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September 26, 2011

Bravado Haunts

Filed under: Coaches,Football,History — Chas @ 10:15 am

If there is one thing Pitt fans should be aware after the past weeks, it is that past words will be thrown back in your face. It doesn’t matter if it was seven to eight years ago or seven to eight months. Chancellor Nordenberg’s statements after the ACC raid of the Big East in 2003 and 04 were constantly being cited and referenced last week after Pitt and Syracuse announced they were going to the ACC.

Now, after the loss to Notre Dame, the statements from Coach Todd Graham about winning and high octane offense are tossed back. Both papers had their columnists take the obvious shots. Referencing the high octane, sputtering, not matching the hype.

Not unexpected. Predictable, even.

Joe Starkey at the Trib:

I could be mistaken, but of all the bold predictions Graham made when he was hired, I don’t remember him saying quarterback Tino Sunseri would have more punts (six) than touchdown passes (four) through four games.

Before we really dig into the Panthers’ low-octane, 15-12 loss, however, let us note an overriding truth: It will be forgotten fast if they beat visiting USF on Thursday in the Big East opener.

The conference is all that matters — and Sunseri promises a different offense come Thursday.

“We’re so close we can touch it,” he said. “We’re inches away from busting it open. Best believe we’re going to come back firing Thursday.”

You had to know, despite Graham’s promises, that Pitt would sputter early in the season as it attempted to master a radically different offense. But not like this.

And Ron Cook from the P-G:

But that doesn’t change the fact that the beginning of the Graham era is off to a bad start. His team hasn’t delivered anything close to what he promised before the season, especially not a high-octane, speed-speed-speed, explosive power, blah-blah-blah offense.

For the second consecutive game, Pitt blew a fourth-quarter lead. The loss in Iowa, after Pitt led, 27-10, with 12 minutes left, was on the defense. Not this loss to Notre Dame. If there’s anything good to take from the game, it’s that the defense played much better. It held terrific Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd to four catches for 27 yards. It forced a fumble on a sack by safety Andrew Taglianetti and had an interception by safety Jason Hendricks. It gave up only a 79-yard touchdown run to tailback Jonas Gray in the second quarter, thanks to missed tackles by Hendricks and linebacker Tristan Roberts, and an 11-play, 85-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.

Hey, it happens.

“Defensively, that’s the fewest amount of mistakes we’ve made,” Graham said. “We played well enough to win the game defensively.”

Too bad the offense didn’t.

Too bad the Pitt coach wasn’t good enough.

Graham said Pitt is a “disciplined” team. It’s hard to see it. A disciplined team doesn’t take five false-start penalties, including three on guard Lucas Nix, one on a first-and-10 play at the Notre Dame 11.

Graham had quarterback Tino Sunseri pooch-punt on fourth-and-4 from the Notre Dame 35 late in the second quarter. It isn’t the first time he has had Sunseri do it inside the opponent’s 40. Remember how many of us pummeled Wannstedt for being so conservative? Graham is supposed to be an offensive genius with a “high-octane” offense. And he punts there? I keep waiting to see the Pitt offense get in the left lane and put the hammer down. Silly me.

Easy shots to take? Yeah. Justified. Probably.

My reaction to these pieces was wondering if Wannstedt took this much abuse in his first season from the media? Honestly, I didn’t think he had. I started compiling possible reasons in my head as for why. Local guy vs. guy from Texas. Way too much bravado, coming back to bite him. Stereotyping about the changing marketplace with more sports talk and reactions that creates more negativity.

The fact is, however, that I have over 8 years of archives from this site. A kind of instant snapshot at any point during that time of Pitt’s history and actual reactions. It  makes it easier to debunk even my own crackpot, revisionist theories.

The wayback machine takes us to October 2005, after losing to Rutgers and a 1-4 start that included a pasting by ND, a ridiculous loss to Ohio and an even more eye-gouge inducing loss to Nebraska.

