Long finally gets his first choice
Pitt athletic director Jeff Long got his man, but it took some drama before Dave Wannstedt agreed to become the 34th head coach in Panthers history.
Wannstedt removed his name from consideration early, but had a change of heart this past Tuesday. Long then swooped in and ultimately led Wannstedt back to his alma mater.
In retrospect, Long believes he came on too strong the first time he contacted Wannstedt about the job.
“I called him and said, Let’s get this going, let’s get this done,'” Long said yesterday, just minutes after Wannstedt was named the successor to Stanford-bound Walt Harris. “I was probably a little too exuberant in trying to get Dave here.”
Long, though, said he always kept Wannstedt in the back of his mind, even as he conducted interviews with at least five candidates, including Pitt defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads, Oklahoma defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, Carolina Panthers defensive line coach Sal Sunseri, New York Giants defensive coordinator Tim Lewis and Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Tim Lewis.
Long said he was close to choosing between two candidates, presumably Rhoads and Cavanaugh, before Wannstedt called and said he was ready to take the job.
“I felt we would hire a quality coach after this search,” Long said, pointing out that several other candidates could have capably filled the vacancy. “But I think Dave Wannstedt was the best coach to come out of this search.”
Long, who’s been on the job for less than two years, tapped into his knowledge as a former college football player and coach and rolled up his sleeves in seeking Harris’ successor. He wasn’t shy about going after men who place a strong emphasis on defense and controlling the ball on offense.
“There is a certain style I wanted here,” he said. “I wasn’t interested in a coach who would bring in an alternative offense like the wishbone. I was looking for someone I believe can run successful offenses – one-back, two back. That’s the offense I wanted. And I wanted a hard-nosed, run-stopping defense.”
Wannstedt, the former head coach of the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears, is renowned for his attention to defense and running the ball.
“Defense wins championships,” Long said. “That’s been prove out in the NFL and in college.”
When Long ventured out on his quest for a coach 12 days ago, he did not follow a set-in-stone blueprint. He tapped into his football-playing instincts.
“I made a comment to chancellor (Mark) Nordenberg that I know what (a coach) looks like, talks like and how they act,” Long said. “That’s probably too general, but I certainly felt that I had the knowledge of what it would take to find a coach who would be successful here. … I had certain questions I asked, and I wanted to get the right answers.”
In the end, he got the right man (he hopes) in Wannstedt.
“He was always the top choice,” Long said. “He is the right fit for this program.”