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Nordenberg apologizes to Panthers players for recent chaos

| Monday, Jan. 3, 2011

Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg apologized to the Panthers football team Sunday for the chaos created by the firing of coach Mike Haywood.

Nordenberg briefly addressed the team at its South Side facility during a practice for Saturday's BBVA Compass Bowl, a player told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Haywood's arrest on domestic violence charges and Pitt's decision to fire him could leave the program reeling worse than it seemingly already is, those close to the program said.

"I don't know how we move forward without taking a step back to make sure we don't take 10 steps back," said former Pitt standout Bill Fralic, now the Panthers' radio analyst. "I'm afraid we're going to go back 20 years."

The fate of Haywood and predecessor Dave Wannstedt should become clearer today. Haywood, 46, is scheduled to be arraigned in South Bend, Ind., and Wannstedt will address whether he plans to coach the team in Saturday's bowl game.

At least two names -- Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley and Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis -- have surfaced in connection with the Pitt vacancy. But the fallout, from recruiting to another coaching search, could be profound for the Panthers, those familiar with the team said.

Fralic blamed athletic director Steve Pederson for making a mess of a program that was 26-12 in the past three seasons.

"This is all about Steve Pederson trying to make a mark, and he's made a black eye," Fralic said. "I would take a long, hard look at how we come to make this decision. I think there's a lot of people who have supported that program who are very disillusioned. I just don't know how we could be so wrong."

Pederson did not return numerous messages seeking comment.

Pitt hired search firm Parker Executive Search to conduct its coaching search and felt confident it had fully vetted Haywood. But even those who live beside Haywood's home in an upscale subdivision in South Bend said they hardly know him. A South Bend police detective lives a block away and said he didn't know Haywood lived in the neighborhood while he served as a Notre Dame assistant coach.

Haywood is accused of assaulting his 21-month-old son's mother at the home on New Year's Eve. It's unclear whether Haywood shares the home with the woman, St. Joseph County police said. Neither Haywood nor his agent could be reached for comment yesterday.

Penn State coach Joe Paterno suggested Pitt would be remiss to overlook Bradley as a candidate to replace Haywood. Lewis is rumored to be on Pitt's short list, according to

Many fans have suggested Pitt rehire Wannstedt -- a sentiment shared by senior offensive lineman Jason Pinkston, who tweeted, "Whose idea was this to get rid of coach!! Bring back DW!!"

The confusion has caused recruit Max Issaka, a 6-foot-3, 240-pounder from Woodbridge, N.J., who is ranked the nation's No. 20 defensive end prospect by, to reconsider his commitment to the Panthers.

Issaka said Haywood has "made a mockery of the whole program."

The Panthers have lost at least 11 of 18 recruits from the Class of 2011. Several of those who remain committed are wavering.

"Our recruiting class was supposed to be one of the best in the country," Issaka said. "The whole program is too traditional and too respectable to be downgraded like that."

Issaka said he is planning to take official visits to Central Florida, Michigan and North Carolina, and also is hearing from Georgia Tech, Maryland, Michigan State and Rutgers.

"I want to play for a school that is a respectable program and doesn't have mistakes like this," Issaka said. "You just don't fire your coach and hire a coach who goes to jail. Their program's image has been tainted because of what happened. ... I'm undecided, but it's not looking good for Pitt right now."

Notre Dame and Alabama endured embarrassments with coaching hires in the past decade and persevered. Alabama rebounded to win a national title, and Notre Dame is still among the most popular -- and powerful -- brands in college football.

"The problem is, Pittsburgh is neither Notre Dame nor Alabama in terms of drawing power," said Dennis Dodd, national college football writer for "Pitt's more fragile in recruiting than those two schools."

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