Gorman: Wannstedt must answer for this

Kevin Gorman
| Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010

Dave Wannstedt arrived at Pitt with such bravado.

He talked tough about restoring tradition and winning national championships. That act vanished Friday at Heinz Field, along with the Panthers' Big East championship hopes.

The Pitt coach had no answers following a 35-10 loss to West Virginia in the 103rd Backyard Brawl and didn't waste anyone's time trying. His post-game news conference lasted all of 3 minutes, 59 seconds.

"Obviously disappointing," he said.

Disgraceful might be a better description.

After putting the Panthers on the brink of a Big East title and BCS bowl berth each of the past three seasons only to come up with disastrous defeats, one thing has become abundantly clear: Wannstedt is done. You know it, I know it and perhaps even Wannstedt knows it.

While Wannstedt hasn't run out of ways to lose meaningful games, he has run out of answers. For a coach who preaches preparation, the Panthers looked pitiful in the annual game against their archrival — which could have yielded at least a share of the conference championship.

"We kind of lost ..." said Wannstedt, searching for words to describe the deflation of the defeat. "The wind came out of the balloon."

It wasn't about the game plan but rather the execution. Pitt had a season-high four turnovers, three leading to Mountaineers touchdowns. West Virginia coach Bill Stewart showed mercy in the final minutes, running Shawne Alston into the pile on fourth-and-goal from the Pitt 5.

Wannstedt and his Panthers talked as though they outplayed West Virginia — except for a few big plays. That's like saying Wannstedt has done a great job at Pitt — except for a few big games.

Pitt started the season ranked No. 15 and an overwhelming favorite to win the Big East. That the Panthers are 6-5 is incredibly disappointing and leaves Chancellor Mark Nordenberg no choice but to fire Wannstedt.

Wannstedt's signature victory in six seasons is that 13-9 win in Morgantown in 2007, which appeared to be a turning point. Instead, Wannstedt has delivered more heartbreak than highlights despite winning 25 of the next 37 games.

Pitt lost the season opener to Bowling Green in 2008, numbing the excitement the West Virginia win created. The Panthers still won nine games before an embarrassing 3-0 loss to Oregon State in the Sun Bowl. Pitt recorded its first 10-win season since 1981 last year but blew a 21-point lead in a 45-44 loss to Cincinnati that cost it the Big East title and a BCS bowl.

Wannstedt lost any remaining good will Nov. 11 in East Hartford, a 30-28 defeat to Connecticut that spelled doom. For all of his tough talk, he tends to shrink under pressure. College football teams are a reflection of their coach, and if the Panthers didn't have any answers for West Virginia, it's because neither did Wannstedt.

Pitt awarded Wannstedt a two-year contract extension through 2014, so there's some thought that maybe he can salvage his job by firing some assistants. But the only spot on the staff where Wannstedt hasn't made a change is at running backs coach, and some of the biggest blunders this season have come on special teams.

Guess who coaches those units. Wannstedt has to answer for this.

The West Virginia game was another reminder of what has become a recurring theme under Wannstedt. Pitt falls flat before national television audiences. The Panthers are embarrassed in nonconference games. And, despite the best efforts of the athletic department to create a lively game-day environment, Pitt couldn't sell out the Brawl.

The Panthers aren't entertaining to watch, either, despite talented skill players like tailbacks Dion Lewis and Ray Graham and receiver Jon Baldwin. For all of Wannstedt's talk about building a program that runs the ball and stops the run, the Panthers allowed Connecticut's Jordan Todman to rush for a career-high 222 yards and ran for only 78 against West Virginia, with 38 coming on scrambles.

Those were only the two most critical games of the season for the Panthers, who like their coach were at a loss for explanation as to how they could blow a chance to win the bumbling Big East three years in a row.

"It's the same old story," senior left tackle Jason Pinkston said.

The final chapter should end with an expression Wannstedt likes to use about making cuts in the NFL.

Pitt didn't fire you, Dave.

You fired yourself.

Photo Galleries

Pitt vs. WVU The Backyard Brawl 1 126/10

Pitt vs. WVU  The Backyard Brawl  1 <sup>1</sup>⁄<sub>2</sub>6/10

West Virginia defeats Pitt, 35-10, in the 103rd Backyard Brawl Friday November 26, 2010 at Heinz Field.

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