Dave Wannstedt takes over the Pittsburgh program for Walt Harris, who led the Panthers for eight seasons while compiling a 52-44 (.542) record. A 30-year coaching veteran, Wannstedt returns to Pittsburgh where he played along the offensive line ('70-'74), and where he began his coaching career as a graduate assistant in 1975 under Johnny Majors.
Although Wannstedt played on the offensive line, nearly all of his coaching experience is on the defensive side of the ball. He spent several years as a defensive line coach (Oklahoma State, Southern Cal) before solidifying his reputation as an outstanding defensive coordinator under Jimmy Johnson at the University of Miami (Fla.) ('86-'88) and the Dallas Cowboys ('89-'92).
In 1993, Wannstedt took over as head coach for the Chicago Bears. With Wannstedt at the helm, the Bears appeared to be a team guided by a defensive-minded coach as the Bears offense struggled to score points and never gained an offensive identity throughout his six seasons. He ended his tenure as the Bear's head coach in 1998 after back-to-back 4-12 seasons and a 41-57 record.
After a season as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator with the Miami Dolphins in 1999, Wannstedt received his second head coaching position as he took over for a retiring Jimmy Johnson in 2000. While Wannstedt had more success as the Dolphins head man (43-31), the wheels came off in his fifth season and he was fired halfway through the 2004 season. The same issues that plagued his teams in Chicago followed him to Miami as the Dolphins struggled to score points.
Upon being named the successor to Walt Harris, Wannstedt named former Pitt quarterback Matt Cavanaugh as his offensive coordinator. Like Wannstedt, Cavanaugh started his coaching career for his alma mater in 1993, but as tight ends coach.
Cavanaugh spent a couple years as a NFL quarterback coach before Wannstedt named him offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears in 1997. In the two seasons under Cavanaugh's watch, the Bears offense was ranked 28th (1997) and 25th (1998) in points scored.
After his stint in Chicago, Cavanaugh was hired by Brian Billick to lead the Baltimore Ravens offense. While the Baltimore Ravens won't ever be confused with the Joe Montana-led San Francisco 49ers, Cavanaugh did develop an effective offense based on a power running game led by Jamaal Lewis.
While the Ravens won the Super Bowl in Cavanaugh's second season as offensive coordinator, the Raven's defense has been credited with much of the success over the last six years. In that stretch the Raven's offense was generally ranked in the bottom half for points score and total yards.
At defensive coordinator Wannstedt retained Paul Rhoads, who has been defensive coordinator at Pitt since 2000. The Panther defenses have been outstanding at times under Rhoads, as they were ranked No. 29, 7, and 12 nationally in fewest yards allowed from 2000-02. In 2001 the Pittsburgh defense held the Irish offense to a paltry 185 total yards.
Over the last two years the Panther defense has been rather ordinary as they ranked 79th in 2003 and 73rd last year in yardage allowed. In the 2003 and 2004 games, the Notre Dame offense averaged 265 rushing yards per game, 5.9 yards per carry and 411.5 yards of total offense.
While many Notre Dame fans are licking their chops in anticipation of the Weis offense dominating a Wannstedt coached team, a word of caution: Dave Wannstedt's defenses have been very successful against Charlie Weis. In head to head battles Weis holds a 7-4 edge since their initial meeting in 1999 when Weis was the offensive coordinator with the New York Jets and Wannstedt was the defensive coordinator with the Miami Dolphins.
In part II of the Pittsburgh Preview we'll take a look at their returning personnel and the style of offense we expect from the Panthers.