.3 million at Tulsa and wanted a raise to leave. The notoriously budget-conscious Panthers didn't want to open their wallet the first time but were far more willing to do so now after the public relations nightmare of the Haywood arrest. Graham will reportedly be paid in the $2 million range.

Now he must prove he is worth it. The last Tulsa coach to take over a Big East program was Graham's former boss, Steve Kragthorpe. He flamed out in spectacular fashion at Louisville. Rebuilding a team at the Conference USA level and guiding one to a BCS game in an AQ conference, even one as wide open as the Big East, are not the same thing.

Whatever happens, Pitt fans shouldn't be bored, as they might have been with Haywood's style. Graham's teams score points in bunches; the Golden Hurricane led the nation in scoring in 2007 and 2008 when Malzahn was their offensive coordinator and averaged better than 41 points this year, breaking the 50-point barrier four times. That has to sound great to Panthers fans who were sick of Wannstedt's conservative offenses.

It's interesting, though, that Graham's background is on defense, as he was Rodriguez's defensive coordinator in Morgantown. Yet Tulsa has often been terrible on defense and allowed more than 30 points per game this season. Graham won't have Malzahn or Chad Morris -- who left Tulsa this week for Clemson -- to call plays at Heinz Field.

Regardless, Pitt is about to fully embrace the spread, even if all the current players were recruited for a pro-style system. Get ready for some big-time Backyard Brawl shootouts between Graham and new West Virginia offensive coordinator/future head coach Dana Holgorsen. The offensive doldrums that plagued both schools this year -- and the Big East in general -- are about to end.

Had the Panthers simply hired Graham instead of Haywood in December, they could have saved themselves a lot of grief. He looks like a solid choice going forward. He'd better be, since athletic director Steve Pederson's job and the future of the program are riding on it.

Graham will be introduced at a news conference Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. I'll have more thoughts after that media briefing.

Time for Pitt to think bold

January, 3, 2011
My research team did some exhaustive analysis to come up with the following statistic: Pittsburgh leads the nation in fired football coaches since December.

Yes, despite the decidedly unfunny domestic violence charge against now-dismissed coach Mike Haywood, jokes are easy to make at the Panthers expense. They are a national laughingstock after forcing out Dave Wannstedt and then hiring a supposed disciplinarian who lasted all of 16 days before winding up in jail.

Steve Pederson
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicSteve Pederson and Pitt needs to go after a big-name coach to stop the program's downward spiral.
Nobody looks worse than athletic director Steve Pederson, who now has made two straight disastrous football coaching hires. Pederson lost his job at Nebraska for his decision to replace Frank Solich with Bill Callahan.

The Haywood hiring makes you wonder how much due diligence Pederson did in his search process. Colleague Pat Forde reports that at least one BCS-level school looked into hiring Haywood but was turned off by some red flags in his personal life. While those concerns didn't suggest that Haywood would be charged in a domestic violence incident -- and here is where I emphasize that Haywood has only been charged, not convicted -- the bottom line is this: Pederson prioritized character, integrity and discipline with this hire, and he chose a guy who couldn't make it to New Year's Day without getting arrested. And remember that Pitt paid a search firm to aid in this process, so those kinds of details should have been vetted long before the New Year's Eve bombshell dropped.

Pederson had to sell Haywood to his fan base with the discipline and integrity buzz words, because there was very little on Haywood's actual coaching résumé to get anybody too excited. He did a great job in turning Miami around and leading the RedHawks to a MAC championship his second season. But Haywood had a losing record and had struggled to get a head coaching job after a long career as an assistant. Pitt didn't go for a home-run hire; at best Pederson legged out an infield single. Upon further review, it was a game-changing error.

Sorry for straining the baseball metaphor here, but now is the time for Pittsburgh to swing for the fences. It would be easy to panic, try to hire a safe, conservative choice and salvage what remains of a tattered recruiting class. Recent precedent in these types of situations is not promising. Notre Dame hired Ty Willingham after backing away from George O'Leary and his enhanced résumé flap in 2001. Alabama turned to Mike Shula after Mike Price's infamous strip-club fiasco in 2003. Willingham was fired after three seasons, Shula got canned in four.

