Pitt hires Haywood as new football coach

Kevin Gorman
| Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010

Pitt turned to the "cradle of coaches" to find its next head football coach, hiring Mike Haywood, who led Miami (Ohio) to the Mid-American Conference championship this season.

Haywood informed Miami players at a 10 p.m. team meeting that he accepted the Pitt job and won't coach the RedHawks against Middle Tennessee State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Jan. 6 in Mobile, Ala.

"He was very emotional," Miami senior tight end Jordan Stevens told the Tribune-Review. "I think the decision he made was very tough on him, just like it is for the rest of us, but we can't blame him. He said we built a strong foundation and that he was sorry he had to do this but it was the toughest decision he's ever had to make."

Haywood, 46, will become the 35th head football coach in school history - and first black coach to hold that title. He will replace Dave Wannstedt, who resigned under pressure Dec. 7 after compiling a 41-32 record in six seasons, including 7-5 this year.

ESPN.com reported that Haywood agreed to a five-year contract. Salary details were not available.

Neither Pitt nor Miami officials would confirm the hiring last night.

Haywood led the RedHawks to the biggest turnaround in major-college football in his second year, recovering from a 1-11 record to go 9-4 and win the Mid-American Conference championship this season.

Haywood is the latest in a long line of successful coaches at Miami, which has produced legends such as Earl "Red" Blaik, Paul Brown, Sid Gillman, Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian, Weeb Ewbank and Bo Schembechler. More recently, Randy Walker, Terry Hoeppner and Jim Tressel have come through Oxford, Ohio.

The hiring ends a rollercoaster coaching search that resembled the Panthers' season. Pitt watched its primary target take his talents to South Beach and one of the country's hottest candidates choose the other side of the Backyard Brawl.

Pitt's search initially focused first on Temple's Al Golden, who accepted the opening at Miami (Fla.) earlier this week, then on Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, who instead chose to become coach-in-waiting at West Virginia.

Pitt then turned to Haywood.

Miami was 10-27 in the three seasons prior to his arrival, including 2-10 finishes in 2006 and '08. After winning one game his first season, Haywood orchestrated the biggest turnaround in major college football this year by going 9-4 (8-1 in MAC) and winning the school's first conference championship since Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led the RedHawks to a MAC title in 2003.

"I was amazed," said Texas coach Mack Brown, one of several nationally prominent coaches under whom Haywood has coached. "It didn't look like the same team. He did as good a job as anyone in America."

It's not the first time. Haywood was named assistant coach of the year by the American Football Coaches Association in 2005, his first of four seasons as offensive coordinator and running backs coach at Notre Dame. He also served as running backs coach under Brown at Texas (2003-04), Gerry DiNardo and Nick Saban at Louisiana State (1995-2002). Haywood also coached at Ball State ('93-94), Ohio ('91-92) and Army (1989-90).

A 1986 Notre Dame graduate, Haywood has a reputation for focusing on academics, as a disciplinarian who makes players wear shirts and ties to every game and for an upbeat, positive approach that serves him well in dealing with his players and recruits.

"He instilled in us how to be good men, not just good football players," said Stevens, one of three Gateway graduates who play at Miami, along with freshmen Dayonne Nunley and Orne Bey. "He built all of us up to be great people, not just on the field but when we were in the classroom and when we were walking on campus. He improved all aspects of our life, and that's what a football coach really needs to do."

Haywood has shown a willingness to play underclassmen, as Miami's 65-man travel roster included 47 freshmen and sophomores. Despite an injury to his starting quarterback that forced Miami to play a redshirt freshman, Haywood guided the RedHawks to victories over Temple in the season finale and No. 25 Northern Illinois in the MAC title game.

"Mike would fit in any place," Brown said. "He's going to take whatever is there and make it better."

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