Harris: Pitt AD Pederson gets a bad rap
By John Harris
Published: Monday, March 11, 2013, 10:57 p.m.
Updated: Tuesday, March 12, 2013
If you think that former coaches Mike Haywood and Todd Graham were bad hires for Pitt, you're right. Both were terrible, indefensible hires that set back the football program several years.
If you wish to criticize, berate and demonize the person who made those decisions — athletic director Steve Pederson — prepare to stand in a long line of critics.
Pederson blew it.
Are they fireable offenses? No. Unless there's specific legal language in Pederson's contract that he isn't permitted to make a mistake — or in this case, multiple mistakes — no way. Pederson has accomplished more good than bad at Pitt.
“If it wasn't for Steve Pederson, Pitt's not in the ACC,” said former shoe executive and Trafford native Sonny Vaccaro.
Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg has taken the controversy in stride, and Pederson still has his job.
Nordenberg knows how valuable Pederson is to Pitt, and I mean that literally.
Pederson's magic touch enabled Pitt to evolve into one of the elite college basketball programs in the country.
Without the benefit of a top-20 football team, Pitt, on the strength of men's basketball, secured a deal with Nike in 2009 while also gaining membership in the ACC. Pitt's football team finished 10-3 in 2009 for its first 10-win season in 28 years.
If you insist on blaming Pederson for hiring Haywood and Graham, give him credit for the Panthers joining the ACC.
“Without basketball, Pitt would be like Connecticut — no place to go,” Vaccaro said. “Pitt would be going to the Catholic 7.”
Former Big East members Pitt, Syracuse, Louisville and Notre Dame jumped to the ACC. Connecticut, despite winning three national titles under former basketball coach Jim Calhoun, was left out.
Among Pederson's biggest supporters on campus is Jamie Dixon, the most successful basketball coach in Pitt history. Dixon said Pederson continued to influence him even after Pederson became Nebraska's athletic director before returning to Pitt in 2007.
“Steve didn't hire me as the head coach,” said Dixon, who was Ben Howland's top assistant when he was promoted to replace Howland in 2003. “But he told me what Pitt could become, and he also convinced me when he wasn't here that this wasn't a place you needed to move from but a place you turn into the best job in the country.
“Steve has made so many great decisions, so many great moves,” Dixon said. “Yeah, there's going to be one or two or even more that some people are going to question. But with the great moves and the rise in a number of our programs, you get held to a higher standard. As the rise came, standards became higher and expectations became higher.”
While highlighting the substantial growth occurring in Pitt's athletic department, Pederson recalled when the Petersen Events Center didn't exist and there was so little money available that baseball players purchased their own cleats.
“We're talking 15 years ago, not 50 years ago,” Pederson said.
“Adidas was very good to us. Nike's been superb since we made that transition,” he added. “If you're not spending that much on equipment, you have a chance to put it in other areas we thought would elevate the program — a lot of that facility centered.”
Department of Education statistics reported the Panthers were the 14th most profitable program in college basketball in 2009-10. The program netted $7.1 million.
In comparison, UCLA brought in $6.1 million and Kentucky $5.2 million.
Does Pederson have his faults? Yes. Has he made mistakes? To be sure.
But Pederson's track record at Pitt — first building and later housing the nationally-ranked basketball team in a state-of-the-art facility while maintaining the athletic department in the black financially — deserves praise, not scorn.
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.
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Mr. Harris only interviewed the people who would toot this man's horn, and I say that with all due respect to the uniformed writer of this piece of fiction. Obviously, he has never talked to Tom Osborne about Pederson. Tom Osborne (possibly the greatest living college coach and administrator) wouldn't even step on campus when Pederson was at Negraska. That says all I need to know about Pederson. His despicable treatment of Coach Wannstedt, the tearing down of Pitt stadium, the fact that he has let Agnes Berenato run the worst basketball program in the Big East and now soon to be in the ACC, and his failure to generate any funds through the Panther Club again speaks to his complete lack of skill. The fact that he hired a wife beater and a carnival barker to replace Wanny tells you all you need to know about how well he thought out that decision. If his claim to fame is getting us into the ACC (Awful College Conference) we all are in for a ruid awakening. This guy is an umitigated disaster and the sooner he and Nordenberg are gone the better.
Submitted by: alan on Wednesday, March 13, 2013
What's Jamie Dixon going to say - that his AD is a clueless moron? I may think that about my supervisor, but I certainly wouldn't have it quoted for a newspaper article. I'll say this about Steve Pederson - he has a great smile & has very good hair for a man his age. He can also issue statements through the SID as well as anyone. As for the ACC being a great move, as Lee Corso would say "not so fast my friend". Maryland is gone. It's a matter of time before North Carolina & either GA Tech or Virginia join them in the B10. Then, watch for NC State & VA Tech to join the SEC. Finally, wave goodbye to Clemson & FL State joining the Big12. That will pave the way for Connecticut to finally get their ACC invitation along with Cincinnati, which both covet - leaving the ACC stripped of it's premier schools. Pitt will be back to being in a middling conference. As for Pitt athletics making a profit - just imagine if they actually drew a crowd for football except against Notre Dame or WVU how much they could make. Also think about the savings of not having to pay multiple head football coaches simultaneously (Wanny, Heyward, Graham/Chryst). And think about the savings that could have been realized had not Wanny been given a contract extension a year before being fired - talk about long range planning.