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New Steelers assistant Ligashesky had uneven run at Pitt

| Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2007

PITTSBURGH — Only three or four steps are needed to walk from the front door of Pitt's football practice complex to that of the next-door neighbor Pittsburgh Steelers.

Despite the very short length, it probably wasn't a journey Bob Ligashesky anticipated making a few years ago.

Ligashesky, who had an uneven run as Pitt's tight ends coach and special teams coordinator from 2000-03, returned this week to that same practice complex after being hired as the Steelers' special teams coach. He replaced Kevin Spencer, who took the same job with the Arizona Cardinals.

The 44-year-old Ligashesky is vocal, animated and expressive on the practice field, a man who often seems as wrapped up in the action as his very players. That apparently impressed new Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, a hands-on motivator himself, even though Ligashesky was recently fired by the St. Louis Rams after two seasons.

"He's a good coach with a bright future," Cardinals coach Scott Linehan said of Ligashesky. "But we need to make some improvements on special teams. Sometimes change is good for both parties."

Ligashesky's return to his hometown to coach — he played football at suburban Sto-Rox High School and at nearby Indiana (Pa.) University — might have caught a few Pitt fans off guard.

One of Pitt's worst defeats during the Walt Harris coaching era from 1997-2004 was a 14-12 loss to Texas A&M in 2002 marred by special teams breakdowns that resulted in two missed extra points.

On the first attempt, Pitt was called twice for illegal shifts when it used the gimmicky swinging gate formation in which the linemen are on one side of the field and the kicker, holder and snapper are on another.

Harris seemed unaware the shift couldn't be used because two Pitt linemen had numbers designated for receivers, so the Panthers were penalized again when they tried the same formation. Finally, the Panthers used a conventional set but J.B. Gibboney's 30-yard extra-point try missed.

The botched extra point meant Pitt had to go for a two-point conversion to attempt to tie after scoring late in the game. However, Rod Rutherford's pass fell incomplete after Pitt took too long to get lined up correctly and had to run the play too quickly.

In the same game, Pitt also lined up in an illegal formation during an onside kick attempt. A week later, UAB returned a blocked punt for a touchdown and another Pitt extra point try failed, but the Panthers recovered to win 26-20.

Pitt had two other assistant coaches who worked with special teams players at the time, Bryan Deal and defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads, but Ligashesky was in charge of the units.

Pitt's tight end, Kris Wilson, and punter, Andy Lee, had excellent careers while Ligashesky was there, but the placekicking was inconsistent.

During Ligashesky's final season in 2003, kicker David Abdul made only 9 of 18 attempts following a disruptive summer in which his best friend on the team, Billy Gaines, died after falling through a church ceiling. Abdul and Gaines were exploring the ceiling after attending a party that night at which alcohol was served.

The year before, Abdul had gone 13 of 20 as a freshman during a season ended when Shawn Robinson's 66-yard punt return touchdown highlighted not only a 38-13 victory over Oregon State in the Insight Bowl but Ligashesky's stay at Pitt.

During Ligashesky's first two seasons, kicker Nick Lotz was a combined 21-of-32.

Ligashesky left Pitt after 2003 to become the Jacksonville Jaguars' assistant special teams coach. He was hired by Rams coach Mike Martz in 2005 and was retained when Linehan took over last season, only to be let go after the Rams again had problems on special teams.

The Rams finished near the bottom of the league in punt returns, kickoff returns and kickoff coverage and yielded three return touchdowns. They ranked lower than the Steelers in several areas.

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