WPIAL Coaches Chime In

A group of WPIAL coaches--including some who have sent multiple players to Pitt--put together a letter that was faxed the Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and athletic director Steve Pederson. The mission of the letter was to question the expectations of the University's coaches, but to also provide support for Dave Wannstedt, and a possible successor from Wannstedt's current staff.

Knowing full well they can't change University's decision, a group spearheaded by Woodland Hills head coach George Novak--head coach of six WPIAL championship teams--decided to voice their opinion on the matter.

George Novak has 275 career wins between his days as head coach at Woodland Hills and Steel Valley, along with six WPIAL championships; five of which have been at Woodland Hills. He, along with Norwin athletic director Randy Rovesti and Thomas Jefferson head coach Bill Cherpak put together a letter; simply to voice some concern with the university's decision.

"It was to commend (Wannstedt) for his job, and to support he and his staff," Novak told Panther Digest. "The next question, would be if we can't get Dave, who's going to be the next coach?"

Novak acknowledged that while it's unrealistic for him and for every coach to expect their top players to go to Pitt every year, he felt Wannstedt was more than an ambassador for Pitt football. He felt Wannstedt was an ambassador for western Pennsylvania football in general. That's something important to him and a lot of his peers, as they look to help their own players earn football scholarships. Woodland Hills has six former players in the NFL, the most on record of any high school in the country.

"I've been a Pitt fan my whole life, and I've been coaching 34 years," Novak said. "I've had guys that have gone to Pitt and had success. Billy Cherpak and Adam Walker when I was at Steel Valley, and Shawntae Spencer, Tutu Ferguson and Lousaka Polite from Woodland Hills. A number of guys have signed (at Pitt). My own son walked on in the early 90s.

"Two of my current guys are committed to go there, (Khaynin) Mosley-Smith and Lafayette Pitts. They are uncertain about their future. Their families are shocked and devastated."

Cherpak, of course played for Novak, and has remained a close peer of his former coach. In Wannstedt's first four classes, Cherpak sent linebacker Nate Nix (2006), safety Dom DeCicco (2007), offensive lineman Lucas Nix (2008) and tight end Brock DeCicco (2009). All have made an impact on the Pitt roster early on in their careers; the elder Nix a special teams captain in an unofficial way this past year, the elder DeCicco a two-time all-conference selection, the younger Nix a contributor on the line as a true freshman, and the younger DeCicco even getting a start this past season as only a redshirt freshman.

"It's an insult for people who follow the program closely, that value the things (that Wannstedt and his staff) did," Cherpak said. "They talk about loyalty, integrity and character. We see that as coaches that have sent kids there. You know your kids are in good hands, and they're being treated fairly. That's not the case at a lot of places."

During Pitt's prospect camps in the summer, it's more than Pitt looking for the top prospects. Wannstedt and his staff invited other coaches from the MAC, and some well-known I-AA, Division II and Division III to not only come in and work the campus, but to also do their own recruiting. Some of the MAC schools that were at this past summer's camp include Akron, Ohio and Bowling Green. Cherpak feels that Wannstedt's actions shown are representative of the area.

"It opens up other opportunities," Cherpak added. "We've had (players) go to that camp, and other people see them. That's the type of guy (Wannstedt) is. He's trying to help everybody.

"He knows the professors, he knows the (high school) coaches. I think that is what this area is about. You don't treat your own like that. The way he was treated, it's just not right. It's not fair."

The whole mission of this letter--which was faxed directly to Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and athletic director Steve Pederson--was not to expect them to hire Wannstedt back. The simple mission was to raise concern, but also point out the good things that Wannstedt had done, and how it impacted football on a local level. It was also directed at questioning the expectations of some of the other coaches in the athletic department.

"My feelings are, they're setting a standard for every coach (at Pitt), and for every coach and every sport to be evaluated," Novak added. "What happens if the basketball team doesn't win the Big East, and doesn't go to the Final Four? What if they get a couple early losses? How long will they give the next coach? I don't know what their evaluation criteria is, what it's based on."

Novak did say, if Wannstedt is not going to be the coach, he had his peers have voiced some support for one member of the Pitt staff to be Pitt's next head coach.

"If Dave can't come back, who would you want," Novak said. "The answer would be Frank Cignetti. We are showing our support for Cignetti. Because of his football background; western PA football, he was born and raised here. He can get a staff together that would be very good."

Cherpak shared the same view.

"Our viewpoint is this; Coach Wannstedt is our coach," Cherpak said. "If he can't do it, or if he's not able to do it, we would certainly support someone on the current staff. Cignetti would be the most likely (candidate). He's here and I think he'd be a good choice."

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