Pittsburgh 52, UCF 7 - October 13, 2006 (photos courtesy of Associated Press)
The Pitt football program's stock continues to rise under the direction of Dave Wannstedt, who enters his sixth year as head coach of the Panthers.
Wannstedt's tenure at his alma mater has been marked by unmistakable progress and achievement. The 2009 season was the latest example of Pitt's ascendance under his direction. Among the highlights:
The Panthers finished with a 10-3 record, cappefd by an exciting 19-17 victory over North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. It was the program's winningest campaign since 1981.
Pitt's 10 victories secured a final national ranking of No. 15 in both polls, the Panthers' highest final listing since 1982.
Over the past two seasons, Pitt has produced 19 wins, the second highest total in the Big East Conference and among the top 25 nationally.
On an individual level, Pitt players again were recognized among the very best in all of college football. Tight end Dorin Dickerson earned first team All-America honors from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA), the third player in the past four seasons under Wannstedt to earn that prestigious accolade.
Tailback Dion Lewis was the most decorated freshman in the country after rushing for 1,799 yards last year. Lewis was named the national freshman of the year by Sporting News and CBS Sports. Additionally, he earned Big East Offensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year honors from the league's coaches.
On the other side of the ball, defensive end Greg Romeus and defensive tackle Mick Williams shared the Big East Defensive Player of the Year honor, the first time in the league's history a pair of teammates received the award in the same season.
All indications are that this success is just the beginning for the Panthers. With Wannstedt's recent string of strong recruiting classes, and the infusion of a winning culture at Pitt, the Panthers appear primed to continue their rise.
A winning brand of football is nothing new to Wannstedt. The 35-year coaching veteran has been part of 12 bowl teams as a collegiate coach, including two undefeated national champions -- the 1976 Pitt Panthers and 1987 Miami Hurricanes. In total his 19 years of collegiate coaching experience include 13 winning campaigns and a 147-74-4 record.
On the professional level, Wannstedt was part of six NFL playoff teams and a Super Bowl champion (the 1992 Dallas Cowboys).
Although his professional travels have taken him all over the country, Wannstedt has always considered Pittsburgh his home.
When Wannstedt speaks about Pitt and Pittsburgh, there is an unmistakable strength of conviction. He owns not one but two degrees from the University of Pittsburgh. He is a living, breathing example of a Pitt education and Pitt football.
"There might be no other coach in the country who knows the very soil beneath him better than `Wanny,'" CBSSports.com senior writer Dennis Dodd said. "Wannstedt's blood and sweat literally stain the grass at his alma mater."
"I wouldn't want to do this job anywhere else," Wannstedt said. "I love Pitt and I love the city of Pittsburgh."
The scene outside of Wannstedt's office windows in the Pitt football practice facility provides a view that is uniquely Pittsburgh and totally fitting for the Panthers' head coach.
The immediate view is to the east, where in the foreground the Panthers' lush grass practice fields capture the eye.
Just beyond the green fields sit steel mills, a reminder of the city's industrial heritage and, for decades, the economic lifeblood of the region.
A gaze back to the west and one can soak in Pittsburgh's breathtaking skyline. The skyscrapers now symbolize the "new Pittsburgh," the former steel city that has evolved into a thriving center for corporations, medicine and higher education.
Although he spent most of the last three decades residing outside of Pittsburgh, these views still remain familiar and comforting for Wannstedt.
He, too, once worked during the summers in the mills that inhabited a stretch of land located off Pittsburgh's Second Avenue. Wannstedt would labor alongside his father, Frank, and then head to old Pitt Stadium to pump a different kind of iron in the Panthers' weight room in preparation for the upcoming season.
Each of these scenes -- the football fields, steel mills and the city -- are embedded in Wannstedt. "Pittsburgh never really left me," he said. "It's always been a special place in my heart."
