What do the hirings of Jamie Dixon, Dave Wannstedt and Mike Haywood have in common?
It obviously isn’t the success rate.
Believe it or not, it isn’t the AD, as each was hired with a different AD ostensibly in charge.
It’s not even the money.
It’s that in all of the moves to make the hire, there was a clear #1 target and then only a cheap fallback.
One of the advantages for doing this Pitt blog for so long are archives that lend itsself to more easily reviewing past events. While the hiring of Jamie Dixon predates this blog, I deeply followed that saga and coupled with the ACC raid on the Big East, made me want to start this blog. At the time I was just general interest blogging anything that had my attention.
Over seven years ago I wrote this:
Prosser or bust is the feeling I have. This is like a low level Roy Williams deciding on Kansas or UNC thing a few years ago (I know it’s happening again). When Roy decided to stay at Kansas, there was a sense of desperation and “settling” for Doherty. It appears Pitt is heading down that same path, if Prosser says no. To date, the only other person interviewed was Pitt’s associate coach James Dixon. This zeroing in on Prosser is only a smart strategy for Pitt if he takes the job. If not, there is scrambling, second guessing, desperation, and another demoralizing blow to alumni and fans of Pitt, who will once again feel like they (we) are never going to be considered a top sports program.
How about less than two years later?
I know the interviews haven’t even started yet, but I think it should be clear that Dave Wannstedt is (and perhaps should be) Pitt’s primary target. This isn’t because he represents Pitt’s most “serious” choice. The other guys contacted so far — Pelini and Hoke — and mentioned for consideration — Rhoads, Sunseri and Bradley — are all assistants. They are lower profile and cheaper possibilities.
I’m not saying that they may not be better choices, but with all of Pitt’s talk about believing that Harris lacked the vision to take Pitt higher, they shifted the pressure to themselves to back it up. Wannstedt would be a high profile hire. He is friendly with lots of national media types — Pardon the Interruption yesterday (12/15) even brought the topic up in their “big finish” segment and both Kornheiser and Wilbon seemed to like the idea. Wannstedt would also be the most expensive hire. Something Pitt has said it would be willing to do, but has never actually done. Not just the money needed for Wannstedt, but what it would cost for the top-flight assistants a coach who hasn’t been in the college game since 1987 would need.
And of course, we know that this time Pitt got Wannstedt. Paying more than they would have for any of the other assistants. What we’ve learned since is that while Pelini was high on then AD Long’s list, he was nixed after the interviews. The top choice after Wannstedt actually and disturbingly was Paul Rhoads.
This time, it seems that Al Golden was the top target by Pitt, with the school willing to pony up the money for him. Holgorsen may have been high on AD Pederson’s list but he got nixed by someone higher-up. Very few interviews appear to have actually been conducted. That led to a second choice — Haywood — that was significantly cheaper than the first choice.
The one common thread is Chancellor Nordenberg. I’m not trying to absolve AD Pederson for his part in all of this, but there has been a familiarity in the poor process and way the search for the next coach has been conducted regardless of who has been the AD.
It is no secret that Nordenberg has a lot of input/control in the coaching searches. He also has close relationships with both Jamie Dixon and Dave Wannstedt. To be fair, the close relationship with Dixon has been beneficial in helping keep Dixon at Pitt.
Nordenberg seems to value these close relationships with the high profile coaches and seems to make that a particularly important component in the hiring process. That seems to explain why coaches like Bo Pelini and Dana Holgorsen still got nixed after the AD appeared to push and back them.
It seems that Nordenberg concludes that if the high profile, top choice is off the board, then it is better to go after someone who is a better “value.”
It undermines the AD, obviously. It also undermines the hire if it isn’t the top choice. To fans and alumni, it looks like the school was looking for the cheapest hire rather than the best hire.
As we have seen with Coach Dixon, Pitt will pay competitive (not necessarily top, but competitive) money to keep a good coach who produces. But if it is not the top choice, then Pitt under Nordenberg would prefer a hire that can start out on the lower end of the salary scale. Furthering the perception/reality that Pitt won’t pay top dollar for a coach and is not serious about competing in 1-A football or even the Big East.
Look Nordenberg is a tremendous Chancellor at Pitt. The school is in great shape. It’s reputation in academics is outstanding. Nordenberg should also get a lot of credit for caring about the athletics and recognizing the importance their role plays in promoting a school. All you have to do is think back to the state of athletics when the short-time schmuck Dennis O’Connor was running things in the early-90s.
The one thing he hasn’t learned to do, stay out of the way in hiring decisions. I want to be supportive of the Haywood hiring, since there is a lot to like in the guy. The way the decision was reached. The way it has come about, though, did more damage than anything on Haywood’s resume.