Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt held his final press conference as Pitt head coach. The press conference was a platform for him to offer his first public comments since his December 7 dismissal, but also to talk about this upcoming bowl game on Saturday.
Dave Wannstedt took the time to offer thanks, praise the loyalty of his assistant coaches and players, but the biggest question on everyone's mind would be whether he will be coaching in Saturday's game. He officially announced, 27 days after his dismissal, that he will not be coaching in the game.
Though a number of his players have shown support of him through his dismissal--everything from standing alongside him at the press conference to announce his dismissal, to voicing their displeasure with the University through their Facebook and Twitter accounts, Wannstedt declined the opportunity to coach those players one more time.
Wannstedt talked a lot about loyalty, and said even though he won't be coaching them, said this game should be about the players and not him. Somehow, he tied that loyalty into saying he will not be coaching them in the game.
"They are loyal to the University of Pittsburgh, don't lose sight of that," Wannstedt said of his players. "For those reasons, and for these players, I'm going to ask them, and I've talked to them already about representing the University of Pittsburgh without me in the bowl game."
Wannstedt was then asked if it was a tough decision, deciding not to coach Saturday's bowl game.
"No," Wannstedt said. "It's all about the kids. It's always been about the kids."
He added that his presence at the bowl game might add an unnecessary distraction to the players while they are there for the bowl week preparations and festivities.
"No question, no question," Wannstedt added. "You understand what goes into a bowl game with all festivities and the activities and what goes on."
Wannstedt then announced that his defensive coordinator Phil Bennett will take over for Pitt on an interim basis. The last time Pitt had an interim head coach, it was Sal Sunseri who coached the team for the 1992 finale at Hawaii. Paul Hackett served on an interim basis for the 1989 Sun Bowl, leading the Panthers to a win over Texas A&M.
"Phil Bennett will take over as the interim coach," Wannstedt said. "Plans are in place. The practice schedule is set. I'll be with (the team) until they get on the plane."
Will the rest of the staff be there?
"As of right now, as we know Jeff Hafley has accepted a position at Rutgers University and there's probably going to be one more who will not be with us, but I am not at liberty to divulge that."
That assistant is believed to be offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr., who according to sources not affiliated with the team or the University, have informed us that he was the only coach not seen coaching with the team in bowl practices. Cignetti's name has been linked with Rutgers as a possible offensive coordinator.
From a player standpoint, the only players that Wannstedt addressed in terms of not playing in the game would be Jabaal Sheard and Myles Caragein. Sheard had what Wannstedt classified as an elective elbow surgery to repair a condition he has had since he was a kid. Myles Caragein, who sprained a knee in the regular season finale against Cincinnati, was classified as doubtful.
Immediately after the press conference concluded, Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson released a statement through the athletic department's media relations office, pledging full support and confidence in Phil Bennett leading the team on Saturday.
"During a series of discussions leading up to today, Dave made indications it wasn't likely that he would coach the bowl game," Pederson said in the statement. "We did not know, however, whether his position would change once he began working with the team again and gave him the liberty to have the time to make a final decision. In anticipation of this decision, we talked with Phil Bennett about leading the program as the acting head coach for this bowl game. Phil Bennett has been a head coach, is respected by the players and staff, and will do a fine job leading the Pitt football team in Birmingham. We are fortunate to have someone with Phil's talents available to assume this role."