In the first quarter, around 8:30 pm, Rod Gilmore started talking about how the Pittsburgh press has been all over the coaching staff for the slow start. Say what? Now the national media has been on Coach Wannstedt — very hard since the Nebraska loss — but the local press has been more than kind.

That ended with the Rutgers loss.

Why look, it’s Joe Starkey again:

Maybe things will change. Maybe Wannstedt will be like West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, who suffered through a miserable first season that included a loss to Temple before turning things around.


At the moment, this fiasco is just not defensible. It’s one thing for Wannstedt to lose some games as he transitions to his system, and, eventually, to his players. It’s quite another to lose to Ohio and Rutgers in the same month (Rodriguez, by the way, beat Ohio and Rutgers his first year, the latter by an 80-7 score).

What’s more disturbing is Wannstedt’s tendency to distance himself from the mess.

At the least, you expected Pitt to hit people this season. That’s what the propaganda machines were spewing, something about a return to physical football.

Last night, the Panthers were smacked around like raquetballs.

And Ron Cook

I also knew there would be a period of adjustment for Wannstedt. There almost always is for a new coach. It’s hard to win with your system when you have to play with the previous coach’s players. And it’s not as if Walt Harris left a lot of quality offensive and defensive linemen.

But, never in my wildest imagination, did I envision Pitt getting beat by Rutgers, which always has been a sure victory on its schedule, even in the dark days of Johnny Majors II and Paul Hackett.

Or that Pitt would be 1-4 at this point and staring hard at the possibility of 1-10.

Or that there would be so many questions so soon about Wannstedt being the right man for the Pitt job.

So, yeah, about the same time. Worse record and one more game played, but the media was not going much easier on Wannstedt.

The biggest difference between then and now: Wannstedt only promised smashmouth football and a return to physical play — not winning right away.

Graham stated the goal was to win immediately and do so in an aggressive, attacking manner.

I remember 2005 very well. Pitt had won the Big East and played in a BCS game the year before. We were never in the Notre Dame game. It was an ass beating that we took and the same holds true for Rutgers. We were competitive with OHIO but it was OHIO so yeah… and the Nebraska game was just ugly. We also took and ass beating WVU & Louisville that year as well.

I feel much better about this team and it’s coach then I did about that team and it’s coach. We are not getting blown out and should have won the Iowa game & were in the ND game late in 4th quarter.

This team is close but it’s need something to click in Tino’s head or to replace Tino. We can win the Big East if WVU chokes a game or two away and the person playing the QB position starts making plays instead of holding on the ball forever and a day. Both of these things seem to be attainable.

Comment by Tony in Harrisburg 09.26.11 @ 10:47 am

“At the moment, this fiasco is just not defensible.” – did Starkey say this about Wanny or Graham?

“It will be forgotten fast if they beat visiting USF on Thursday in the Big East opener.” – also from Starkey

I believe, Chas, that you are being too defensive. Just remember, both of these writers were big advocates of Wanny’s firing and, thus, I assume they are a bit too impatient.

In the words of of Samuel L (parapharsed) “Just chill the F– out!!”

Comment by wbb 09.26.11 @ 11:02 am

I can’t say that I have read everything related to the game Saturday, but I haven’t seen anyone comment on TG’s decision to go for it on 4th and 26 with 2:30 left in the fourth and one timeout remaining. I was stunned that he didn’t use the Tino pooch punt. If you punt in that situation, worse case scenerio ND takes over at the 20. ND will run the ball in that situation, and assuming a stop (maybe a big assumption, but playing the odds) we will get the ball with :45 seconds remaining. Also, ND would not have been inclined to go for it on 4th down inside their own 30, as they did on Pitt’s side of the field. Aren’t the odds much better than having Tino pick up a 4th and 26? Especially with a kicker with a big leg and down 3.

I’m a TG fan so far, but clock/game management will kill you (ask Wanny) because anyone with knowledge of the rules can figure out the math….most average fans may not know X’s and O’s, but if you watch a lot of football game/clock management is easy to figure out. Thus the question will become….”You are making 2 million a year and can’t do the math?”