That is why, more than 30 years after captaining the Panthers' 1973 Fiesta Bowl team, Wannstedt was the perfect choice to lead the University of Pittsburgh's football program. He was named Pitt's 34th head coach on December 23, 2004."This opportunity is something I have dreamed about since my early days at Pitt, " said Wannstedt, a native of Balwin, Pa.
A rugged offensive tackle for the Panthers from 1970-73, Wannstedt returned to his alma mater with three decades of highly accomplished coaching experience on the collegiate level and in the National Football League. His career has produced three championship rings, including a Super Bowl title and two national collegiate championships.
These days, Wannstedt only wears his Pitt 1976 national championship ring. "Our players and prospects should know that I was part of the greatest team Pitt ever had," he said. "I take pride in that."
A "Pitt Man" through and through, Wannstedt has served as a bridge to the program's past -- the visits by former players and alumni have reached unprecedented levels -- as he is driving the Panthers strongly into the future.
"Dave is a Pitt guy," said Mike Ditka, an All-America end for the Panthers before he went on to a Hall of Fame playing and coaching career in the NFL. "Dave has a commitment to this university. The excitement created since Dave came back probably hasn't happened in, what, 20 years? Dave is the right guy to lead this program. He's a young guy with a lot of enthusiasm and he's really proud to be a Pittsburgh guy."
In 2006, Wannstedt and his wife Jan gave a $250,000 gift to the University of Pittsburgh to endow a football scholarship.
"As a high school senior growing up in Baldwin, I was provided with the life-changing opportunity to receive an outstanding education and play major-college football due to a scholarship," Wannstedt said. "We want to be able to help provide those same opportunities for both current and future generations of student-athletes."Wannstedt has clear cut goals and standards for each young man who signs with the Panthers.
"The first and most important goal we have for our players is for them to earn their degree from this outstanding institution," Wannstedt said. "That degree is a life-changing achievement. Secondly, if a young man aspires to play professional football, we are going to work hard to give him all the tools -- physically, mentally and personally -- that can help his dream become a reality."
"Ultimately, the University of Pittsburgh will mean more to you than just four years of school and football. Even after your last class and final game, your Pitt experience will continue to influence and inspire everything you do as a person, professional and citizen. There's a reason people from this university have helped change our world in so many positive ways. That's the power of Pitt."
Wannstedt rejoined the college ranks after spending the prior 16 years in the NFL. Eleven of those years were as a head coach, including six with the Chicago Bears (1993-98) and five with the Miami Dolphins (2000-04).
It all began, though, in Pittsburgh, where first he was a star at Baldwin High and later played a key role in Pitt football's resurgence in the 1970s.
"Dave was such a leader," said Jim Gilloolly, his high school football coach. "Dave would scramble up the side of the hill on all fours, in the weeds and the brush, to get in shape. He made a big W-A-N-N in the side of the hill. That became part of our drill, the Wannstedt Drill. Even after Dave was gone."
Wannstedt was a three-sport star for Baldwin in football, basketball and track and field. He earned all-state in football and played in the prestigious Big 33 Classic all-star game. Wannstedt captained both the Highlanders' football and basketball squads before graduating in 1970.
Earning a scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh, he played on the freshman team during the '70 season (freshmen were then not eligible for varsity competition) and earned a starting job as just a sophomore.
John Majors took over as head coach at Pitt for Wannstedt's senior year and led the team to a 6-4-1 regular season and Fiesta Bowl berth. The '73 campaign was the launching pad for Pitt's juggernaut success the rest of the decade that included a 55-15-1 mark (.782), a national championship and five bowls over the next six years. Wannstedt was one of the '73 team's unsung heroes, providing tough blocking from his left tackle spot. His efforts helped a young back named Tony Dorsett rush for 1,686 yards.
Although he was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the 1974 draft, a neck injury cut short Wannstedt's pro aspirations. He returned to Pitt and started his coaching career as a graduate assistant under Majors in 1975 and 1976.