Pitt needs to go the opposite route from its original search process, when Temple's Al Golden and Haywood were at the top of the list. Go after a hot name like Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. Check in with Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. Roll the dice with old rival Rich Rodriguez if he doesn't keep his job at Michigan. Do something to change the conversation and get the fan base back on board. Bite the bullet on this year's recruiting class, although a bigger name might even help lure in some prospects at the last minute.

To do this, the notoriously budget-conscious Panthers need to open the wallet. Haywood was set to make about $1 million annually. Pitt may need to double that to attract a top-notch candidate. The extra money will be worth it for the public-relations fix. Call it a stupid tax. Alabama turned out OK when it spent some money on a good coach, didn't it?

If there's any good news for Pitt, it's that the Haywood baby mama drama came sooner rather than later. If the school makes a good hire now, the Haywood disaster will be a footnote, not the moment the program went into a downward spiral. The Panthers -- and Pederson, if he still has enough credibility remaining to be allowed to make this call -- get a do-over.

Now's the time to be bold and aggressive, to turn a crisis into an opportunity. Either that, or remain a laughingstock.

Posted by's Tim Griffin

St. Patrick's Day is as good as any other day to determine which decisions qualify as money well spent --  as well as those that do not.

Here's a list of three appropriations I think help Big 12 schools and three that aren't as smart.


  • Bob Stoops' contract: Sure, he's making more money than almost any coach in the nation. But he's been able to lead a renaissance in the sport's athletic department that harkens back to the Bud Wilkinson era. And he's been the Big 12's most consistent winner with six conference championships in his tenure. To me, he's a bargain -- even while making more than $6 million per year after bonuses in 2008. 
  • Bo Pelini's contract: It's hard to think of any coach as being underpaid. But in the grand scheme of things, Pelini's current $1.1 million yearly contract would seem to do so. He's steered the Cornhuskers back into relevance in the Big 12 North and appears to have them pointed that way for many years. For that matter, he might be a good bargain even with a sizable contract hike.  
  • Mega Scoreboards at Big 12 stadiums: Sure, they are garish. But Texas started a revolution among Big 12 schools with the creation of "Godzillatron," the massive high-definition scoreboard that makes watching a game at Royal Memorial Stadium almost like watching it from your living room. Texas A&M, Oklahoma and now Nebraska have soon followed with their own versions. These scoreboards keep spectators entertained and still provide revenue for their schools. Sounds like a good match to me.


  • Out of state recruiting budgets for Texas schools: There's a reason why the lobbies at some Dallas and Houston high schools resemble a college coaching clinic on some days during the recruiting period. The Texas area is one of the most fertile in the nation and the backbone of all the Big 12's recruiting. It makes little to no sense for Texas Big 12 schools to even consider venturing outside the state for players. They can find nearly anything they want close to home.
  • The addition of "The Zone" at Kyle Field: Sure, the extra seats are beneficial for certain big games and look nice on television. But along with the Aggies' recent downturn, all of those additional seats have served as an anchor to the school's season-ticket market.
  • Bill Callahan and Steve Pederson's contract buyouts at Nebraska: Even with Bo Pelini's quick turnaround of the Cornhuskers' football program during his first season, the Cornhuskers will end up paying more than $5.325 million over the next several years to their deposed former athletic director and football coach. That's a lot of personal-seat licenses and luxury box revenue -- especially in these challenging economic times.

Posted by's Tim Griffin

New Nebraska coach Bo Pelini's attitude is all about swagger. But it's hard to build that kind of confidence playing some of the weak sisters that will dot his future nonconference schedules.

It seems that Pelini isn't exactly excited about the schedule he inherited from former athletic director Steve Pederson and former coach Bill Callahan.

Nebraska assistant athletic director for football Jeff Jamrog told the Omaha World-Herald that he's actively seeking upcoming games -- and only against Division I opponents.

The Cornhuskers will be playing Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State next season, and Western Kentucky, Idaho and Football Championship Subdivision power South Dakota State in 2010.

"It looks like they wanted to schedule a bunch of wins," Jamrog said. "We can't do anything about it. We can't do anything about the guarantees that were set, unless you want to cancel the contracts. But we aren't interested in doing that."

