Will Pitt become Pat Narduzzi’s destination job?

Not since John Michelosen in the late ’60s has a head football coach stayed at Pitt for as long as a decade. I’m not one of those that believe current head coach Pat Narduzzi will stay very long either, but one never knows.

The article I wrote back in 2014 was originally published  at: http://www.groundreport.com/will-pitt-become-narduzzis-destination-job-2/

The University of Pittsburgh recently hired Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator at Michigan State University, to be their latest football head coach. Narduzzi was widely considered the best candidate for the job and along those lines, it has to be considered a home run hire – for now.

Narduzzi is the Panthers eighth head coach since 2010. Since 2010, Pitt has the had the following head coaches: Dave Wannstedt, Phil Bennett, Mike Haywood, Todd Graham, Keith Patterson, Paul Chryst, Joe Rudolph and now Narduzzi. That is eight head coaches in five years. Kim Kardashian’s marriages last longer. If anything, Pitt football needs stability.

Some mistakenly thought that Chryst was going to provide that stability but there was never a doubt that his dream job was going back home to Wisconsin and coaching his alma mater. It wasn’t a matter of if but when. Bear Bryant said upon why he left a successful Texas A&M program to go coach at Alabama, “Mama called.” Well, that was the case with Chryst. He is from Wisconsin, played at Wisconsin and coached at Wisconsin.

Many Pitt fans and alumni were hoping that Pitt would hire someone who would make Pitt his “destination” job. Usually those who reach their destination job are from the local area, and/or played for that school and possibly coached there or that person would be at an age where this would be his last stop of his coaching career and not lured by the temptation of going to a bigger college football program or on to the NFL.

Pitt has someone who met those criteria in Wannstedt. Pitt would have likely been Wannstedt’s destination job. From nearby Baldwin, PA, Wannstedt played football at Pitt and later was an assistant coach at Pitt and coached on a national championship team at Miami and then on Super Bowl winning teams in Dallas. He would go on to become the head coach for the Chicago Bears and later the Miami Dolphins. Wannstedt had the lure of a bigger college football program and the  NFL behind him.

Few can argue that Pitt underachieved under Wannstedt and that is when Pitt’s coaching carousel began, and everyone knows a carousel goes round-and-round but never gets anywhere.

Being very successful as defensive coordinator at Michigan State, many believe that Narduzzi will succeed Mark Dantonio as head coach at Michigan State once Dantonio retires.  Dantonio, 58, had a heart attack in 2010, and one wonders how much longer Dantonio will endure the stress and rigors of being a head coach of a major college football program. Pitt may be setting itself up again as a stepping stone football program.

Pitt has not had a head coach last longer than 10 years since John Michelosen’s last year in 1965. It does not happen often, but sometimes a school that no one would consider a destination job can become one if they find the right individual.

The key components are timing, opportunity, personal satisfaction and finding someone who finds the grass on his side green enough for him to stay, and of course, continued success.

In his press conference Narduzzi said about Pitt, “I wouldn’t call it a destination job.” But before Pitt fans become alarmed, would anyone have considered Wisconsin a destination school before Barry Alvarez took over?

In the five years before Alvarez took over as head coach of the Badgers, Wisconsin won only 14 games. Alvarez, originally from nearby Washington County in Pennsylvania, would coach for 16 years and then remain at Wisconsin as Athletic Director.

In the 18 years before Texas native Hayden Fry found his destination job at Iowa, the Hawkeyes won only 53 games. Iowa became Fry’s destination job and would go on to coach there for 20 years.

Would anyone have considered Florida State a destination job before Bobby Bowden? In the three years prior to Bowden’s arrival in Tallahassee, the Seminoles won a grand total of four games. Bowden, originally from Alabama, would be head coach at Florida State for 34 years.

Former West Virginia head coach Don Nehlen, who like Narduzzi is from Ohio, spent 21 years as the Mountaineers head coach. West Virginia became Nehlen’s destination job.

Pitt fans certainly hope that Narduzzi will be successful and Pitt becomes his destination job, but just in case, they better hope that Dantonio’s heart holds out at Michigan State.

John Baranowski is a Sports Historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites.

Pitt Football in the ACC: How do the Panthers stack up?

When Pitt was about to join the Atlantic Coast Conference I wrote about Pitt’s chances for success in football after playing in the Big East Conference which was often called the Big Least Conference.

My article from 2013 was originally published at: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1592151-pitt-football-in-the-acc-how-do-the-panthers-stack-up

You probably have heard the investment disclaimer, “Past performance may not be indicative of future results.” When it comes to the University of Pittsburgh football team’s move this year into the Atlantic Coast Conference from the Big East Conference, Pitt fans certainly hope that’s the case.

For much of the past three decades, Pitt’s football team has not played up to expectations.

Moving from the Big East to the ACC certainly doesn’t bode well for Pitt’s fortunes, as the ACC is a step up in terms of quality of play. Since 2004, the ACC has had three or more teams finish ranked in the top 25 seven times, the Big East only twice.

