Oltmanns: Wannstedt should stay for at least another season

By Alex Oltmanns

You’ve probably heard it by now: the “Fire Wannstedt” chants at Heinz Field and the… You’ve probably heard it by now: the “Fire Wannstedt” chants at Heinz Field and the growing call from Panthers fans on talk radio shows and around campus for the administration to fire its head football coach.

The Panthers stand at 6-5 right now, during a season in which they were ranked in the preseason top 20 and were expected to roll to a Big East Championship.

But things haven’t turned out as planned, and there are plenty of fans who want head coach Dave Wannstedt to take the fall for the team’s shortcomings.

Yet addition by subtraction is not always the best answer, and Wannstedt should be allowed to stay put as Pitt’s head coach, at least for another season.

If he’s unsuccessful next season, then athletic director Steve Pederson could seriously evaluate Wannstedt’s status as coach. For now, however, Wannstedt should be safe.

Here’s why:

1. Firing Wannstedt would likely mean that the head coach would take his assistant coaches elsewhere with him. That means offensive and defensive coordinators Frank Cignetti and Phil Bennett would be gone and the team would have to go back to square one with its schemes. Quarterback Tino Sunseri would have to learn a whole new offense, and the defense would have to learn entirely new blitz schemes and coverages. It would be a long adjustment period for everyone involved, and moves like this tend to set programs back a couple years. This is not even to mention that the outstanding pipeline that secondary coach Jeff Hafley has established in New Jersey could begin to evaporate.

2. The team is just coming off its first 10-win season since 1981 after it won the Meineke Car Care Bowl last year. That means no coach in almost 30 years had been able to reach the double-digit win total that Wannstedt did last season. No, the team didn’t advance to a BCS bowl game, but 10 wins is 10 wins nonetheless.

3. Just last March, Wannstedt agreed to a two-year contract extension that would keep him at Pitt through the 2014 season. If Pitt fires him now, it will have to buy out the rest of his contract through that season, all while paying a new coach. That’s a lot of money that would go out the window.

4. Though Wannstedt has made some questionable calls, it’s not his fault that some players have made mistakes on the field. He isn’t the one being called for four defensive pass-interference calls against South Florida, as Antwuan Reed was. He also wasn’t responsible for the offensive line’s inability to protect Sunseri in the beginning of the season or turning the ball over against West Virginia. Although he can put his players in a better position to make plays, he isn’t responsible for executing the plays on the field.

5. Plenty of skeptics have been critical of Wannstedt’s defense this season. Yes, the group has had trouble stopping opposing offenses, like West Virginia’s on Friday. But it isn’t his fault that two of his best defensive players were barely able to play all season because of injuries. All-American defensive end Greg Romeus barely played in two games all year thanks to back and knee injuries, and emerging middle linebacker Dan Mason was lost for the year to injury in just the third game of the season.

Injuries are part of the game, but when you lose two of your best defensive starters like that, any coach would find it difficult to fill in for them.

Though it’s true he should have done a better job adjusting his game plan, I say give Wannstedt the benefit of the doubt for now.