Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson and head football coach Todd Graham met with reporters on Wednesday afternoon, in the aftermath of an investigative report from CBS News/Sports Illustrated.
The report took a look at the 2010 preseason rankings, and re-ranked the top 25 according to number of arrests. Pitt entered the season at No. 16. According to this investigate report, Pitt ranked No. 1 with a total of 22 players with criminal records.
Pederson and Graham spoke with reporters on Wednesday, simply to say they are aware of the report.
"The number of incidents involving football student-athletes is totally unacceptable," Pederson said. "Certainly, this was an unusual year. We had so many high-profile incidents in such a short period of time. We are committed to running a great program here."
"Naturally, the article that came out today was unacceptable for us," Graham said. "We take accountability for that, pressing forward. From day one, from my very first meeting, we're very aware of the situation. It's not something we just started talking about today. We started talking about it at the very first meeting."
Though 22 arrests were listed in the Sports Illustrated/CBS Sports report, it's not alarming to anyone who follows the Pitt program, based on the number of high-profile arrests. Among them were Jabaal Sheard suspended indefinitely during the summer for his involvement in a fight on the South Side, redshirt freshman running back Jason Douglas being arrested for a hit-and-run and DUI just a couple blocks from Sheard's incident in September, Keith Coleman for his role in an off-campus fight in September, and Jeff Knox for assaulting a woman believed to be his girlfriend on the campus of Chatham University.
While these arrests cast a shadow over the program for much of the early part of the year, this latest report puts an exclamation point on them.
"I think it's very untypical of our football program and this athletic department," Pederson added. "Anything that reflects in a negative way on the University is very disappointing to us. We're going to double our efforts and get this fixed."
The report was done before the most recent incident involving the Pitt football team, which included offensive lineman Fernando Diaz. Diaz was cited for public intoxication over the weekend, and had to be hit with a taser gun four times after police cited him, and tried to handcuff him. He has officially been dismissed from the team, the first official disciplinary action enforced by Todd Graham.
In the days since he was hired, and even at his introductory press conference, Graham has talked about holding his players accountable for their actions, and setting a structure of discipline for the program. Diaz' incident gave him that opportunity to exercise that plan.
Though he followed through with his plan—a zero tolerance policy—he says he doesn't take joy in having to remove a player from the program. At the same time, he doesn't sense frustration after he had laid the foundation of his discipline structure, only to have an off-the-field incident to address, just two weeks before spring practice.
"One of the things we wanted to establish is what the expectations and what the standards are," Graham said. "This young man left the program for personal reasons. He was actually trying to work his way back into the program. He hadn't practiced with the team, but he was trying to work his way back. Unfortunately, made a mistake.
"There's going to be accountability. That's why he's not in our program anymore. I can tell you this. The thing with me, is you hurt for the kid. That's something that's very difficult to make those kinds of decisions."
While both Pederson and Graham are aware of the report, their notion is to not look behind at the past events, and how this all led up to the No. 1 ranking in player arrests. It's about moving forward. That will include a more in-depth look at a player's background—not so much a background check, just a more detailed profile of a player.
"We started more intensely doing what we're calling background research," Pederson said. "We're asking more and more questions. We're asking our coaches to answer more specific questions as we recruit the student-athletes. I think the discussion of criminal background checks is probably a national discussion to have."
Pederson was also asked twice if he felt the previous coaching staff should have been held accountable for these numbers. In both instances, he felt it would be unfair to reflect on the past, or even if making a coaching change had anything to do with the number of arrests and other incidents that have resulted in a PR nightmare for Pitt, being ranked No. 1 in this investigative report.
"I don't want to go back and re-look at anything that we've done," Pederson said in regards to a coaching change. "We're giving every bit of support we can to coach Graham to move this program forward. He's said it, and I agree, that we have a lot of good young people on this football team. I thought they showed tremendous character in the bowl game. They pushed through that and had a successful experience. They're up studying here every day and doing really good things. We're excited to see what the future holds for them."