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Coaching uncertainty affects recruiting for Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia

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By Ralph N. Paulk and Jerry DiPaola,
Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011

So far this hasn't been a particularly impressive recruiting year for Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia.

All three programs have been challenged to stockpile blue-chip recruits during today's national signing day, in part, because of uncertainty or changes among the coaching staffs.

None of the three programs' recruiting classes is ranked in the top 30 nationally by the two major recruiting websites — and .

But Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS College Sports, said Penn State and Pitt recovered nicely from potentially disastrous situations. West Virginia may have to wait a year before coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen makes his mark in recruiting, he said.

Pitt coach Todd Graham had just 2 12 weeks to clean up the mess caused by the resignation of Dave Wannstedt and the subsequent hiring and firing of Mike Haywood, who was dismissed on New Year's Day after being arrested for domestic violence.

"After going to three coaches, recruiting was difficult," said Tony Gibson, Pitt's recruiting coordinator and assistant coach. "It's one of the hardest things we've had to do as a staff."

Admittedly, Graham scrambled to get back into the recruiting game after a month in which the Panthers' recruits observed, with some angst, a rather bizarre coaching search that began with Wannstedt's departure.

In the past week, Graham narrowed the gap on his Big East rivals by securing 18 verbal commitments. The former Tulsa coach has rallied Pitt, partly by daring to explore more fertile — if not unfamiliar — recruiting turf.

A persuasive and confident Graham tapped into the rich recruiting pool of Texas and Oklahoma while at Tulsa. As Pitt's recruiting class dwindled to nine, Graham lured to Pitt a handful of Tulsa commits: running back Isaac Bennett of Tulsa, defensive back Lloyd Carrington of Dallas and athlete Jason Frimpong of Irving, Texas.

"It is not a typically good Pitt class," Lemming said. "They were lucky to keep their heads above water. It was impossible for (Graham) to have a great year, but he did OK under the circumstances."

In Morgantown, Bill Stewart has spent much of the recruiting season trying to convince recruits that the program is stable despite his upcoming lame-duck season. He'll be replaced at season's end by Holgorsen, a former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator.

"I have never seen a situation like that," Lemming said. "It has to be uncomfortable for both guys. I don't think the recruits are accepting the situation. It may take (West Virginia) another year to have a real good year."

At University Park, Penn State coach Joe Paterno, 84, readies for his 46th season amid questions about his longevity with a program he's nurtured through nine U.S. presidents.

Paterno spends little time on the recruiting trail, but the coaching staff recovered from a slow start to have what Lemming said could be the second-best in the Big Ten.

During a recruiting season when Big Ten programs — including defending co-champions Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin — continue to make inroads nationally, Penn State has only five four-star recruits.

Still, the Nittany Lions seem to be in a better place than Pitt and West Virginia. The Panthers and Mountaineers have a combined five four-star recruits, including Pitt's verbals from defensive tackle Khaynin Mosley-Smith of Woodland Hills and Milford (N.Y.) Academy, and linebacker Nicholas Grigsby of Trotwood-Madison (Ohio) High School.

"Pitt is a program you could count on over the past seven years to make the top 25, but they got rid of a coach who was a good recruiter and brought in a guy that lasted a cup of coffee (in Tulsa)," said Scott Kennedy, director of recruiting for "It's been a disappointing year for the Panthers, but they've probably done as good a job as expected of salvaging that class. West Virginia has had enough sustained success that they shouldn't be pushing to stay in the top 50."

The apparent recruiting shortcomings of Pitt and West Virginia are examples of the perceived slide of the Big East. The conference, along with the Big Ten, failed to secure any of the 26 five-star recruits on the list.

In contrast, four SEC programs — including reigning national champion Auburn, Alabama, LSU and Georgia — have a combined seven five-star recruits.

Despite the disappointing rankings, Pitt's Gibson isn't discouraged.

"It's not like we're taking over a program that hasn't won," he said. "We had to get more tailbacks because with Dion (Lewis) going out (NFL Draft), we had only one scholarship running back (Ray Graham). What we have to do is look for the guys who best fit us and not pay attention to the rankings."

Additional Information:

Program ranks

Here is the placement of the local Big East and Big Ten members, according to the recruiting website :

Penn State: 36th nationally, fifth in the Big Ten (excluding Nebraska, which joins the conference this year)

West Virginia: 44th nationally, third in the Big East

? Pitt: sixth in the Big East, unranked nationally



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