Football: Students, fans ready for Graham’s first season

By Kelly Flanigan

After the departure of Dave Wannstedt and the brief hiring of Michael Haywood sparked a media… After the departure of Dave Wannstedt and the brief hiring of Michael Haywood sparked a media frenzy, the news of former Tulsa head coach Todd Graham’s selection as Pitt’s 2011-season football head coach passed quietly in comparison.

But the coaching transition came as a relief to many fans, a signal that the Panthers could finally begin preparing for next season.

“When I was home this summer, I was talking to a couple of college football fans who asked me about Wannstedt,” Pitt junior Elizabeth Weisel said. “They were surprised when I told them that Wannstedt wasn’t the coach anymore. But I think that the low-key change will help the team focus on their technique and their training, which is, in the end, what wins games.”

New head coach Todd Graham will debut at Heinz Field tomorrow in a matchup that fans have been anticipating since his arrival in January. Around campus, students wearing high-octane football T-shirts and climbing the hill to the Petersen Events Center to claim their student tickets typify the pre-football-season buzz.

“I feel like Graham wasn’t recognized enough after taking over Wannstedt’s job,” Pitt junior Quinn Keaney said. “They promoted the change a little bit in the beginning, but mostly it seemed like the news flew under the radar.”

Under the radar or not, Graham promised to win games and said he realizes how important the students are to the success of his team at Heinz Field.

In a press release released shortly after his hire, Graham called Pitt students the “driving spirit behind the Panthers.”

“Our players and coaches need you — the Pitt family — to help us achieve our lofty goals. I know you share our championship vision, and we look forward to working with you to make those championship moments, on and off the field, a reality,” Graham said.

Students appear hopeful and anxious to see what the promise of a high-octane offense really means and if it will lead to a championship season for the Panthers.

“I’m looking forward to the high-octane offense living up to the hype,” Pitt junior Nick Pahountis said. “It’s time Pitt starts remaking a dynasty.”

Weisel agreed.

“I’m just looking forward to seeing a more focused team that will help win games and give us something to go crazy about,” Weisel said.

Pitt marketing latched on to the high-octane football promise with the 2011 advertising campaign. All of the advertisements for the season focus on the concept of a fast-paced, never-say-die offensive attack.

“Coach Graham brought high-octane football to Pitt, and we really thought it would be fun to highlight his program philosophy,” Chris Ferris, the associate athletic director of marketing and promotions, said.

Ferris said student football ticket sales are “outstanding,” and the student section is anticipated to be sold out once again.

“It really has been exciting to see the enthusiasm for 2011 Pitt football from our students,” Ferris said.

Students who have not yet purchased tickets for the 2011 Pitt football season can do so by calling the Panthers Ticket Office, ordering online at or by visiting the ticket office in the lobby of the Petersen Events Center, which is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.