Guess Who's Back?

When Steve Pederson initially was hired by the University of Pittsburgh as its director of athletics exactly 11 years ago, he basically tore down the athletic department and rebuilt it from scratch.

Steve Pederson immediately fired a handful of longtime employees, he changed the athletic logo, sports teams' colors, razed the campus stadium and even changed the name from Pitt to Pittsburgh. Don't expect so many drastic changes now that Pederson has returned as the Panthers' athletics director.

"No, I think we've had enough logo changes around here,'' Pederson said Friday shortly after Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg announced that he was the replacement for Jeff Long, who became the Arkansas AD some two months ago. Pederson was Nebraska's AD the past five years.

Nordenberg said he called Pederson at his Nebraska office the same day he was asked to resign his position there just to "talk to a good friend,'' but when the two finally connected -- and after Pederson was without a job -- the conversation turned to a job offer. It didn't happen quickly, but after several conversations and a lengthy private meeting the two came to an agreement that Pederson would return to Pitt to guide its sports teams once again.

Pederson noted that this time around, Pitt is much different than when he previously arrived in town. The Panthers sports teams are thriving, for the most part, the men's basketball team is nationally ranked and consistently plays before sellout crowds, and the facilities are among the finest in the nation. So, Pederson said his most pressing concerns are improving the football program and the team's attendance at Heinz Field.

"I'm anxious to spend some more time with Dave (Wannstedt), because I've known him a long time and like him a great deal,'' Pederson said. "And certainly, Dave's a fine football coach. I know rebuilding these programs takes a lot longer than any of us would like.

"We're talking about recruiting, and sometimes you have lost years in it after you make a coaching change that can catch up with you, and so I'm anxious to sit down to see how I can help us grow this program, because I'm very excited about where we can take it.''

Pederson noted that he wasn't in a position to discuss Wannstedt's contract status at this time, but would be in the near future. He also promised to look at Pitt's future football schedules in an attempt to lure more attractive opponents for the Panthers and said he looked forward to re-opening talks with AD Tim Curley about renewing the Penn State series.

"I am 100 percent committed to helping Dave in any way that I can,'' Pederson said. "We've got a good man here, a guy that cares a great deal about this football program and this university.

"He's a good coach and a good recruiter, and what I feel like I can contribute right now is to give him every ounce of energy and support that I have. ... I want to roll up my sleeves and see how Dave and I can do this together.''

ESPN analyst and longtime Pitt supporter Beano Cook was ecstatic about Pederson's return to the Panthers.

"Christmas came early for the Panther faithful,'' Cook said. "Steve Pederson saved Pitt athletics the first time he was here. Now, like (former President) Grover Cleveland, he returns to the office where he belongs. All Pitt fans should thank Santa Claus -- and Mark Nordenberg -- for this early gift.''

Wannstedt was unavaliable for comment, but Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon was thrilled to have Pederson back with the Panthers.

"Steve was the person who originally convinced me to come to the University of Pittsburgh back in 1999,'' Dixon said. "He has continued to be a tremendous friend and a person that I have regularly sought out for advice and direction over the years. I am incredibly excited that Steve and his wife, Tami, are returning to our university. Everyone in our department is going to benefit from his leadership.''

Some might say that Pitt is more of a basketball school than it is a football one since Pederson's first tenure with the Panthers, so it's no wonder that Dixon is a huge supporter.

"When I got here we were bad in both, so there wasn't any debate,'' Pederson said. "Not that many years ago, this football program went to a BCS bowl game, and there's a long and great tradition of football here. We still believe the move to Heinz Field was a step we had to take for our football program.

"And we did elevate basketball as well, but there shouldn't be anything wrong with that. We want to be great in both. ... So, basketball is very successful here now, and we just want football to have the same type of success.''

The Pedersons have three children: Mark, Kari and Kristin.

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