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February 5, 2009

Welcome, New Panthers

Filed under: Football,Recruiting — Chas @ 1:53 pm

Did this class generate a lot of buzz? Was this a class that had anyone particularly excited? Are there any real “can’t miss” guys in this class? The answer to all of those questions is obviously, no. There are a lot of guys that have potential and are tagged with “sleeper.” So, we will see.  Ultimately, it comes down to the players own drive and determination coupled with the coaching they receive.

The important thing, now, is that they are members of the Pitt football team, and will be students at Pitt. They want to be here. These are some of their stories.

There are the local players coming from schools that have had much success in producing 1A recruits.

For Cherpak, who has sent several players to Pitt, Virginia Tech, Ohio and Bowling Green, this year’s National Letter of Intent Day was special in its own way.

“It’s exciting, especially with guys going to rival schools,” Cherpak said. “It’s like this is the beginning. This kind of sets it in motion. It hits them right now that it’s time to move on.”

[Brock] DeCicco, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound tight end, will join his brother Dom and other former teammates Nate and Lucas Nix to play for coach Dave Wannstedt’s Panthers. He verbally committed to Pitt early in the season after receiving offers from Wisconsin, Tennessee, Illinois and Connecticut.

“It feels good to get it done and make it for sure that I was going down there,” DeCicco said. “(Pitt) was just close to home and good for my position.”

DeCicco caught 24 passes for 537 yards and 11 touchdowns in his senior season, while also recording five sacks and two interceptions from the defensive end and linebacker positions. With his combination of size and athleticism, and the pro-style offense run by offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, Pitt was the only real choice for DeCicco.

“I definitely want to get the education,” he said, “but the ultimate goal is to go on and play at the next level. Coach Wannstedt has a lot of good NFL connections, and the pro-style offense, tight end, (is) good (preparation) for the NFL.”

There are the guys just happy that it is all over.

Sitting in a Steel Valley High School conference room surrounded by family and friends, Tyrone Ezell let out a sigh of relief.

Though the 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive lineman made a verbal commitment to play football for coach Dave Wannstedt at the University of Pittsburgh early in the 2008 football season, Wednesday’s National Letter of Intent Day meant the official end of a hectic recruiting process.

“It was exciting at first, but after a while, to keep getting the same letters, I just got tired of it,” Ezell said. “At one point, I knew I just had to make the decision now. I looked around at everyone, considered places. The University of Pittsburgh just felt like family. I felt close to (assistant head coach/defensive line coach Greg Gattuso) my recruiting coach for three years. I like other coaches from other schools, but I felt like I could become a player at the University of Pittsburgh. So I felt like that was the right decision for me to go there.”

Ezell was ranked as one of the nation’s top 40 defensive tackle prospects by and the No. 21 defensive end prospect by

He received scholarship offers from Michigan, Ohio State, Georgia, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Penn State and Rutgers, whose coaches landed in a helicopter outside of Steel Valley High School to meet with Ezell.

The appeal of geographic proximity and playing close to home is an appeal for many.

“They’ve been after me since I was a freshman,” said King. “I got to know the coaches real well. And I figured I’d got to school that wanted me the most, so I took Pitt.”

On Wednesday, King signed a national letter of intent to play on a full scholarship for Dave Wannstedt’s Panthers during a ceremony at Lakeview High.

“One of close friends were there, a lot of my family were there,” King said about the signing ceremony. “It was nice to have all that support.”

Having his supporters nearby was one of the other reasons why King decided to attend Pitt, choosing it over other schools that offered him scholarships, such as Minnesota, Bowling Green, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

“(Proximity) was really important,” said King, who plans studying radiology at the school. “My parents have been to all of my games. They’ve been with me since the beginning. That would be tough playing at home and them not being there.”

The 6-foot-6 King was one of four offensive linemen in Pitt’s 20-man group of recruits for 2009.

But King has the biggest calves.

A change of offensive coaches does not faze the new kids.

Both [Todd] Thomas and [Juantez] Hollins are expected to play offense — Thomas at wide receiver and Hollins along the line — amid rumors that Pitt will have a new offensive coordinator with Matt Cavanaugh taking a job with the New York Jets.

“It doesn’t matter what the rumors are, I haven’t heard them,” said Thomas. “Pitt has been my choice from the start. I know so many people there.

“It was a relief the day I committed and again when I signed. You never know at the college level. I’m just glad coach (Dave Wannstedt) held a scholarship for me.

