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January 10, 2013

Leftover Legacies and Linkage

Filed under: Football,History — Chas @ 12:41 pm

I see there are articles and discussions on the topic of legacies with this senior class, and one player in particular. Some were probably ready to turn the page by halftime of the BBVA Bowl. Others will want to vent or defend for the next two years.

The one thing of which I feel certain, is that this particular class will be most linked with (blamed on) former coach Dave Wannstedt. I’m hoping it is the last of them. It should be. While there is one more more true Wannstedt classes to graduate, the 2008 and 2009 signing clases that make up this group seem to exemplify the promise and disappointment of the Wannstedt era.

This is really the last group to really feel that the ties to Wannstedt are still there. That draw reference to him.

“We wanted to start with a guy like coach Wannstedt, we believed in coach Wannstedt,” Sunseri said.

“For us to finish with a guy like coach Chryst, we feel like he’s the Dave Wannstedt kind of guy. Coach Chryst obviously is his own person and he brings different attributes to the table, but he’s one of those guys that loves this university, loves the players.”

When the comparisons are to Fraud Graham and Haywood, that can be considered in a positive light.

Yet, you look at the players from the 2008 and 2009 recruiting class and wonder about how many misses. How many failed/stagnated development. And the injuries. By the most important definition, this class goes down as near pure mediocrity. From 2010 to 2012, Pitt went 20-19. Wins and losses define your place in sports. Only if you were such a superlative talent that eclipsed all around you, can you begin to overcome what your team is. Oscar Robertson, Hank Greenberg, Larry Fitzgerald come to mind.

There are the “but” and “what ifs.” Especially for this group. Three head coaches, two interims and a two-week layover of a head coach in the past three seasons is quite the mitigator. And for everything these kids have been through, it can be argued that they were far better at handling the continual upheaval and turmoil around them, than they should be expected.

At the same time there is the fact that this was a group that could never win the close ones. Forget — if it’s possible — for the moment that the Pitt team went 0-13 when trailing at the half over the past three years. This was a group that was 3-10 (2-10 against 1-A teams) over the past three years in games decided by 7 points or less. There is no one reason for all the losses. Not all of it is Sunseri. Not all of it is the O-line, or the coaching, special teams or the defense. It was always something with team. Every other loss had something that made you think, “if only…”

So, yes, I’ll agree with Tino.

“I don’t know what [my legacy] is,” Sunseri said. “It’s whatever people make it. I have no control over that.”

I’ll also agree with this piece to a significant extent that the legacy of Sunseri is not as simple as it seems.

Sunseri may not have always been a strength of the Pitt football team over the last three years, but he was far from being the only weakness and shouldn’t take the full blame for the team’s record since 2010.

And there’s the matter of second-half comebacks. In Sunseri’s three years as a starter, the Panthers never won a game after trailing at halftime. Opponents are 13-0 against Pitt when they had a lead entering the third quarter since 2010. Many have looked at that stat and declared that it is indicative of Sunseri’s inability to lead his team to victory under pressure. It’s true, Sunseri never led Pitt to a second-half comeback. At the same time, Sunseri played a considerable role in giving Pitt the first-half leads it maintained in the 20 victories the Panthers amassed over the last three years.

Sunseri’s legacy would be more favorably viewed by Pitt fans if he had led more comebacks – or even just one – in his career, but the fact that he didn’t should not overshadow the fact that he was a contributing factor in generating the leads that led to victories.

And then there are the coaches. Sunseri played for three head coaches in his three years as the starter (six if you count interim head coaches and unintentional-interim Mike Haywood). Including interim play-callers, he had six offensive coordinators (seven if you count Matt Cavanaugh, who coached Sunseri when he redshirted as a freshman). The middle year of 2011 was doomed from the start, as Sunseri and head coach Todd Graham never saw eye to eye, but with a bit of stability, Sunseri probably could have improved over the years if he had more than one year as a starter with 2010 coordinator Frank Cignetti or 2012 coordinator Joe Rudolph.

Ultimately, Sunseri was a quarterback who needed an offensive coordinator who could understand how to tailor the offense to his skill set. With time, Cignetti likely would have drawn out Sunseri’s strengths, much as Rudolph, head coach Paul Chryst, and quarterback coach Brooks Bollinger did this season. But the instability and seemingly constant transition didn’t work in his favor. Sunseri needed to build on an offense, not learn a new one each year.

There were times when Sunseri had the offense clicking. Times when it looked like he might be able to drive the team down the field. Times when it all came together.

And then there were the other times. The times when he looked rattled and unable to play with the presence of mind that is needed to be a Division I quarterback. The times when he struggled to handle pressure and seemed to miss open receivers. The times when he took too many sacks.

