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Pitt fires Haywood as football coach

| Sunday, Jan. 2, 2011

The University of Pittsburgh fired football coach Mike Haywood on Saturday, just 24 hours after he was jailed on a charge of assaulting the mother of his 21-month-old child.

"Head coaches are among the university's most visible representatives and are expected to maintain high standards of personal conduct and to avoid situations that might reflect negatively on the university," said Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. "(The firing) reflects a strong belief that moving forward with Mr. Haywood as our head coach is not possible under the existing circumstances."

Police in Indiana charged Haywood, 46, with misdemeanor domestic battery Friday after an altercation at a home in South Bend. Police upgraded the charge to felony domestic battery in the presence of a minor. St. Joseph County police said an unnamed woman accused Haywood of choking her during a dispute over their son. The woman had marks on her neck, arms and back, police said.

Haywood professed his innocence in a telephone interview yesterday with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review after posting $1,000 bond and leaving St. Joseph County Jail.

"It isn't fair," Haywood said shortly before Nordenberg fired him. "The truth will eventually come out."

The arrest is an embarrassment for Pitt because Haywood, at the Dec. 16 announcement of his hiring, promised to teach his players to "be men of values, to be men of trust, to be men of integrity."

Under coach Dave Wannstedt, four players were arrested last year and two the year before. One was freshman defensive back Jeff Knox, who was accused in September of assaulting a woman who claimed to be pregnant with his baby.

"When you go to the core of what a university is, (Pitt) absolutely did the right thing," said Mike Paul, president of MGP and Associates, a New York City-based crisis-management firm.

"You've got to think from their perspective," Paul said. "They get phone calls from key stakeholders who have given large amounts of money to the university. There are women on the board, and men and women at the university who believe domestic violence is bad. There are fellow coaches (at Pitt) who believe it would be setting a bad precedent to have a coach with a track record of domestic violence and on and on."

Haywood was coach for 17 days and agreed to a contract believed to be worth about $1 million annually over five years.

ESPN analyst Lou Holtz, who coached Haywood for one season at Notre Dame, spoke glowingly of his former player after the hiring at Pitt. He was shocked to learn about the arrest.

"The Mike Haywood I know, that was not his type of behavior," Holtz said. "I followed him as a player and an assistant coach, and he had a great track record."

Jonathan Bernstein, the president of Bernstein Crisis Management in California, said dismissing a coach or employee so soon after an alleged incident is legally "tricky."

"But the fact that he was recently hired and wasn't really (well-known), it allowed them to act more boldly," Bernstein said. "The school may still have to deal with an embarrassing lawsuit if he is found not guilty."

Nordenberg said the university would broaden its scope and move "swiftly but prudently" in conducting an immediate search for its next coach.

Before hiring Haywood, Athletic Director Steve Pederson said a consulting firm gave him two lists of candidates' names — college head coaches and college assistants. Pederson had said he ruled out the assistants.

Fans yesterday clamored for not only Haywood's firing but also Pederson's.

"Steve Pederson made a statement that he was above reproach," said Rick Abrams, 64, of Shadyside, who graduated from Pitt in 1968. "It seems he's fallen below reproach, precipitously. ... My suggestion would be to make Wannstedt the A.D., and let him call (Penn State defensive coordinator) Tom Bradley about the coaching job."

Bradley, in Tampa, Fla., for the Outback Bowl, has not been contacted for the job.

Pitt spokesman E.J. Borghetti said Pederson "has played a key role in elevating Pitt's athletic programs, remains an important member of the university's senior leadership team and continues to enjoy the full support of the chancellor."

Pitt students and alumni support the decision to fire Haywood.

"It would set a horrible precedent to let him coach there," said Pitt senior Ashley Walter, 21.

Mike Lewis, a 1994 Pitt graduate from Indiana, Pa., said the school had no choice.

"He would have been a total distraction, and the coach is supposed to represent the values of the school," Lewis said.

Senior offensive lineman Jason Pinkston criticized the university on Twitter, a social-networking site, for forcing Wannstedt to resign.

"They fired all the wrong people!!! Now look at us whats the next step for the young freshman and soph on the team!" Pinkston wrote. "What direction do we go now!"

Administrators who hired Haywood need to be held accountable, said Paul, the crisis-management expert.

"How do I feel secure as a member of the (Pitt) community that you won't be picking someone like this again?" he said. "They need to assure everyone that they will have stricter guidelines, and this wasn't something that was just overlooked."

Additional Information:

The Mike Haywood file

Age: 46

Hometown: Houston

College: Notre Dame (1986)

Coaching experience: 2009-10: Miami (Ohio) head coach, 11-15 record, 2010 Mid-American Conference champions, school's first since 2003; 2005-08: Notre Dame, offensive coordinator and running backs coach; 2003-04: Texas, running backs coach; 1995-2002: Louisiana State, running backs coach

Other experience: Ball State (1993-94), Ohio (1991-92) and Army (1989-90)

Accomplishments: Named assistant coach of the year by the American Football Coaches Association in 2005

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