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Starkey: Teaching moments at WVU, Pitt

| Sunday, June 12, 2011

At least we won't have to put up with all the niceties anymore. Isn't that what everybody said about Dave Wannstedt and Bill Stewart, what nice guys they were?

Well, nice guys finish crass. That's one of many lessons to be learned from the football coaching debacles at Pitt and West Virginia.

Sadly, Wannstedt and Stewart will be remembered more for their dastardly dismounts than anything they accomplished in the Big East. Instead of thanking their employer for the opportunity, admitting their failure and moving on, they finished in a whirlwind of bitterness, indignation and, in Stewart's case, utter disgrace.

Wannstedt waited until the last minute to announce he would not coach Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl. He then used his final public utterances — one a news conference, the other a radio interview — to take veiled shots at his athletic director and potshots at a columnist (not this one) who had ripped him for skipping the bowl game.

Not exactly the high road, but several miles above the one Stewart used to crawl out of Morgantown on Friday. He "resigned" amid an internal investigation over potential leaks to the media regarding accusations that his future succesor, Dana Holgorsen, was involved in alcohol-related incidents.

With that, West Virginia darn near topped Pitt's hiring of Michael Haywood (Lesson No. 2: Never hire a coach who goes directly from his introductory news conference to jail).

I never got the feeling Wannstedt and Stewart grasped the fact they were underachieving. Talking to Wannstedt over the past few years, you'd think Pitt was a perennial national power, not a perennial car care-company bowl contestant. Though both men inherited programs fresh off a Big East championship, neither managed to win an outright title in a league that went from underrated to pitiful during their tenures.

When you cede the conference to Cincinnati and Connecticut, you have failed.

That is not debatable.

The instant Stewart was told in December he would be replaced within a year, he should have sought a settlement and resigned. The "coach-in-waiting" plan was a lame-brained arrangement destined to fail.

Which brings us to Lesson No. 3, one every athletic director should take to heart: When you decide to fire a coach, by all means, fire him.

Maybe this goes back to not wanting to make a "nice guy" look bad by abruptly severing ties when, in fact, it is the most humane thing to do. The overseers in these situations — Pitt AD Steve Pederson and West Virginia AD Oliver Luck — couldn't let go. They allowed the resentment to fester.

They still haven't admitted their coaches were fired.

Upon Wannstedt's "resignation," Pederson not only permitted him to make the call on the bowl game but also gave him two news conferences (Lesson No. 4: Never put the bitter fired coach in front of the media). One ended with players crashing the scene in Wannstedt's defense, the other with Wannstedt ripping Pederson.

Luck's thinking was even harder to figure. He has now fired Stewart twice, if my records are correct, without actually firing him. The first happened in December, at which time Luck said he didn't believe his program could win a national title with Stewart, that "we weren't getting the results" and that "our fans aren't satisfied with the product."


The good news is new Pitt coach Todd Graham and Holgorsen don't have much use for each other. This rivalry could use a shot of nastiness.

Nice didn't play so well.

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