Those are the times fans will remember. Those are the times that will define Pitt football circa 2010-12, the era that will be defined jointly by Tino Sunseri’s quarterback play and Pitt’s coaching carousel.

And it still comes back to winning. Is there one signature win in the three years? One impressive victory over a good team? Even the win over VT this year, quickly was diminished with the evidence of how overrated the Hokies were coming into the game. I can’t think of a one. All I can think of are the ones that could have been.

We saw great growth from Bill Stull in his final year. Just as we saw significant growth from Sunseri in this past year. A big difference was the team around each. Stull had a veteran and stable offensive line to go with an amazing season from Dion Lewis. Sunseri had an injury (and suspension) ravaged O-line the last two years to go with injuries at the RB spot.

The secondary has been better the last couple of years, but you can’t compare the D-lines. The only consistency over the two recent eras: mediocre to poor special teams.

Sunseri was doomed the moment he was anointed the starter by Dave Wannstedt after the 2009 season. At the time, it probably didn’t seem that stupid in Wannstedt’s mind. The fall of 2009 had tons of reports of Sunseri often looking better than Stull in practices. The only competition was Pat Bostick, who Wannstedt clearly did not want to play. And Wannstedt has that old, old school philosophy of picking a QB and sticking with him.

But when you are anointed, you have to show why a coach would make such a leap of faith. Not just with play and practice, but how you lead the team.

Instead Pitt stumbled to a 2-3 record lowlighted by a national TV embarrassment against Miami. Sunseri’s play, to put it politely — stunk. He also had a demeanor on the sidelines of petulance. When you add up bad play on the field with sideline pouting, it’s perception hole from which he never could extract himself.

Then, with chances to still make the season count, Pitt bumbled to a listless 2-2 finish. As much as that season sealed the fate of Wannstedt, it put the perception of Sunseri in place. And unlike Bill Stull, Sunseri never was able to do anything to change it.

For the past three seasons fans (including myself) have wished and at times convinced ourselves that there was another QB on the roster better than Sunseri and ready to play.  Even as three different coaching staffs reached the same frustrating conclusion, “Sunseri gives Pitt the best chance to win.” Which may or may not end up on his tombstone.

It not only was difficult to accept, it reached a point where people didn’t care. Declaring that they would rather watch anyone else play back there, even if the outcome would be the same. Rationalize it as building for next year. Anything to get Sunseri off the field.

The best thing you can say about Sunseri is that he was tough. He took an ungodly number shots, sacks and hits over his three years, and kept getting up to take more. He didn’t miss a start. He didn’t get knocked out of games. And off-the-field, he absorbed abuse from all corners. He let it all go.

That hardly outweighs everything else. In the long-term, his legacy and this group of Pitt players will be that of not quite good enough.





I share many of the feelings here and then I remember these players are just college kids. We forget that sometimes when we see these big guys in pads… and watch a key player do precisely the wrong thing at the perfectly wrong time.

So I wish all of these young men good luck in the future… and I certainly glad to turn the page and look forward to watching Chryst use his experience and level headed demeanor to calmly work his plan and strategy!

Wanny was supposedly the adult and he turned out to be a terrible for us for the reasons above… and the fact that he did everything he could to burn down the house as he hysterically freak’d out like a jilted, psycho girlfriend who got dumped when she thought she was getting married…

Add Pederson, shake vigorously… voila… disaster…

but that is all over now.

Comment by PittScript 01.10.13 @ 11:00 pm

link to pittsburghpanthers.com

A video to introduce our newest Panthers. Hail to Pitt

Comment by Dan35 01.11.13 @ 1:16 am

we are not even close to spending the $ to be in the top ten,did anyone notice no spread in the champ game,ran the ball down their throats,will the qb stats count next year?ej borghetti will soon be someones ad,penguin nice post

Comment by paul shannon 01.11.13 @ 7:31 am

Street coming back is good news. But Donald is really needed back and he wants to test the waters. Chryst should find his man if he hasn’t already. Probably just going over the contract details and cheap Pitt is holding things up. A few good winning seasons could generate enough broad based excitement and support for an on campus stadium. But, we could get there sooner with some big booster support, a new AD and that damn feasibility study. I’m still interested in seeing those designs. I expect to be wowed. Most needed thing for the program right now is stability. Then a new AD. New stadium is probably just outside the top 5. Pitt script at number 5.

Comment by TX Panther 01.11.13 @ 7:39 am

PittScript, what are you talking about? Wanny was asked to announce that he was stepping down — something he clearly wasn’t in favor of. Then at his announcement, he clearly was overcome by emotion when his players came into the room … and those who think that this was premeditated are out of their minds.

