Pittsburgh has the right guy. Dave Wannstedt is as Pittsburgh as a shot and beer. Whether it has the right coach, well, the school has invested time and millions to find out.
There might be no other coach in the country who knows the very soil beneath him better than "Wanny". The former Dolphins coach came home in December after 16 years in the pros and 32 years after playing for the Panthers.
|Dave Wannstedt returns to college after compiling an 82-87 record in the NFL. (Getty Images)|
Some things never change. Every high school he visits has a familiar face.
"It almost seems like in every school, either the coach or principal, I went to high school with or he went to Pitt," said Wannstedt, the oldest of six children in a Catholic family. "Some way or another everybody that is involved in football in Pittsburgh have all crossed paths."
It is a provincial town. It matters to its people that the coach is a Pittsburgher. But it is not a national program. It hasn't been for a while. Neglect, Miami, Virginia Tech and other factors have taken care of that. Last year Walt Harris won a share of the Big East, led the Panthers to the Fiesta Bowl -- the program's first New Year's bowl in 21 years -- then left.
For Stanford. Harris had accepted the job days earlier knowing he'd probably be fired if he didn't.
That might have said more about the University of Pittsburgh than it did Harris.
He was never good enough, never personable enough for Pittsburgh. The perception was the program had hit a glass ceiling. But Harris broke into South Florida in recruiting, landing receiver Antonio Bryant among others.
That's part of the reason why the only recruiting trips by air under Wanndstedt will be to the Sunshine State. Six coaches will be assigned to Pennsylvania. There was a perception that Harris had lost touch in Western Pennsylvania and the prestigious WPIAL high school league.
"The only place we'll go outside of a five-hour car ride is going to be South Florida," Wanny said.
At a recent basketball game against Connecticut, 68 junior recruits showed up, about 25 more than were expected. Spring practice opens March 19 with Wannstedt having at least one advantage. He'll need those broad shoulders to carry the expectations.
Wannstedt is the latest thread in a trend that has seen former NFL coaches come back to college. He talked to USC's Pete Carroll, Georgia Tech's Chan Gailey, Alabama's Mike Shula and former Illinois coach Ron Turner, all former NFL coaches.