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Wannstedt will not coach Pitt in Compass Bowl

Dave Wannstedt, who resigned as Pitt football coach under pressure Dec. 7, announced today that he will not coach the Panthers against Kentucky in the Compass Bowl Jan. 8 in Birmingham, Ala.

Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett will serve as interim coach.

“Today, as it has been for the past six years, my responsibility and loyalty has been to this staff, to these coaches and, most importantly, to the Pitt football players,” Wannstedt said, reading from a prepared statement. “In a few days, these players will take on the responsibility of playing in a bowl game and I am proud on how they have handled everything leading up to this point. Having been here as a player and as a coach who has played in bowl games, I understand that this is the next great experience in a young college football player's career and it's important that they take advantage of the great opportunity.

“Ultimately, the focus and attention for the next few days should be on the players who are here. The focus and attention should not be on their coach, who won't be coaching ‘em.”

Pitt is without a head coach after Michael Haywood, hired Dec. 16, was fired Saturday after being arrested on domestic battery charge involving an incident with the mother of his 21-month-old son Jan. 31in South Bend, Ind.

Wannstedt, who played at Pitt in the early 1970s and was an assistant on the Panthers' 1976 national champion, was 42-31 in six seasons, including a 7-5 record and a share of the Big East title in 2010.

“There have been a lot of coaches before me and there will be a lot of coaches after me,” Wannstedt said in his statement, “but I can assure you none of them loved this university more than Dave Wannstedt."

Wannstedt said he informed the team's senior captains of his decision late Sunday night, and that he would not accompany the team to Birmingham.

“My loyalty to these players is to have them enjoy this experience and allow them to be the main focus of attention when they travel to Birmingham to get ready for this game,” Wannstedt said. “It would be unfair for any part of their experience to be about the head coach or his particular situation. It would not be right. …

“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 at the bowl game.”

Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said in a statement that although Wannstedt “made indications” that it wasn't likely he would coach in the bowl game, “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.”

Bennett joined Wannstedt's staff as defensive coordinator three years ago, after serving as head coach at Southern Methodist University.

“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,” Pederson said in the statement. “We are fortunate to have someone with Phil's talents available to assume this role.”

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