In no way, shape or form, should he have been put into that situation, and further, the whole situation was requested by the guy who fired him so as to make him not to look the bad guy.

One of the primary job descriptions of an AD is hiring and firing coaches, and this AD totally screwed up both .. and not the first time either

Comment by wbb 01.11.13 @ 8:13 am

How stevie handled wannys dismissal was despicable. Wanny deserved his fate but not to be treated that way. Another reason why stevie must go. Bama is able to do so much because their AD united boosters, fans, alum and the community. It took time but he got it done. He is a bama alumnus and didn’t destroy tradition and shot for the moon and wasn’t cheap on the way there. Now look at the results.

Comment by TX Panther 01.11.13 @ 8:33 am

Not sure what all this early love for Savage is all about. Highly prized recruit that couldn’t make it at Rutgers (for various reasons), lands to us with one year eligability. I’ll wait till spring practice to see who shines. At least we will have a competition with multiple viable candidates not just an average at best incombant and even worse back-ups.

Comment by Pitt it IS 01.11.13 @ 8:48 am

Wanny the Whiny….

How do you fire a coach? In public or in private? Just as you said wbb that talked to him in private… precisely, they gave him the opportunity to step back and leave and not be publically fired… (because the right decision was made to move on from his regime).

… they gave him the unprecedented opportunity,
AFTER being told he was gone – in private – to have not 1… but 2 press conferences!

… and then they let him set his time table to leave and let him decide if he would coach the bowl game or not!!

When have you seen that when a head coach is being terminated?

It was W. who created that mess and screwed his existing players in the process by making it about Him, and not them.

he was gone, changes were going to be made. He is the one that took it public, did the speech with the players behind him… and then put us through 2 weeks of BS during bowl prep when he would not say whether he would coach or not,…. blah, blah, blah…

Oh, and then right before the bowl we get the drama queen’s last ‘news conference’ where he does not coach the team, etc. etc.

meanwhile during that time all the assistant coaches maneuvered for new jobs (OK) AND took our best recruits with them…

So what should Pitt have done at first when they were going to get rid of him … fire him publically? In hind sight they should have and then never given him the opportunity to be the jilted girlfriend for 2+ weeks.

Comment by PittScript 01.11.13 @ 8:54 am

wbb…..no doubt that there is much blame to be laid at the feet of Peterson regarding the mishandling of Wanny’s departure. However, you have to admit that Wanny did not handle it with much dignity. I will give him a pass for the emotional news conference, but he then subsequently took his sweet time deciding on whether or not to coach the bowl game while he had a snit about it.

Comment by JCE 01.11.13 @ 9:02 am

hey just to be clear was not directing that past post anyone, wbb, in particular… just mentioning his reference…

sorry for the wanny rant as we all try to move on but that whole situation obviously stuck with me over time. after that soup opera trying to get coaches and recruits was a mess. not giving a pass to others involved either but W. turned it into the soap opera it was.

Comment by PittScript 01.11.13 @ 9:21 am

PittScript thanks for refreshing everyone on the FACTS of what went down.

Comment by PittofDreams 01.11.13 @ 10:39 am

Remember Pat Bostick was the QB for both Pitt big wins since Harris era WVU 13-9 scored on QB sneak and 4 OT’s At ND.
Yet Wanny didn’t like him.

Comment by Tackle made by Hugh 01.11.13 @ 11:17 am

Thanks Dan for those video of some of Pitt’s recruits. I was excited about the 2013 sceduke. NOW I’m even more excited!!! Rev. George from Columbus

Comment by Rev. George Mehaffey 01.11.13 @ 12:41 pm

all you guys can continue to blame Wanny and Tino for all of the program’s problems because apparently that makes you feel very good … but you’re going to have to start coming up with new fall guys pretty quickly.

Just remember this:

1) I was right about Stull back in Sept 09 when just about everyone else wanted Tino to replace him (go ahead look it up in the archives.)

2) I was right about Wanny when he was fired when I immediately pointed out how the stability of the program would be affected , and the fact that the AD did not have a replacement in place that was better (Go ahead, look it up)

3) I was the first to use the snake oil salesmen reference right after Graham’s hiring press conference, while most all of you treated him like he was God (until the 2nd week in December 2011)

4) While I never once said that Tino was a good QB, I did say time and again that with decent pass protection and in the right system, he could be productive .. and like it or not, 20 Tds, 2 ints and > 3300 yards … and it wasn’t all against Gardner Webb. Check out his stats vs Va Tech, Louisville, Rutgers and even Syracuse.