Comment by RoosterJones 09.26.11 @ 11:05 am

Rooster, that strategy (punting) would have been exercised had Pitt had more than one timeout left … but since 2 timeouts were usued much earlier in the half, they weren’t available (but on the bright side, the coach didn’t pull a hammie)

Comment by wbb 09.26.11 @ 11:11 am

To me, if there was an issue on Pitt’s last drive, it was why did they choose to run a trick play at that critical time (if indeed, that was a trick play when all the OL knelt down??) That CERTAINLY wasn’t the time to try that .. especially when the team had been moving down the field until then

Comment by wbb 09.26.11 @ 11:18 am

on that last drive clock management, we were at the game and thought the same thing. But the way ND moved down the field throwing to the suddenly unstoppable No. 80 the previous series, we probably would not have seen the ball again. Tough call.

on the TV replay, you can see the frustration from Ray G.wide open in the flat when Tino took that last sack. A last quarter winning drive will be most welcome this season.

Comment by Bossdaws 09.26.11 @ 11:33 am

the o-line didn’t kneel down- that’s not a trick play. Their job is to dive down at the d-linemen’s legs so that the d-lineman are cut and can’t get their hands up. Teams do that for quick passing game (3 step). I’m not sure if the o-line did a goof job of it. BUT If you don’t have a good lane to throw on that play, then you need to get rid of the ball ASAP. that was the problem on that play.

Comment by Tony Dews and Dont's 09.26.11 @ 11:41 am

I don’t blame Graham for going for it on 4th and 26 – Pitt had to score and at that point ND had our defense on skates. But to run a sweep from 3rd and inches on the ND 2 yard line?! Or to punt inside the 40?! That is anything but aggressive and attacking. But I guess when your personnel – o-line and QB in particular – can’t do anything right, you have to scale back the playbook.

Graham needs to get back to fundamentals if he expects to win this year – namely, wrapping up on defense rather than the “hit and pray” strategy the secondary has been using.

Comment by mjb 09.26.11 @ 11:48 am

You know what? After personally attending the Maine game and viewing the Iowa collapse, I predicted My Panthers would be scandalozed by Kelley’s minions by the tune of 49-17. I was incorrect. Pitt was not crushed. The Steel City lads played a decent game, but were eked out by 3 p0ints. Frankly, I was impressed by the obvious improvement in the linebacking efforts and defensive back intensity in the week after the Iowa City embarrassment. In paryicular, Todd Thomas, Juan Price and K’Williams looked much better. If Pitt’s offensive line can overcome the horrific loss of Chris Jacobson, Pitt can still have a good year. Anyone can kick a guy when he;s down and the Pittsburgh writers are quite good and experienced at that. I;m looking forward to Thurs. night and the opportunity to become INBEATEN in the Big East! Rev. George in Columbus

Comment by Rev. George Mehaffey 09.26.11 @ 11:49 am

Tony Dews, as I said, I have no idea what happened but since it looked so strange, I thought it may have been a trick play. No one I sat with had an explanation.

Comment by wbb 09.26.11 @ 11:50 am

Dews and Donts is absolutely correct. The cut block on the line is to ensure that defense players don’t A. get quickly to the QB and B. can’t get their hands up on a ball(you cut their legs). Any quarterback, especially someone who has played football at the college level for several years needs to know that you throw that ball quick, even if you are throwing it away. Holding the ball in that situation is a complete mental lapse. This type of blocking only keeps players away from the QB for a short time. That one is 100% on the QB.

Comment by OntarioLett'sGoPitt 09.26.11 @ 12:04 pm

The abuse of coach Graham is justifed and if the PITT AD had said i know wanny has a average of 9 wins a year but i am goin to replace him with a coach who will rip the system apart and post a worse record than wanny. You would have called him nuts.
A COACH a coach who wont change QB when the one he has cant get the job done . that is wanny like is it not

Comment by FRANKCAN 09.26.11 @ 12:30 pm

Ontario, is it on the QB when the entire line misses their cut blocks???

