Nebraska fans may find this detestable, but I actually feel sorry for Steve Pederson. Okay, may it’s against the Nebraska way to feel anything resembling sympathy for Pederson, but after Pederson lost his first year coach in a lateral move, it would be cruel to make fun of the Pitt athletic director when Stewart Mandel branded him ” the Dan Guerrero of the east” on twitter.
Once again, it seems that pride has preceded another embarrassing coach incident for Pederson. It seems almost ridiculous to think that 9 years ago, Pederson had built an impeccable reputation in the Steel City. He hired Walt Harris and Ben Howland (plucking the later from Northern Arizona), and built a new stadiums for football and basketball, along with practice facilities. Pitt thought so highly of Petersen, they brought him back even after his debacle at Nebraska.
Perhaps it was the timely return to the place where he was beloved, in 2007 along his hire of Howland that came to inflate Pederson’s opinion of himself. Howland came from a much lesser conference to compete in one of the toughest basketball conferences in the country and was widely criticized when he was hired. After he succeeded, Pederson probably thought he was bullet-proof. Perhaps all the initial success wasn’t the best for Pederson. Perhaps he sat back as an AD, saw all his hires getting the credit and wanted some for himself. Paul Zeise also noted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Pederson has been known to meddle in the hires of his coaches assistants, a quality that again shows Pederson’s desire to have a personal success in his school’s football teams, and two, that Pederson thinks that he has actual knowledge of how to succeed in football, as if he could coach himself.
This must be the struggle of the athletic director: he has a lot of responsibility, but they never get the acclaim and the regard that a head coach does. About the only way to get real respect as an athletic director is to hire a coach that no one else thinks will succeed and the coach then does: ALA Ben Howland. That’s what Pederson has tried to do with each of football hires since then, and he has failed miserably.
First, he thought he had the next Pete Carroll when he hired Bill Callahan; the move eventually got him fired from his “dream job” at Nebraska. Once back at Pitt, he first embraced Dave Wannstedt, then unceremoniously kicked him out the door after several winning seasons. Then he found a coach to hire who had a worse winning percentage in two seasons than Bill Callahan did after his two years with the Raiders: Mike Haywood, a man whose anger issues other schools knew about when they did his background check, according to an ESPN blog report by Adam Rittenberg. Then, much like the time Houston Nutt spurned Pederson and the Nebraska job, Pederson was backed into a corner. So he went out and brought in Todd Graham, a coach who had left another job after a year (to go to a conference rival) and who once shutout ESPN writer Pat Forde out of his locker room after a bad loss when he was his coach, a story Forde recounted when Graham bolted for Arizona State. Even in the desperation where Pederson made the hire, he should have known about Graham’s rude behavior and has no one to blame but himself.
There is something else that Pederson’s hires of Callahan and Wannstedt suggests: like Jerry Jones, he wants a coach who is a yes-man who he can control. Think of Callahan: he was given a head coaching job by the ever-controlling Al Davis, and latter took a job beneath the micro-manager Eric Mangini. Similarly, Wannstedt is thought of as a career number two, who only got his second job after being fired because of Jimmie Johnson. After leaving Pitt, he couldn’t even get an NFL coordinator’s job.
So Nebraska fans, let’s stop piling on Pederson. As I said at the beginning, we don’t have to give him a ton of sympathy, but he doesn’t need us routing against him. If he’s going to get himself fired at Pitt, he should be able to take care of it himself.
There is an aspect of Graham’s action that I want to touch on this. Everyone seems to be torching him for leaving after a year, which he does deserve. While I don’t blame Lane Kiffin for skipping town on Tennessee after a year (he took one of college football best jobs), the fan anger around Kiffin’s leaving for USC did set an interesting precedent for coaches like Graham. In an air of fan hysteria that can err on the side of violence, Graham probably felt like he had to beat the mob out of town. If Pederson had been so intent of keeping Graham in Pittsburgh, he should have just leaked the knowledge that Graham was interviewing for the ASU job to the press instead of telling him he didn’t have permission to interview for another job as if it were the 1990’s.
Similar to the case of Joe Paterno being fired over the phone, I don’t defend any significant relationship that ends via electronic communication. But Graham, I understand not wanting get caught in such a fan mob (look at how the state of Pennsylvania handled Joe Pa being fired). I’m not defending what he did, and again, I don’t think he should have been after another job unless it was significantly better than the one he had. But, fellow college football fans, this is the environment that our mad, year round passion for football has created. Let’s not be overtly critical when it causes coaches to leave like they do.