"I knew he had big things ahead of him," Majors said. "You could see it and sense it. He was self-motivated and tough. He was fierce, and everyone around him respected him. He did things the right way, with hard work and dedication. I never had to worry about him. I also saw other players watching how he conducted himself and gravitating to him. That's why he is a great football coach -- people see how much the game means to him, how hard he works."
When Majors departed following the undefeated '76 national title season, Wannstedt served under Jackie Sherrill at Pitt in 1977 and 1978, coaching receivers and special teams.
His four years on the Panthers' staff witnessed three Top 15 national rankings, a combined 37-10-1 record (.781) and bowl invites each season. "You knew he had the talent to be a coach," Sherrill said. "Just the way he handled himself, the confidence he had, the way he handled other players."
The talent evident at Pitt launched Wannstedt into a coaching career that took him from his hometown to destinations all over the country, including a pair of NFL head coaching jobs.
During Wannstedt's head coaching tenure with the Dolphins, Miami was one of just three NFL teams from 2000-03 to record nine or more victories each year.
The Dolphins' 41-23 mark during that span tied for the club's best four-year record in nearly 20 seasons. Miami captured the AFC East Division championship in 2000 with an 11-5 record.
The Dolphins' defense that season ranked third in the NFL in points allowed (a franchise-low 226 points) and led the league with 28 interceptions. He joined the Dolphins in 1999 as assistant head coach under Jimmy Johnson.
Johnson, now an NFL analyst with FOX, and Wannstedt first teamed up together at Pitt. (Johnson was the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator under Sherrill before moving on as head coach at Oklahoma State.) The pair became fast friends at Pittsburgh and Johnson ultimately would tap Wannstedt as a top lieutenant at four stops, including Oklahoma State, the University of Miami, the Dallas Cowboys and with the Dolphins.
Wannstedt concluded his Chicago Bears tenure as the third-winningest coach in the franchise's history with 41 victories. In 1994, he was named the NFC Coach of the Year by UPI and Football News after directing Chicago back to the playoffs following a three-year hiatus. Wannstedt additionally was among the top three finishers for NFL Coach of the Year honors that season by The Associated Press, Pro Football Writers, The Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly and Football Digest. The Bears were the NFL's least-penalized team for two consecutive seasons (1994-95) under his watch.
From 1989-92, Wannstedt was part of a dramatic revitalization of the Dallas Cowboys as defensive coordinator and, in his final season, assistant head coach. His tenure witnessed Dallas' transformation from a 1-15 team to Super Bowl champions in just three years. Wannstedt's 1992 defense was the NFL's youngest but went on to lead the league in total defense, allowing just 245.7 yards per game. The '92 season was punctuated with the Cowboys' 52-17 demolition of Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVII as his defense forced nine turnovers. In 1990, Wannstedt's role in Dallas' revival earned him NFL Assistant Coach of the Year honors.
Prior to Dallas, Wannstedt spent three years as the defensive coordinator of the Miami Hurricanes. From 1986-88, Miami went 34-2 (.944) and won the 1987 national championship with a 12-0 record. During his tenure, the Hurricanes held opponents to just 2.2 yards per rush, gave up only 10.9 points per game and averaged 48 sacks per year. Wannstedt's defenses produced 11 NFL draft selections, including five taken in the initial two rounds.
Wannstedt's other collegiate stops included Southern California (1983-85) and Oklahoma State (1979-82). As defensive line coach at USC, he helped the Trojans capture the 1984 Pacific-10 championship and a subsequent 20-17 win over Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. Wannstedt was also the defensive line coach at Oklahoma State his initial three years before elevating to defensive coordinator in 1982.
Wannstedt is a 1974 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. He also earned his master's from Pitt in 1976. The Pitt Varsity Letter Club in 1999 named him an Awardee of Distinction for his professional and personal accomplishments following his graduation from the university. In 1990, Wannstedt was inducted into the Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, becoming the youngest person to receive the honor.
