Yesterday's events surrounding the Pitt athletic department was a microcosm of the 2011 year for Pitt athletics. For the third time in a little over a year, the university embarks on search for a head football coach.
Just hours after word broke that Todd Graham was taking over as head coach at Arizona State, the athletic department called a 5:30 pm news conference, where Steve Pederson would address the Todd Graham situation. Earlier in the day, Pitt recruits and current players expressed their disappointment in how their head coach—the one who preached "integrity" and "character" from day one—left them in a fashion that completely lacked those two key ingredients.
There were some things that were kind of surprising about how Steve Pederson addressed the media, and some not so shocking. Perhaps the most shocking was how Todd Graham handled this situation with his boss.
"I could have never imagined we'd be where we are today at this particular time, talking about what we're talking about," Pederson opened with. "We entered with what we thought would be a long-term situation with our head football coach."
It's a genuine matter of ethics, but typically—in any working environment (online journalism included), you extend the courtesy of instructing your superiors that you are pursuing another opportunity. The idea is two-fold. One, just the common courtesy. Two, if you really want a reference for that next job, you're going to want your current superior to provide a strong recommendation. Give Graham credit for that first part. However, when his superior—Pederson—did not grant permission—well, that's when things took a bizarre twist.
Some critics may cite karma for getting back at Pitt after the school announced its intentions of joining the ACC in September. Pederson was in Greensboro, North Carolina, for an ACC meeting on Tuesday afternoon, when he first heard of the possibility that Graham was leaving.
"At that point, he told me that he and his family had been discussing all day an opportunity at Arizona State," Pederson said. "Quite frankly, I told him I was at a little bit of a loss as to why we'd be, less than a year in, we'd be talking about losing him to another job. He kept reiterating family and personal considerations.
"We had a fairly long talk. He did ask for permission to talk to Arizona State. I denied permission to talk to Arizona State."
Pederson's next sign of contact from Graham, was that he was taking the Arizona State job. He completely ignored Pederson's orders. Pederson was informed by Graham that he wanted permission to talk to Arizona State around 3 pm on Tuesday afternoon. By 6:45 pm on Tuesday night, according to Pederson, he received an e-mail from Graham, saying he was resigning from his post at Pitt. Pederson then jumped on a plane back to Pittsburgh early Wednesday morning. In the mean time, he made several unreturned phone calls to Graham—simply to talk about the situation. Clearly, Graham's mind was made up.
"I got an e-mail indicating he was resigning his position here," Pederson said. "I made numerous phone calls, and lets see if we can resolve any issues that might possibly be out there, that we can help with. I haven't been able to have that conversation."
By early Wednesday afternoon, Todd Graham was the number-one trending item in Twitter. It was Pederson who was then placed in the unenviable situation of having to meet face-to-face with the entire football team, and deliver the news on behalf of Graham.
"They're dealing with a tough situation," Pederson said of the players. "They're dealing with it like champions. I told our team a lot of would have questions that a lot of us would like answers, that I don't have the answers to."
Keep in mind, Pederson had to call the players into a meeting in the midst of finals week.
Pederson also tried to reach out to his Arizona State counterpart, Lisa Love. Love did not return a phone call. He was left in the dark, much the way the players were. Talk about being professional in a working environment, whatever happened to being professional with your own peers? Especiallly, considering the fact that you're in a leadership position at an educational institution…in the hopes of educating the future leaders of tomorrow (at the risk of sounding extremely politically correct, but it's true) Love showed a complete lack of professionalism by not returning Pederson's call.
"I put a call in to Arizona State, I have not gotten any response to date," Pederson said. "I assume (Graham) is taking another job.
"(the lack of contact) seems pretty unusual. That's pretty disappointing, but it is what it is."
Players were informed of Graham's departure via a text message, that was then relayed through director of football operations Blair Philbrick:
"I have resigned my position at Pitt in the best interest of my family to pursue the head coaching position at Arizona State. Coaching there has always been a dream of ours and we have family there. The timing of the circumstances have prohibited from telling you this directly. I now am on my way to Tempe to continue those discussions. God Bless. Coach Graham."
One thing we all learned from all of Wednesday' events, were that even without guidance from media relations personnel, the current Pitt players seemed to have a good handle on saying the right things. In some cases, some words may have sounded harsh—but deservedly so. Many called in to local radio shows, and lashed out via Twitter (a valuable resource this time of year) to express their thoughts. Here are just a few—including some from 2012 recruits.
I can't wait until next year no matter who the coach is. We will show Graham that he made a mistake.—Demitrious Davis, 2012 commit
Cullen Christian—who transferred from Michigan to play for position coach Tony Gibson, who recruited him out of high school. Gibson bolted last week for Arizona—Arizona State's chief rival. Christian—having to sit out a year, after transferring in to play for that same position coach—had this to say:
This is to my Pitt family we all gotta realize coaches going come and go so we gotta stick together.
Todd graham man u quit on a team that's about to take off ha it don't matter who the coach is PITT is on the uprise #h2p were a family!!!!!!—Rushel Shell
I am pretty disappointed that Coach Graham is leaving. It is sudden, but I am still going to Pitt. There is a small chance that I look around, but I am going to try to hold this class together.—2012 commit Chad Voytik
I'm gonna play for these seniors and the Pitt family.. Staying strong for my BROTHERS !—Devin Street
The crazy thing is that every time somebody bashed Todd Graham to me in public or private I would always defend him. Now I wonder why—Chas Alecxih
It was my teammates who I grinded with and push sleds with during the summer! It wasn't no coaches! I got love for my #Pitt teammates!—Zach Brown
For all the Pitt ppl and fans the real Pitt panthers are gonna go out and put on a show for panther nation #HAILTOPITT—Brandon Lindsey
its just not the right way to leave a team. He wasnt honest with us—AndrewTaglianetti
Somebody please remind me who the adults are in this situation, and who the "kids" are. For a former head coach who showed no common courtesy to properly inform his superior (not to mention he disrespected his superior's wish) and for a former head coach who lacked the common sense to at least meet with his players, it's a miracle that these players have not followed his "example." If you want a more clear picture of the effect Todd Graham can have on a team, don't look at the 6-6 record. Look at their comments, and how they sound more real than the very similar introductory press conferences we've seen at both Pitt and Arizona State.
As for a timetable for finding Graham's replacement, Pederson said he will not use the services of a search firm as he did for the initial hire of Michael Haywood last year. He did say that some candidates who were considered last year will be under consideration once again. Though Pederson, nor anyone from Pitt, would confirm any names, Pederson did say those who were in consideration for the job last year, will be given a look.
Pederson didn't specify a specific timeframe for this coaching search to be done, but he did say he feels the need to act quickly; citing the closeness of the holidays and the timing of the bowl game, not to mention the fact that a rush of hires have been made in the last week. A lot of the top coaching candidates have accepted jobs, and the top vacant jobs are all filled. Though he's conducting his third coaching search within the last year, after Dave Wannstedt's dismissal, Michael Haywood's arrest—this is arguably the toughest situation Pederson has been pressed into.
"Our goal is to move quickly and expeditiously to find the next head football coach," Pederson added.
Pederson also added that he is not concerned about his own job security, citing a desire to do what's in the best interest of the athletic program at Pitt.
"All I do is making things the very best at the University of Pittsburgh," Pederson said. "It's a very special place. What it deserves is the very best coaching, and our student-athletes can get the best experience for them. We're committed to them."