“I feel I’ve got to make an impact when I get there.”

Finally, there is Fernando Diaz out of NYC.

Fernando Diaz’s career at the University of Pittsburgh got off to an auspicious start on Wednesday morning. After signing his letter of intent and faxing it off, the Cardinal Hayes offensive lineman was ready to field a congratulatory phone call from Panthers head coach Dave Wannstedt.

Except, Diaz’s phone went dead.

That was about the only snafu in what was a magical morning for Diaz, the Cardinals’ 6-foot-2, 275-pound left tackle who was one of a handful of New York City players heading to a Division I-A program.

“It was a dream come true,” Diaz said. “I’m looking forward to the future and it’s just the beginning of my career as a Pitt Panther.”

Interesting tidbit in there is that Diaz is one of the offensive linemen, Coach Wannstedt is considering re-positioning at center.

Harris Will Not Happen

Filed under: Assistants,Coaches,Football,Hire/Fire — Chas @ 10:03 am

Walt Harris will not be the offensive coordinator at Pitt.

I have no inside knowledge on which I base that. I’m also the guy that didn’t think that Steve Pederson would be coming back as AD, so it is totally fair to doubt my reasoning.

On the “pro” side of why you could make the case that he could be hired.

— Harris is unemployed at this time. He clearly enjoys living in Pittsburgh — bought a house in Shaler, his girlfriend lives here, his son still lives here, and he even applied to be the coach at Seneca Valley High.

— AD Pederson hired Harris the first time, and presumably still likes him.

— While he runs a more aggressive, downfield offense that throws more than Wannstedt is comfortable (Woody Hayes arguably seemed more comfortable at times throwing than Wannstedt, but I digress); it is still a pro-style offense that Wannstedt insists will still be the style.

— While Harris is a prior head coach at Pitt, Wannstedt was comfortable hiring Cavanaugh and keeping Rhodes, despite both interviewing for and wanting the Pitt HC job.

— Coach Wannstedt has apparently conceded that his views on QB-ing (at least in the college game) have changed to some level that the QB has to be more than simply a game manager (though, I have trouble believing that in game situations Wanny won’t fall back to his natural instincts). That is something that Walt Harris would be able to deliver.

On the “not going to happen” side:

— Harris was not just interviewed for the head coaching job, he was the head coach here. It just would be too much of a conflict/awkwardness.

— Even if Pederson still likes Harris, the more important issue is how Chancellor Nordenberg feels about him.

— There’s evolving views on the QB in the offense for Wannstedt, and then there’s just the radical departure from conservative to aggressive that a Harris offense would be.

— Harris is not part of Wannstedt’s trusted circle of coaches. He looks to hire people he knows, trusts and hold similar philosophies. Especially at the coordinator position. At the very least, he would only hire someone that one of his circle would highly recommend. Harris — so far as I know — has no such connection.

— Hiring Harris would be an admission by Wannstedt that his approach on offense is not working. Nothing about Wannstedt’s statements or history suggests his willingness to admit that/transform his views that radically.

I still hold affection for Harris, and if I am wrong about this, I will actually be quite happy.

Harris built the program back to the point where fans could actually complain about not being able to get to the next level — as opposed to being in complete shambles. When he was forced out, it was time for him to go. Both sides needed the change.

That said, anyone who doesn’t think Walt Harris was at worst an average coach either holds a grudge/bias or has impossibly insane standards for a coach — and it must be wondered exactly how bad a coach they view Wannstedt? His coaching flaws — sometimes overthinking the situation, being too wedded to a gameplan, and putting blame on the execution rather than take direct resposibility — have been shown not to be unique to him.

Harris’ biggest flaws as head coach was his aloof, reserved manner with the public, press, boosters and most importantly — recruiting. He was a coach but never was comfortable with the public responsibilities that are absolutely vital to being a head coach/face of the program.

So when there were setbacks, there was little support still there. People would complain about how he wasn’t Pitt or Pittsburgh and just did not get it (or really didn’t want to be at Pitt/live in Pittsburgh). Complain that he got mentioned for other jobs and  as a result got raises, even if that is exactly how the game is played in college these days.

Like it or not, Pitt has little history of coaches being at the head spot for the long term. In the 119 years of Pitt football, only Pop Warner (1915-23), Jock Sutherland (1924-38) and John Michelosen (1955-65) had longer tenures. Coincidentally, they are the only Pitt coaches with more career wins than Harris.

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