But of course, you will never acknowledge anything psoitive about Tino and Wanny ….. just like you never even thought about that Tino, in his first year as a starter UNDER Wanny won 8 games … and they didn’t even play any D2 opponents!! But f course, the fact that Pitt won only 6 these past 2 years was all Tino’s fault!!

Bullshit!!

Comment by wbb 01.11.13 @ 12:55 pm

meanwhile during that time all the assistant coaches maneuvered for new jobs (OK) AND took our best recruits with them…

Pittscript, this is from your post above and just show how biased you are vs Wanny. The fact is that these coaches would have done the same whether Wanny stayed to coach or not. (Facts my ass, Pittofdreams.)

In fact, what was the big deal anyway whether Wanny stayed to coach .. Pederson went on to hire a new coach .. Wanny was no impediment, it was just more anti-Wanny rhetoric,

Comment by wbb 01.11.13 @ 1:04 pm

@wbb, I do not dispute your facts about his regime (talking about his W-L record is a different subject one can debate)… it’s like talking about Tino’s stats… always different ways to look at them.

Nor have I been a Tino critic… note my statement above about the fact these these players are kids, not pro men.

My point was simple and the facts were correct:

Wanny the Whiner firebombed his way out the door…

like a psycho jilted girlfriend… and there was no excuse for it.

for assistants to go is one thing… try to take a recruit sure… but for the ex.head coach to still be ‘in charge’ and facilitate that activity by those people while they are still in the building is BS… he also made sure he created such a ‘s$%^ storm that recruits would be turned off and that the next coach had headaches with the remaining players.

He screwed Pitt on the way out the door because of his emotions towards Pederson…. and the program became serious ‘collateral damage’.

classic example of why when you terminate someone you just do it quickly, and escort them from the building… trying to be nice to Mr. Drama Queen screwed Pitt….

…talking the ‘loyalty’ crap while doing it made me want to puke.

It was at that point he lost me.

Comment by Pittscript 01.11.13 @ 1:51 pm

My point is this … whether he announced he would stayed until the bow game or left immediately was pretty much ado about nothing.

1) Immediately on wanny’s firing or dismissal (whatever), the AD made inquiries about Hlgerson and Golden, and then contacted Graham and Sumlin, and then hired Haywood all with a 10 day span

2) whether Wany stayed or not, the assisatn coaches that wanted to stay did so at the bequest of the AD. You may remember that Heywood interviewed many of them but only wa sinterested in Hafley who had already made up his mind that he was going to Ryutgers (even if Wanny wasb’t fired.)

Thus, all of this hullaboo about when Wanny would leave meant nothing … he was not an impediment at all. Again, the AD conducted the search and hired a coach, and Wanny stayed on for all of the practices but didn’t make the bowl trip and the team beat a 6-6 SEC team (sound familar) by 17 pts.

Thus, all of this so called drama queen business affecting the Pitt FB operations was just nothing but fuel for the ant-Wanny sentiment .. in acutality it was absolutely nothing!!

Comment by wbb 01.11.13 @ 2:12 pm

Timeline:

12/6/10 – Wanny fired in the mroning; press conference in the afternoon
12/16/10 – Haywood hired, official announcement on 12/17
1/2/11 – Haywood fired
1/3/11 – Pitt leaves for BBVA Compass, Wanny doesn’t go as to not be a distraction *
1/8/11 – Pitt beats UK 27-10

* fact is that if he was a drama queen, he would have gone on the trip and would have likely been the center of attention at the press ocnferences

Comment by wbb 01.11.13 @ 2:33 pm

45-44, and loss to nd,really helped kelly get to where he is today, he owes pitt

Comment by paul shannon 01.11.13 @ 3:03 pm

As philly coach, he needs to draft all Pitt players. That would be good payment and reciprication.

Comment by TX Panther 01.11.13 @ 8:45 pm

Kelly owes the official on the ND Payroll, who made the phantom interference call on Pitt and handed ND the opportunity to win a game that was lost at that point.

And ….can we move past further discussion of the Wanny fiasco and “what’s his name” who was at QB the last 3 years?

Comment by Dan 72 01.11.13 @ 8:58 pm

good points wbb… that whole situation just left a bad taste in my mouth and was convoluted… and Dan72 has a good point.. enough on “legacy, legacies, and linkages”.

Comment by PittScript 01.11.13 @ 10:29 pm

Yes there should be no more talk ever of the man with the stache or the boy with the candy ass arm and balloon head.

Comment by TX Panther 01.12.13 @ 11:56 am

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