Students welcome Todd Graham as new coach

By Dan Marchese

New football head coach Todd Graham will start his job with a relatively warm reception as many… New football head coach Todd Graham will start his job with a relatively warm reception as many students say they’re looking forward to seeing a fresh face on the sidelines at Heinz Field.

The positive sentiments come in stark but welcome contrast to the doubts that have clouded the football program in recent days after the resignation of one head coach and the firing of another, as well as harsh criticism of Pitt’s athletic director Steve Pederson.

Juniors Matt Brosious and Vince Williams both said they anticipate that Graham will run a better, more exciting offense than former head coach Dave Wannstedt. Williams said he was glad when he saw that Pitt had hired Graham.

“Tulsa’s been a good program for the last few years,” he said, referring to Graham’s last coaching stint.

During Graham’s run at Tulsa, the team made many positive strides. In the last four seasons, Tulsa had a record of 36-17, and the team finished this past season 10-3.

Graham’s program at Tulsa led the nation in total offense in 2007 and 2008 and finished fifth in the category this season.

When asked yesterday — during his first press conference as Pitt’s head coach — about coming to work with the Panthers, Graham, who also served as an assistant coach at West Virginia, said he was excited to join the “great tradition of Pitt.”.

“When I walked into the room and got an opportunity to meet the people here, the representatives of Pitt, I knew it was a great fit for me. I’m deeply honored to be here,” he said.

Another junior, Josh Glass, had a lot to say about the Graham hiring. “While the move may have seemed a bit desperate at first, it’s really the only move Pitt had,” Glass said.

Glass, like many other students, is impressed with Graham’s numbers at Tulsa and said that his coaching styles and strategies could really help a young Pitt team.

“His offensive scheme could potentially help Tino Sunseri mature, as well as improve a Pitt offense that was sluggish much of this year,” Glass said.

Though many are very optimistic about the coming season, some students still have their reservations. Sophomore Brian Leckie said he is interested to see what Graham can do with the team next year, especially since the Panthers are losing star players Jon Baldwin, Dion Lewis and Henry Hynoski — considered by many to be Pitt’s three primary offensive weapons — to the NFL draft.

But Leckie was also skeptical, wondering how long Graham will stay at the university.

“I think he’s probably using this job more as a stepping stone for future opportunities than as a long-term deal,” Leckie said.

Leckie said that Graham’s history with Tulsa is impressive, and that Pitt’s program can only go up from last year, so he looks forward to an exciting season.

News of the football hire is still new around campus. Many students remained unaware of the program’s new leadership, while others continued to read up on Graham, saying that they didn’t know much about the new coach except for his recent accomplishments in Tulsa.

A large group of students still seemed amazed at the controversy surrounding the Michael Haywood firing. Others reported still harboring mistrust for the football program, seeing the Graham hire mainly as an attempt to make up for the school’s recent drama.

Regardless, most students who were interviewed agreed that Pitt landed a prime candidate for its vacant head coaching position. Many said they were confident that Graham will turn the program around.

“We will know very early into the 2011 season whether or not Todd Graham is up to the task,” Glass said.