Wannstedt and his wife Jan have two daughters, Keri and Jami, and a grandson. Keri and her husband Mike Drew welcomed a son, Connor David, on Sept. 28, 2007.
Personal Information Born: 5/21/52
Hometown: Baldwin, Pa.
Alma Mater: University of Pittsburgh B.S. '74, M.Ed. '76
Family: Wannstedt and his wife Jan have two daughters, Keri and Jami. Keri and her husband Mike Drew gave the Wannstedts their first grandchild, Connor David Drew, on Sept. 28, 2007.
College Coaching Experience & Highlights
Years/Position: 1975-76, graduate assistant; 1977-78, receivers and special teams.
Highlights: Pitt advances to bowl games each season of his four-year tenure, winning three...finishes in the nation's Top 15 three times and the Top 10 twice...Pitt wins the 1976 national championship with a 12-0 record...Panthers' compile 37-10-1 four-year mark (.781).
Years/Position: 1979-81, defensive line; 1982, defensive coordinator.
Highlights: Helped OSU earn its first bowl invite in five years (1981 Independence Bowl).
Years/Position: 1983-85, defensive line.
Highlights: USC earned two bowl berths...Trojans finish in the Top 10 in 1984 following a 9-3 record and Rose Bowl victory over Ohio State (20-17).
Years/Position: 1986-88, defensive coordinator.
Highlights: Miami compiles a three-year record of 34-2 (.944)...advances to three New Year's Day bowl games (1987 Fiesta, 1988 and 1989 Orange)...wins the 1987 national title with a 12-0 mark...UM's defense holds opponents to three-year averages of 2.2 yards/rush and 10.9 points/game.
Years/Position: 2005-present, head coach.
Highlights: Named head coach on Dec. 23, 2004...becomes the 34th coach in program's history and ninth Pitt graduate to lead the Panthers...Pitt wins 19 games over the 2008-09 seasons, the second highest victory total in the Big East and one of the top 25 nationally over that stretch...the 2009 Panthers go 10-3 (Pitt's highest win total since 1981), including a victory over North Carolina in the Meineke Care Car Bowl, and finish with a No. 15 national ranking (highest since 1982)...produces three first team All-Americans in four years, including linebackers H.B. Blades in 2006, Scott McKillop in 2008 and tight end Dorin Dickerson in 2009...tailback Dion Lewis is college football's most decorated freshman in 2009, earning National Freshman of the Year honors from Sporting News and CBS Sports...Pitt has consecutive first-round NFL Draft choices in cornerback Darrelle Revis (New York Jets) and Jeff Otah (Carolina Panthers, 2008).
NFL Coaching Experience & Highlights:
Years/Position: 1989-92, defensive coordinator; 1992, assistant head coach.
Highlights: Dallas wins Super Bowl XXVII, defeating Buffalo, 52-17...named 1990 NFL Assistant Coach of the Year.
Years/Position: 1993-98, head coach.
Highlights: Finishes as third-winningest coach in Bears' history...named 1994 NFC Coach of the Year by UPI and Football News.
Years/Position: 1999, assistant head coach; 2000-04, head coach.
Highlights: 2000 AFC East champs with 11-5 mark...named 2000 NFL Coach of the Year by FOX's Terry Bradshaw (annual "Terry Awards")...Wannstedt's 41-23 mark from 2000-03 ranked fifth among all NFL coaches...one of only three teams from 2000-03 to win nine or more games each season...2000 & 2001 Florida Sports Awards Pro Coach of the Year.
Playing Experience & Highlights
Offensive tackle for Pitt from 1970-73...three-year starter...captained Pitt's 1973 Fiesta Bowl team, John Major's first year at Pittsburgh...vital cog on the offensive front, helping freshman RB Tony Dorsett rush for 1,686 yards in '73...selected by Green Bay in the 1974 NFL Draft before a neck injury ended his pro aspirations...an all-state player at Baldwin H.S. and played in the prestigious Big 33 Classic all-star game...also was a basketball and track and field standout at Baldwin.
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