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January 6, 2011

Pitt launches 2nd coach search

Pitt is looking for a head football coach — again — following its Jan. 1 firing of recently hired coach Michael A. Haywood after he was arrested in South Bend, Ind., on a domestic battery charge.

Michael Haywood

Michael Haywood

Haywood, who coached the Miami University (Ohio) RedHawks the past two seasons, was named successor to Dave Wannstedt Dec. 16 by Steve Pederson, director of Athletics. Wannstedt resigned Dec. 6 after six seasons as head coach and was named special assistant to Pederson.

According to court documents provided by Michael A. Dvorak, St. Joseph County (Ind.) prosecutor, Haywood, 46, was arrested New Year’s Eve and charged with assaulting Beth A. Marriott, the mother of his 21-month-old child, in the presence of the child, a class D felony.

The police report alleges that following an argument, Haywood “wrapped his arm around the neck of Beth A. Marriott and threw her backwards, resulting in bodily injury, to wit … dark red marks on her neck and lower face/jaw area.”

Haywood posted $1,000 cash bond and was released Jan. 1. He was arraigned in South Bend on Jan. 3, Dvorak’s office said. The attending magistrate entered a not guilty plea on Haywood’s behalf and ordered him not to have any contact with the woman. The magistrate scheduled another hearing for Jan. 11 to establish a court date.

If convicted, Haywood could be sentenced to 6-18 months in jail, Dvorak said.

In a prepared statement Jan. 1, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said in part, “After careful consideration of recent events, the University of Pittsburgh has dismissed Michael Haywood as its head football coach, effective immediately.

“To be clear, the University’s decision is not tied to any expectation with respect to the terms on which the legal proceeding now pending in Indiana might ultimately be concluded. Instead, it reflects a strong belief that moving forward with Mr. Haywood as our head coach is not possible under the existing circumstances.”

Nordenberg continued, “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. We will immediately re-open our search for a head football coach, expanding the process to include a larger pool of candidates. Our goal is to move swiftly, but prudently, to find the right person to successfully lead the Pitt football program for what we hope will be an extended period of time.”

Despite some calls for Pederson’s ouster, a spokesperson said he continues to have the support of Pitt’s administration. Senior associate athletics director 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.”

In announcing Haywood’s hiring Dec. 16, Pederson said, “From my very first meeting with Michael Haywood, it was obvious that the qualities he exhibited were in line with the values of this great University. … Most importantly, Michael is a man of character and integrity and will be an inspirational leader for our football program.”

At a Jan. 3 press conference, Wannstedt announced he would not coach the Panthers Jan. 8  when they play Kentucky in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.

Pitt defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has been named acting head coach for the bowl game. Bennett joined the Panthers after serving as head coach at Southern Methodist University, 2002-07.

Pederson issued the following statement on Jan. 3: “Phil Bennett has been a head coach, is respected by the players and staff and will do a fine job leading the Pitt football team in Birmingham. We are fortunate to have someone with Phil’s talents available to assume this role.”

On Jan. 3, Rutgers announced that it had hired Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. as its offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Cignetti is the second member of the coaching staff to take a job at Rutgers, joining former secondary coach Jeff Hafley who accepted a similar position at the New Jersey school.

Haywood previously had announced he was not retaining any of the current Pitt coaches and planned to bring several of his assistants at Miami University with him. Published reports that none of his former assistant coaches had signed a contract with Pitt were unconfirmed. “As that is a personnel matter, we will decline comment,” Borghetti told the University Times this week.

A number of Wannstedt’s 18 high school recruits are reconsidering their verbal commitment to attend Pitt. Feb. 2 is national letter of intent signing day, the first day recruits can commit to a school in a legally binding manner.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 43 Issue 9

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