The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

January 5, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: Changing coaches never easy

MORGANTOWN — Used to be easy, this changing coaches thing.

You made your mind up you were going to fire him, called him in and told him to pack up and leave. Or he’d decide it was time to move on. He’d write a letter of resignation, say thanks, hold a teary meeting with his team, then hold a press conference and be gone.

That’s how it used to be, but, then again, I can remember cigarettes at 35 cents a pack and gasoline at 25.9 cents a gallon.

Like cheap smokes and affordable gas, the days of being able to fire a coach – or hire one, for that matter – without turning it into a soap opera are gone forever.

It may have all started back with Gale Catlett’s exit from West Virginia University and the slapstick chain of events that followed, including Bob Huggins’ rejection of the job, Dan Dakich’s hire and rapid-fire exit, John Beilein’s hiring and then quitting and the return of Huggins.

Rich Rodriguez’s boorish exit from West Virginia to take the job at Michigan did nothing to improve the art of changing coaches. It was handled clumsily from his backdoor dealings with Michigan to the midnight madness that resulted in Bill Stewart’s hiring.

You figured a coaching change couldn’t get any more screwed up than the procedure Oliver Luck put in motion to replace Stewart, a firing that would linger for a year, that would create an untenable situation on the staff and that was both costly and ultra embarrassing.

As it turned out, however, that was only the warm-up act for the headliner in coaching changes, that which has transpired 80 miles up north, where the University of Pittsburgh turned its coaching change into a chain reaction of screw-ups.

It seemed simple enough when it started; Dave Wannstedt was to be fired. True a year earlier he was one point shy of playing in a BCS bowl and had a number of excuses why he couldn’t match that performance this year when he went with a first-year quarterback, lost the co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year in Greg Romeus, had the nation’s leading returning rusher, Dion Lewis, get off to bad start in 2010.

But coaches get fired. That’s the nature of the beast. It was set up that Wannstedt would coach his team in Saturday’s BBVA Compass Bowl in Mobile, Ala., against Kentucky, then leave.

Pitt ran a by-the-book search for a replacement, came up with Michael Haywood out of Miami of Ohio and all seemed well with the world until Haywood was arrested for felony domestic violence.

Ooops. Never mind.

Haywood was fired.

Another search was launched … a search for a towel to wipe the egg off Pitt’s face as it looked for another coach.

In the midst of all this Wannstedt stepped forward and in a grippingly emotional press conference addressed matters that should matter but don’t any long – loyalty, pride, love of school – in announcing he would not coach the bowl game.

“I would like to say emphatically that this university means more to me than any institution that I’ve ever been part of,” he said. “I am a Pitt guy. I am a Pittsburgh guy. I always have been and I always will be,” he said, holdly firmly to the podium that stood before him and fighting back tears.

“There have been a lot of coaches here before me. There will be a lot of coaches after me. But I can assure you one thing: None of them have loved this university or will love this university more than Dave Wannstedt.”

“I grew up here and if you grew up here or if you have an understanding of what this community is all about, if you know the people who made this city what it is, two words come to mind: loyalty and pride,” he continued.

“If you’re a Pittsburgher, you’re loyal, you handle yourself with pride — pride in your family, pride in who you are and pride in where you’re from.”

The words were from the heart and they rang a bell about what the world is supposed to be like, that put football in its place, which is a diversion that has grown into a heartless monster that is out of hand. The good human qualities mean little or nothing any longer for it is all about win, win, win and attendance and ratings and revenue.

This is not to say that is unimportant, but college football has reached the stage where it sells “good old State U” as something you should buy into while it will sell out its faithful for some gunslinger from another part of the world who has done no more than passed a background check and, in some cases, won a few football games.

In the end, it is going to devour itself because it has lost sight of the really important things in life, none of which involves winning football games.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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