Stability is a rare characteristic to find in most college athletic programs these days. Actually, it’s quite few and far between. Coaches leaving programs suddenly, players transferring with little warning, and unforeseen legal circumstances are just a few examples of events that can impede the process of stabilizing an athletic program.
In recent years, one of the more unstable programs in the NCAA–the football portion especially–has been the Pittsburgh Panthers. They’ve had a coach arrested on New Year’s Eve not long after he was hired, never having even stepped on the field. They’ve had the succeeding coach pick up and bolt to the deserts of Arizona with little warning after just one mediocre season, leaving his players a text message to inform them of the matter. And, more recently, they’ve had some players from the Todd Graham regime transfer out during this past spring season, as well as have a few get caught in one hell of a legal mess.
Stable, the Pittsburgh Panthers are not.
However, through it all, I have been of the few that have preached to many that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for this program. And on Tuesday, I firmly believe that the University of Pittsburgh took a giant step in finding that light in extending the contract of Athletic Director, Steve Pederson.
Now, the consensus among Pitt fans as it pertains to their feelings about Pederson are probably 50/50. He’s certainly had his moments. Among the most controversial were the demolition of Pitt Stadium and the resulting move to Heinz Field, and the abandonment of the traditional Pitt script logo lettering.
This is actually his second stint as the head of the athletic department in Pittsburgh. He served in that position from 1996-2002. In ’02, Pederson left to take over at the University of Nebraska, which was not exactly a ceremonious reign. Pederson is credited with the hiring of Bill Callahan to run the Nebraska football program, and–well, we all know how that turned out.
Pederson was welcomed back to Pittsburgh in 2007 to mixed emotions. And, even with all the negatives, there have been many positives that the AD has contributed that warrant his recent five-year extension.
To break away from the football theme for just a second, he was able to lock in men’s and women’s basketball coaches Jamie Dixon and Agnes Berenato to contract extensions, when both were actively being wooed by other programs. He oversaw a lucrative uniform deal from Adidas to Nike. And, going back to the football, he was able to convince current head coach Paul Chryst to take over the program, after he also was being courted my many others.
Whether you like him or not, Pitt fans, he needs to be in that AD seat for the next five years. With the programs making the switch this season to the ACC, all of the stability in the world is needed. There’s that word again.
While basketball will certainly carry a lot of weight in this movement, the rise of the football program should not be ignored neither. Recently with the announcement of the opening night contest against the Florida State Seminoles, tickets have been selling faster than the greasy burgers at Primanti Bros. The interest in the program is there, it’s just the success that’s needed to complement that is missing. And, whether you think I’m crazy or not, they’re on the right track.
They now have a devoted head coach (Chryst could have very easily went back to the Wisconsin Badgers after the departure of Bret Bielema, but he didn’t.) leading the charge on the field and an experienced AD doing the off-the-field work.
It’s not a complete stabilization of the program, no. However, it’s the beginning of that potentially being the end result.