Comment by wbb 09.26.11 @ 12:33 pm

Despite the hype, Tommy Rees looked no better than pretty good to me, yet if Pitt had him we’d undoubtably be 4-0 and nationally ranked. I don’t think Graham fully understands Pitt supporters’ frustrations over the past two decades and has incorrectly assumed we’ll give him a freebie this year. People are major pissed and want results…not looking for 12-0, but 10-2 or 11-1 is not too much too ask with our softish schedule and enough talent stockpiled for 5 years running.

If you’re ‘bama or LSU with an embarrasment of riches you can mess around a little at QB, but we don’t have that kind of wiggle room. Play the best players. And Tino only had about 9 snaps under his belt when he became starter last year, so enough with the boiler plate arguments about experience. As Steve Martin said, “Puulllleasse!!”

Comment by Matt N. 09.26.11 @ 1:10 pm

The abuse is not justified. He took over a team with an AWFUL O-Line and Linebackers plus his incumbent QB was Sunseri. The program didn’t necessarily have a winning culture hovering around it either. This wasn’t a team on brink of greatness. This was well known before he took over the job and I really don’t understand how fans could have thought otherwise.

After the debacle of the Wanny firing and his 2 week predecessor, Graham’s job was to sell the program. That is where all this “high octane” crap came from. He was following orders from the powers that be. Do you think he was “selling” this offense at Tulsa – hell no. He was trying to spark a fire in the fan base at the behest of Pederson. Pederson had a coach with a larger than life personality and put Graham to work.

Pitt had no choice but go this route either. The entire football program was in disarray and on verge of collapsing and they lost almost an entire recruiting class.

Graham has a proven track record as a winner with potent offenses. He now has WVU and Michigan’s old O-Coordinator (another proven track record).

People need to chill. I went to Pitt in the 90’s and had to stay a fifth year to see Pitt get to a bowl game. I understand the frustration people have but if any team needs a 12th man, it’s Pitt.

The fans have to get on board and start supporting the program…and if your going to blame anyone, blame Pederson for putting this shit on Graham. He didn’t have to self promote his offense at Tulsa. This cheerleading is a product of the situation he was brought in to fix and is now starting to backfire on him. This was an unneeded burden for a coach trying to change an entire program’s philosophy and culture.

If Pitt fans are patient, I really believe they will be rewarded with an outstanding coach who plays to win and win big and UNDERSTANDS college football. The other alternative is to chase the dude out of town and continue our mediocre ways.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.26.11 @ 1:22 pm

Tossing … there are some remarkable assumption you are making there.

I particularly enjoyed the one about Pedersen being a larger than life personality .. I know he won Nebraska fans over during his time there.

Then, there is the one about Graham is under order to sell this high octane crap.

Funny, how this larger than life personality ended up paying over $600,000 per year to this poor, meek coach … really feel sorry for Graham.

Comment by wbb 09.26.11 @ 1:39 pm

clarification .. that’s “$600,000 more than he was originaly intending to pay”

Comment by wbb 09.26.11 @ 1:40 pm

You misread my post…graham is the larger than life personality and if you don’t think pederson told him to promote the hell out of this team you are naive… and I’m sure the extra 600K helped Graham agree to be the pitchman.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.26.11 @ 2:12 pm

Frank, you must have accidentily hit the wrong key.

Wanny was 43-31 over 6 seasons. %58 winning pctg.

That is a 7 wins per year average, not 9.

Comment by Dan 09.26.11 @ 2:14 pm

I questioned myself, how much talent this team actually had. Many people said we were “loaded”.

We lost several people too the NFL, lost our top running back and wide out, but people said we still had talent.

Maybe we had a little more talent, than what Walt Harris had, but, I surely didn’t see Pitt stocked talent wise as a top 20 team.

I guess most people didn’t, because we weren’t in anyones top 25 poll.

Then, the announcers say on the broadcast, paraphrasing here:

“bottom line, Pitt is outmatched man for man at every position against Notre Dame!”

“the only reason this game was close, was because of Notre Dame’s mistakes, talent wise, Pitt just doesn’t stack up”.

