Pitt has ended its national search for a new head football coach, as Athletic Director Steve Pederson announced the hiring of Mike Haywood on Thursday afternoon.
Haywood comes to Pitt with a 9-14 record as a head coach after just two years on the job at Miami of Ohio. This past season, Haywood led the RedHawks to a 8-4 record, including an upset victory over No. 25 Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship game. As a result, the RedHawks earned a trip to the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, Alabama on January 6.
Last year, Haywood's team went 1-11. He turned that team into an 8-4 team this past season, clearly something Pederson and his staff were impressed with.
"We talked with five excellent head coaches, all of whom are a credit to their profession," Pitt Athletic Director Steve Pederson said. "From the first morning that I met with Coach Haywood, last Friday, he exhibited the qualities that were exactly in line with the values of the University of Pittsburgh. Once those series of meetings were complete, we made a decision to bring our top choice back to campus."
It was clear after spending time with Haywood on Wednesday, Pederson quickly decided that this was his candidate. According to what Pederson said in his press conference to announce his decision.
"In total, coach Haywood and I spent twenty hours together talking about the future of the program, and what everything entailed," Pederson added. "Yesterday, he accepted our offer to become the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh."
Haywood has been around some of the prominent names among the college football coaching community. He played on Lou Holtz' first team at Notre Dame in 1985, after playing his first three years under Gerry Faust--the coach who recruited him to South Bend. Two years after graduating from Notre Dame, Holtz helped get Haywood his first job as a graduate assistant at Minnesota, the place that Holtz was at prior to coming to South Bend. Interestingly, Holtz had a losing record in two years at Minnesota--10-12, before he took over at Notre Dame. Holtz' name came up on more than a few occasions during Thursday's announcement.
In fact, a lot of buzz has been circulating around a YouTube video of one of Haywood's pre-game speeches. He said the inspiration to give a pre-game speech, such as the one that has been circulating on YouTube, was playing for a year under Lou Holtz. The pre-game speech leads to another pre-game ritual that has carried over with him since his high school days.
"I played for one of the best pre-game speech coaches of all-time in Lou Holtz," Haywood said. "As we you watch him on ESPN today. Before games, I lay down in the locker and go to sleep for about fifteen to twenty minutes before our director of football operations comes in and says, ‘Coach, you have two minutes before you go.' I wash my face, then I go in and speak.
"As we go through the week, we talk about certain things we do to have to win. It's more important that you give a speech from the heart, than a prep speech. My speeches come from the heart."
In addition to Holtz, Haywood spent five years coaching under Gerry DiNardo at LSU. DiNardo is also a Notre Dame alum, playing under the legendary Ara Parsaghian, who led the Irish to a national title in 1973. DiNardo was a starting offensive lineman on that team. Parsaghian was a one-time head coach at Miami of Ohio as well. Haywood was a holdover at LSU for the first three seasons of Nick Saban's tenure there, before returning to his home state of Texas. Haywood spent two seasons coaching the running backs at Texas under Mack Brown. One of his prized pupils was first-round pick Cedric Benson.
Haywood then returned to his alma mater for four seasons, as running backs coach and offensive coordinator under Charlie Weis. He got his first head coaching gig after the 2008 season, taking over as head coach at Miami. In addition to the turnaround he led at Miami, it was his ties to big-name programs such as LSU, Texas and Notre Dame that were of added value.
"Having been mentored by some of the very best coaches in the game; Mack Brown, Nick Saban, Lou Holtz," Pederson said. "With tenures at Texas, Notre Dame, LSU and Army, this history of outstanding programs, with outstanding coaches, really gave him a rare set of experiences and background."
Of all coaching decisions that Pederson has made, and of all coaching changes at Pitt in the last four tenures, this was the fastest. Haywood's appointment comes just nine days after Dave Wannstedt's tenure ended. In Pederson's first stint as Pitt Athletic Director, John Majors resigned on November 25, 1996. It took 21 days before Walt Harris was announced as Majors' successor. Harris was hired nine days after a BCS-clinching win at South Florida in 2004. Dave Wannstedt was hired at Pitt 10 days after Harris was hired at Stanford.
Discipline appeared to be another thing that Pederson and company were impressed with, but also something they wanted to address with this hire. Pitt's 2010 team was marred by four off-the-field arrests; all before the end of September. One player, Jeff Knox, was kicked off the team the day of Pitt's Thursday night showdown against Miami. In the case of two other arrests; Jason Douglas and Keith Coleman, both players were suspended indefinitely in September, and never returned to the team.
Haywood comes to Pitt known as a disciplinarian. One of the things he talked about on Thursday, was his early morning practice setup. He explained it a little. He is considering bringing the morning practice routine to Pitt--not just for the regular season, but for spring football and training camp. His theory is that with early practices, players are mentally and physically trained to not be out the night before a practice during the week, which becomes another team rule by default.
"I have to talk with the registrar to make sure that we can make that work," Haywood said, in terms of implementing the same practice policy he had at Miami. "The 6:00 AM, and really you should say 6:50 (AM), because that's what it is. 6:50 practices are unbelievable. I'm really surprised that not many people do it. It was the best thing that we could have done."
Stay tuned for further coverage on the hiring of Michael Haywood as new head football coach at Pitt.