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April 12, 2007

At first I was pissed when I read Starkey’s ESPN.com piece that started talking about Wannstedt wanting the defense to get better but turned into yet another Paul Rhoads, um, defense. Then I reread it and can only shake my head and laugh.

Rhoads was not oblivious to the cries for his head. Things were different in 2004, when 17 interceptions and four defensive touchdowns helped propel Pitt into the Fiesta Bowl. Nobody was complaining in 2002, when the Panthers ranked among the country’s top 25 in seven defensive categories and allowed the fewest points in a Pitt season since 1988, despite playing 13 games. Things were OK in 2001, too, when Rhoads’ defense racked up 38 sacks, and in 2000, when Pitt finished 17th in the country against the run.

I mean, at what point do you get tired of pointing out that the first two years were with players and a defense put together by the prior defensive coordinator. That the defense has steadily gone down hill every year.

He adds a new twist, though. He has Rhoads blaming the second half collapse on one play.

Rhoads pointed to a single play as a turning point. It happened against Rutgers, when Pitt, 6-1 at the time and trailing 13-10, had the Scarlet Knights pinned deep early in the fourth quarter. Tailback Ray Rice then bolted 67 yards up the middle to set up the clinching touchdown.

“After that,” Rhoads said, “she goes down the toilet in those last two games.”

Pitt actually lost four in a row after that, leading to speculation about Rhoads’ job.

Not that I don’t remember that play. Hell, that play put Ray Rice in the Heisman conversation (AOL had me do a post on Rice’s “Heisman moment” and that was the one). The thing is, when a coach — even in hindsight — says one play, one moment in a game has a lingering effect on a team. That reveals so much about the coach rather than the players. It says he couldn’t reach them, that he couldn’t get the team to move on and forget. That he let them have that excuse. Ralph Willard committed the same sin when he was the basketball coach (blowing the UConn game in his final season).

If anything, I’m even more negative to Rhoads then before. That he would say that one play broke the spirit and desire of the defense and his so-called “mad-dog intensity,” as Scott McKillop put it, did nothing to get the players back.

Former Panther Takes Over At Iona

Filed under: Alumni,Basketball,Good,Non-BCS — Dennis @ 4:59 am

Two years ago, the Iona Gaels were in the NCAA Tournament. Last year, they started the season 0-22 and finished out 2-28. They played mostly all freshmen, but they were still shocked by the amazing drop off from one year to the next. Enter new head coach Kevin Willard.

Kevin Willard was hired yesterday as the basketball coach at Iona, which hopes the former Rick Pitino assistant can revive a team that began the season 0-22 and finished with the worst record in the program’s 62-year history.

Willard spent the past six seasons at Louisville as an assistant and is a head coach for the first time. He succeeds Jeff Ruland, who was bought out of the final two years of his contract.

Willard is a former Pitt player (1995-97), having played for his father, Ralph Willard.

“Last year doesn’t concern me,” Willard said at a campus news conference. “I know they went through a hard time, but this is a clean slate.”

So now the older and younger Willard’s take their Pitt connection to different schools in NCAA hoops as head coaches.

(OK so that sentence didn’t completely make sense but hey, it’s only 5:00 in the morning. Cut me a little break…)

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