Pelini is in favor of taking on all comers in the future.

"That's what the fans want to see," Pelini said. "That's the shame of the BCS. Fans aren't seeing the games they used to see in September. We want to play those games. I don't want to shy away from anyone."

Assuredly, this is very refreshing attitude for a new football coaching staff to have. But something tells me that Pelini will prefer his schedule of Western Michigan, New Mexico State and San Jose State this season before facing Virginia Tech than if he had switched to a tougher one.

Hope that Pelini is up to the challenge of tackling a few morning links, too.

  • Versatile WR Quan Cosby has had to argue to convince Texas coach Mack Brown to use him as a punt returner in the past. But his role looks assured heading into this season.
  • Converted QB Jeremy Sanders has thrived at his new position at RB, Waco Tribune-Herald reporter John Werner writes.
  • Colorado LB Jon Major, one of the top two in-state recruits for Colorado last season, has been lost for the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.
  • One of the real treats of covering the Big 12 each week is Kansas City Star beat writer Mike DeArmond's priceless Vlog from Missouri's camp. But how come I always think of "Sex, Lies and Videotape" when I watch his sometimes brutal weekly assessments of the Tigers?
  • Kansas State DE Ian Campbell is back at his original position after an abortive stab at linebacker last season. I wonder what took KSU coaches so long to move him back, comparing his performance last season to the previous one.
  • Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell showed quick dexterity with the new clock rules, running a no-huddle offense during all of his snaps in the Red Raiders' first scrimmage. Harrell needed only 14 plays to produce three 60-yard scoring drives, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported.
  • Converted RB Cody Glenn is getting a few extra tips in his conversion to linebacker from a long-lost relative, legendary former Nebraska LB Broderick "The Sandman" Thomas.
  • Joe Kines, a 64-year-old coaching veteran with 40 years of experience, is facing an ultimate challenge of trying to resuscitate Texas A&M's "Wrecking Crew" defense, Brent Zwerneman of the San Antonio Express-News reports. 
  • It seems Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is a big fan of the Olympics. "All of them, I like watching all of it," Stoops told the Oklahoman.  "What's so neat about it is you get that one moment to be at your best. That's what I love about boxing as well. You get that one shot. And if you happen to have over-trained, or you don't hit it just right..." Sounds a bit like playing in a bowl game, doesn't it?
  • Oklahoma State WR Jeremy Broadway appears to be making the most of his last chance with the Cowboys after his suspension last November.
  • Tulsa World reporter John Hoover wonders if Oklahoma WR Juaquin Iglesias is the most underappreciated player in the Sooners' football history. Hoover's statistics make a good case.
  • Veteran Nebraska offensive line coach Barney Cotton told Lincoln Journal-Star that his current group might be the deepest in talent he's ever coached.
  • Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News profiles Oklahoma's defense. Buried deep in the story is the quote of the day from Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who isn't exactly enthusiastic about the development of his young linebacking corps. I'm not ready to puke yet," Venables said.
  • Tulsa World columnist Dave Sittler said Kansas' rapid ascension last year is providing hope to Oklahoma State players. "After what Kansas did last year, everybody realizes just how close the Big 12 [race] is and no games are given to you anymore," Oklahoma LB/S Andre Sexton said. "We're pretty much in the same situation now as they [the Jayhawks] were in last season."
  • Construction-worker-turned OLB Mike Balogun has been thrust into the mix as Oklahoma scrambles for a replacement for injured Austin Box.
  • If new Troy WR Josh Jarboe is declared immediately eligible at Troy, he still might play in the state of Oklahoma this season. The Trojans will face Oklahoma State Sept. 27 in Stillwater.
  • Tom Timmerman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch breaks down the battle to replace Tony Temple in the Missouri backfield. Sophomore Derrick Washington from the strangely-named hometown of Peculiar, Mo., appears to have nailed down the starting job -- mainly because of his receiving skills. "
  • 5-foot-6 freshman RB Rodney Stewart is t
    urning heads
    at Colorado's practice -- despite his diminutive size and the presence of heralded RB Darrell Scott in the Buffaloes' camp. And along with fellow freshman Ray Polk, all apparently will receive playing time this season.