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Wannstedt defends character of program

| Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010

The anguish showed on Dave Wannstedt's weathered face Monday.

With his Panthers preparing for their biggest game of the young season, the sixth-year coach found himself questioned about a sophomore walk-on who has never played a game for Pitt.

"I'm very disappointed," he said. "We've had a couple unfortunate things that make us awfully damn mad, to be honest with you."

The arrest of offensive lineman Keith Coleman, 20, for aggravated assault early Saturday morning saw another Pitt player in the headlines for the wrong reasons. It also overshadowed, in part, the upcoming nationally televised game Thursday with No. 19 Miami (1-1) at Heinz Field.

Wannstedt said the spate of arrests (three since July 18) isn't a broad reflection of the character of his players or the program.

"We have an outstanding group of young men here," he said. "We've had a couple bad decisions in the last month and a half. That is not an indication of our football team.

"It's not what we were in the past, it's not what we are now and it won't be what we are all about in the future."

Questions about off-the-field problems dominated the first half of Wannstedt's 25-minute weekly news conference. The inquiries halted only after the Pitt football media relations director stepped in and requested -- with the news conference more than half over -- that questions change gears to Miami.

To make a difficult weekend even harder for Pitt football, Fanie Romeus, the mother of injured all-Big East defensive end Greg Romeus, died Sunday after a battle with cancer.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Greg," Wannstedt said. "He's had a very, very difficult five or six weeks."

Coleman's arrest -- he is also charged with harassment and disorderly conduct after a fight left a Pitt student with a broken collarbone -- came one week after redshirt freshman Jason Douglas, 19, was arrested on charges stemming from a South Side incident in which he allegedly hit a pedestrian while driving drunk and left the scene.

Both players have been suspended indefinitely from all team activities.

As part of the Douglas incident, sophomore middle linebacker Dan Mason was demoted to second string. In mid-July, all-Big East defensive end Jabaal Sheard was arrested following a fight in which a man was thrown through a glass door.

Junior wide receiver Cam Saddler said the recent off-field issues are isolated.

"It's just a couple guys who've made a couple bad decisions," he said. "We've all made bad decisions. But it's our job to uphold the standard as Division I athletes and do the right thing.

"I don't want us to be known as thugs or troublemakers, but as a good football team with a whole bunch of good guys -- and that's what we are."

Wannstedt said each summer the Pitt football program educates its players on drugs, alcohol and domestic abuse, and receives visits from former NFL players such as Troy Vincent. Each Thursday night during the season, Wannstedt and his players meet at Petersen Events Center to discuss the responsibility of being a Division I athlete.

"One or two incidents are not an indication of 120 kids," Wannstedt said. "We know what the values of this football team are -- nobody knows better than I do -- we are here to make that happen and the players know that."

By comparison, Miami is shedding the bad-boy image it held for so many years. Only one Hurricanes player has been arrested during coach Randy Shannon's four seasons.

Wannstedt, of course, played at Pitt and holds two degrees from the school. He values the program's reputation as much as anyone.

"It does bother me," he said. "There is nobody that gets affected by things that happen with this football program more than me."

Wannstedt's take

On right defensive end without the injured Greg Romeus:

"Brandon Lindsey will start. We will rotate some guys in there, like Nate Nix. T.J. Clemmings will play this week. He gives us some size and depth. He's really done some good things the past couple weeks in practice, and we're going to need him."

On Miami coach Randy Shannon:

"Randy Shannon and I go way back. I was part of the staff (at Miami) that recruited him out of high school. I coached him for his whole college career. We drafted him at the Cowboys. I hired him at the Dolphins. I was a big part with Larry Coker (hiring him) as the coordinator at the University of Miami when he left me at the Dolphins to go back there. Randy and I have had a long association since his high school days."

On Miami's speed:

"This is one of those games, you miss a tackle in the backfield, you miss a tackle on the perimeter, they are capable at all times of going 60-70 yards."

On Miami's return game, which had two returns for touchdowns against Ohio State:

"Most of those plays, Ohio State had pretty good coverage and the return men from Miami just made them miss. The emphasis this week is obviously the scheme you are trying to do, but we are going to have to make tackles in the open field. That might be oversimplifying, but the best thing they have going for them is they have great guys."

On quarterback Tino Sunseri not forcing the ball to wide receiver Jon Baldwin:

"If you ask Tino right now, he's not wearing blinders out there. We are getting the ball to the open guy."

Additional Information:

Rap sheet

Here are some recent arrests of Pitt players:

Player --------- Date ------- Charge

*Keith Coleman -- 9/18/10 -- Agg. assault, disorderly con., harassment

*Jason Douglas -- 9/12/10 -- Agg. assault, DUI, accident res. in serious injury

Jabaal Sheard -- 7/18/10 -- Agg. assault, disorderly con., criminal mischief

Jon Baldwin -- 4/19/09 -- Indecent assault

Lucas Nix -- 3/29/09 -- Disorderly conduct

*Suspended indefinitely

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