Later that night, Urban Meyer, stated it again at the WVU-LSU game during an interview, when asked about the days earlier game between Pitt-ND,

“up and down the line, man for man, Pitt was just outmatched in talent”.

I don’t know, from Joe down the street, he could say anything, this was just matter of factly stated by Urban Meyer when asked for his analysis.
He’s probably a pretty good gauge for talent.

And here, I thought we were loaded!!!

Comment by Dan 09.26.11 @ 2:28 pm

that was “what Walt Harris left us”.

Comment by Dan 09.26.11 @ 2:30 pm

we were loaded for the BE but not against the likes of ND. There has been a misconception that Wanny was getting all of these great recruiting classes. The facts were that he usually got the best in the BE, but even then, WVU outrecruited Pitt in 2 of the last 3 years according to either Rivals or Scout.

Now Wanny’s class was in the Top 15 in 2006 and was to be in the Top 20 for this past year .. but of course, almost all of the blue chippers went elsewhere after his firing.

But realize, never was Pitt considered a Top class like the OSUs, Floridas, Texas, or even NDs (even under Weis) … not even close.

Comment by wbb 09.26.11 @ 2:37 pm

“Just win baby”, all the snarkey comments will end.

Comment by alcofan 09.26.11 @ 2:38 pm

Tossing .. you’re correct, I did misread your posting. It makes sense now because I never have been enthralled with Pedersen’s personality.

Comment by wbb 09.26.11 @ 2:40 pm


Comment by FRANKCAN 09.26.11 @ 4:00 pm

I know what he said Frank, however, I took most of it with a grain of salt. Of course he’s going to try to pump up the players, alumni and fans.

Trying to hang onto the seniors, so they just don’t mail in the season, to let them know “we’re coming here to win”. To the fans and alumni, of course he did, after that Heyward debacle, what do you want him to say? He knows he’s gotta be pumped up, and so do Nordy and Steve.

I also believe he thinks he can win, and he’s coming here to win. Whether he does or does not, we shall see.

I will agree, he was out of his mind for saying he was going to win a naional championship this year if he did.

Anyone in their right mind wouldn’t have said that, with the average talent we have. Heck, even the football magazines knew that, no one had us in the top 25.

Ya, I think he over stated the talent, I think we all can see that. Allthough, maybe it is more talent than Tulsa and Rice, but, that’s not saying much.

Regardless, he gets a couple years from me until I judge whether he is sucessful or not.

Comment by Dan 09.26.11 @ 4:28 pm

Yes WBB, excellent points!!

Comment by Dan 09.26.11 @ 4:30 pm

I don’t think Graham overstated the talent. I think he, like most fans, completely and continually overestimated it. I honestly believe he thought he was getting a lot better players than he left at Tulsa. Save the 3 or 4 that MAYBE would crack LSU’s 2-deep, did he REALLY get A LOT better players? If you’re answer is yes, I disagree.

And I understand that we don’t play in the SEC and will likely never be able recruit like LSU, Alabama, etc., I think it’s absurd to expect us to go 10-2 and 11-1 every year. Class rankings don’t mean RichRod. Our talent has been marginally (debatable) better ON THE FIELD than most teams in the BE. Which is exactly why 5 different teams have gone to the BCS game in the last 7 years. It’s almost laughable.

Sure the talent has been good enough to compete, good enough to win a few BCS games against 2nd tier teams that were deflated after dropping out of the National Championship hunt late in the season. Sure.

The truth hurts, no?

Comment by cnorwoodaz 09.26.11 @ 6:02 pm

I don’t have much of an issue with what Nordenberg said versus what Nordenberg did, because there’s about seven years between the two, with a growing body of evidence to show that Miami & Company were right to bolt when they did. Graham – not seven years between statements and actual games.

Also, I don’t have an issue with Sunseri punting on 4th down. When I see him punt on THIRD down, I’m going to suffer an aneurysm.

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Comment by Reiki master 10.11.11 @ 8:12 am

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