Well Pitt is heading to Birmingham and the big discussion point is Dave Wannstedt. Wait. Is this 2011 or 2010?
Now let’s get this out of the way. I like Dave Wannstedt. I know he cares deeply about Pitt. I know he desperately wanted this to work. He wanted to win and win big at his alma mater. In his home turf. He wanted to be coaching Pitt for a good 10 to 15 more years. It hurt him terribly to be fired by Pitt. Especially since he never saw it coming.
I also know he cares deeply about the players that he recruited on this Pitt team. Not Jerry Sandusky or Bernie Fine deeply, but he cared.
There comes a point, though, where he has to either stop talking or be nice. What he did yesterday was more pointed, but similar to the stuff he has been doing since leaving Pittsburgh to coach linebackers for the Buffalo Bills. I’ve tried to avoid it because it should be in the past, and I had hoped that someone would tell him that he is making himself look bad. Clearly that isn’t happening.
He needs someone to tell him, that taking shots at Pitt, the program, the present coach. However, much he thinks is a way of getting even with AD Pederson or whatever his thought process isn’t going to work. He is no longer the coach of Pitt. He may have some friends who will support him rather than Pitt, but that is the small minority. Wannstedt more than any coach should know, “it’s about the name on the front of the jersey.” That goes for ex-coaches who happen to be alumni as well. Even Joe Paterno has learned that.
So, to the interview he did yesterday and some other points.
Let’s start with this.
“I’m really shocked the way people have put a microscope on this kid,” Wannstedt said. “It is very disappointing to me.
“In the NFL, you do it when a guy is making $10 million a year. You throw him under the bus and try to run him out of town.”
Projecting much? I’m just not sure if he is referring to his time coaching at Pitt or if he’s sticking to Miami or Chicago.
Tino has been the starting quarterback for Pitt, for the past two years. In both years, the team has underachieved from expectations — with noticeable stumbling on the offense despite really good running backs. Under normal circumstances a quarterback receives too much of the praise or blame. Sunseri quarterbacking Pitt is not normal.
“But not a 20-, 18-, 19-year-old college kid who had other places to go and chose to come to Pitt and he won a state championship there at the local high school and his father (Sal) was an All-American there?
“If he can’t play, don’t play him, but do it the right way.”
The obvious point is that Sunseri is 23. But the bigger problem was referencing Sal Sunseri in there. It is just a reminder that he is the son of one of your old friends. Given Wannstedt had Scott Turner (son of Norv) coaching WRs in the final year, it just comes off as if the greater offense in Wannstedt’s mind is harshing on the son of an outstanding former Pitt player (who just happens to be a friend). And of course, Sunseri had other places to go. He was recruited. By that standard, no college player should ever face criticism from fans and media.
As for playing him. If we had our druthers, he would have had a seat a while ago. I’m not sure if that’s a complaint about him being called out publicly at times, or the fact that in the final game Pitt went wildcat a slew of times — much to the obvious annoyance of Sunseri.
If he’s upset at Coach Graham for saying less than positive things about Sunseri the entire season — and in the aftermath of the WVU game — that is a difference of style. Graham has adopted the indirect criticism, but also accepted that it is up to the coaches to do a better job. (Even if every fan knows that at this point, it isn’t the coaching that after two years still has Sunseri making fundamental mistakes like not setting his feet and staring down receivers.)
Dave Wannstedt’s preferred method of dealing with things when a player, or team tanked — blame turnovers and correctable mistakes. It didn’t matter if they happened at the beginning or end of the season. Turnovers, correctable mistakes — and of course youth/inexperience.
It’s a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t thing. Don’t admit that the player is horrible, and you are treating people like idiots or possibly lying to yourself. Tell the truth, and you are tossing the kid under the bus. What probably has Wannstedt most upset is that Graham has said — and others including me agree — that right now Sunseri is the best option. That statement is more damning towards Wannstedt and the job he did in recruiting and evaluating talent.
He also feels that Pitt is trying to drive Sunseri off after this year — and also would pull him out of Pitt if he were his kid.
“If he was my son, he would be gone,” Wannstedt said on Monday, speaking on TribLive Radio. “I would pull him out of there and transfer him.”
“It doesn’t sound like the school or football program is giving him many options, to be quite honest with you,” he said.
Take your time to reconcile the two parts. I can wait.
Yes, there are people pitying Sunseri and saying he should transfer because things are toxic. And no question Graham is bluntly saying that the status quo cannot stand for the quarterback position for next year. That doesn’t mean that Sunseri can’t win the starting job. It is simply that he will actually have to win the job. Rather than have it handed to him or be the only possible choice.
My last tidbit is the pot calling the kettle black.
On the 6-6 record and return trip to the BBVA Compass Bowl:
“We were co-Big East champs last year and (the seniors) were looking to take it one step further this year.”
Yes, I am sure that is a line of pride on your resume. And that veiled shot at Graham the coach and Pitt the institution for allowing Wannstedt to be fired. Because it was so clear how much better they would have been this year with Wannstedt coaching. As if Wannstedt’s 7-5 record was a crowning achievement because they got rings.
Pitt was co-Big East champs in 2004 with an 8-4 record and actually went to the Fiesta Bowl under Walt Harris, and in 2005 Pitt stayed home with a 5-7 record under Wannstedt. But that was different because clearly the 2004 team had peaked. The 2010 team was just getting started.
Here’s where it gets really sad for Wannstedt. The comparisons to his predecessor never fully went away. But for the most part, people liked Wannstedt more and tended to land further on his side for a few reasons. One, he was simply more likeable. Two, he was a local. And three, he was the coach of the team. He was the face of the program. The fact is, fans will support the program, the institution first.
Now, he fails miserably in his final comparison to Harris. Harris was pushed out. He wasn’t extended. He was allowed to twist all season, and took the blame for his agent’s bluster. He was lucky enough to land another job at Stanford (where he failed miserably). Yet, he never uttered a negative word about Pitt. In fact, after the Stanford job, he moved back to Pittsburgh. He limited his job opportunities because he wanted to stay close to the area.
Yet Harris doesn’t make many media appearances. He still only speaks positively of Pitt.
I think back to the summer before the start of the 2005 season. I was talking with someone well plugged-in to Pitt football. He was big on Wannstedt and excited about the season. As we were talking, I said how surprised I was that so many people felt the need to tear down Harris to build up Wannstedt. It didn’t seem necessary. Harris did much to rebuild Pitt to where it was when Wannstedt took over. His comment was that, in time people will look back with more admiration and respect for Harris and what he did.
He was right. But neither of us ever thought it would be aided by Wannstedt’s behavior.