Photo credit: Thomson20192 via Visualhunt /  CC BY

John Baranowski is a Sports Historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites.

Want to Win a Super Bowl – Better have a Hall of Fame Quarterback

Looking back at past Super Bowls, one can easily see that many teams that won a Super Bowl were quarterbacked by a future Hall of Fame quarterback. Now does winning a Super Bowl help that quarterback get considered for the Hall of Fame? Certainly, but in many cases the Super Bowl victory just cemented that quarterback’s selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The article I wrote back in 2013 was originally published at:  http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1466338-want-to-win-a-super-bowl-better-have-a-hall-of-fame-quarterback

One can make the argument that winning a Super Bowl helps a quarterback’s chances of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

No one can deny that.

But, conversely, it certainly helps your team’s chances to win a Super Bowl if you have a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback. That’s why the pick here is Denver vs. Green Bay in the Super Bowl. That was my pick at the beginning of the year, and I see no reason not to stick with it.

It’s now a quarterback’s game.

John Elway and Denver Broncos management wanted to go beyond just making the playoffs, realizing that it would take more than a Kyle Orton- or Tim Tebow-caliber quarterback to reach the Super Bowl. Elway knew the value of an elite quarterback, and he went out and got one in Peyton Manning, who has exceeded expectations thus far.

It’s not that complicated—unless you have a dominant defense and a superior running attack, you better have an elite quarterback if you want to win a Super Bowl.

One need only to look at Denver’s history to realize that to win a Super Bowl you better have a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback. In Super Bowl XII the Broncos made it to the Super Bowl on the strength of their Orange Crush defense, but in a matchup of quarterbacks the Cowboys’ Roger Staubach outplayed Denver’s Craig Morton. Staubach’s in the Hall of Fame, Morton is not. Remember recent Bronco quarterbacks Jake Plummer and Jay Cutler? Both were good quarterbacks but not elite quarterbacks and thus had zero Super Bowl appearances between them.

In all their other Super Bowl appearances Denver’s quarterback was Elway, and it wasn’t until he had Terrelle Davis at running back that was he able to win a Super Bowl.

Consider the Green Bay Packers, when they’ve made it to the Super Bowl their quarterbacks were Bart Starr, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. That’s why I’m picking the Packers over the San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC. Until Colin Kaepernick, Alex Smith or Matt Ryan prove otherwise I’ll take my chances with Rodgers and the Packers.

When the 49ers reached the Super Bowl their quarterbacks were Joe Montana and Steve Young both future Hall of Famers.

Sooner or later they’ll figure this out in Dallas too. When the Cowboys made it to their first Super Bowl it was with Craig Morton at the helm, but their Doomsday Defense actually carried the team. After that, they would get there with Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman, future Hall of Famers. Danny White was a good quarterback and Tony Romo is too, but they had zero Super Bowl appearances between them.

See a trend here?

Now I’m going to step out on a small limb and for this article’s statistical purposes, presume that Drew BreesEli Manning, Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Kurt Warner will all make the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

How important is it to have a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback in a Super Bowl? In this era of passing, it’s more important than ever. In the past nine Super Bowls a future Hall of Fame quarterback has led his team to victory. That streak began with Tom Brady in Super Bowl XXXVIII, followed by Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Brees and Rodgers. Brady, Roethlisberger and Eli each won more than one Super Bowl in that stretch of time.

In fact, 18 of the last 20 Super Bowls have been won by a future Hall of Fame quarterback, with the exceptions being Brad Johnson in Super Bowl XXXVII and Trent Dilfer in Super Bowl XXXV, but their teams had dominant defenses.

Overall, in 35 of the 46 Super Bowls the winning team possessed a Hall of Fame quarterback. Before Brady the list of those quarterbacks consisted of: Starr, Joe Namath, Len Dawson, Johnny Unitas, Staubach, Bob Griese, Terry Bradshaw, Montana, Aikman, Young, Favre, Elway and Warner.

In fact, in the past five Super Bowls both teams had a future Hall of Fame quarterback at the helm. The losing quarterbacks in those contests were: Brady (twice), Warner, Peyton Manning, and Roethlisberger. So now more than ever, it’s almost imperative you have a Hall of Fame quarterback to even get to the Super Bowl let alone win it.

How much has the game changed? In the first 35 Super Bowls only 12 times did Future Hall of Fame quarterbacks face each other. Back then a running game and a strong defense were emphasized more and often times that was enough for a team with merely a good or serviceable quarterback to reach the Super Bowl.

Only six of all the Super Bowls saw both teams with a starting quarterback who would not make the Hall of Fame. Those quarterbacks and Super Bowls were: Jim Plunkett and Ron Jaworski in Super Bowl XV, Joe Theismann and David Woodley in Super Bowl XVII, Plunkett and Theismann in Super Bowl XVIII, Jim McMahon and Tony Eason in Super Bowl XX, Dilfer and Kerry Collins in Super Bowl XXXV and Johnson and Rich Gannon in Super Bowl XXXVII.

Unlike those less-than-illustrious quarterback matchups, the premier Super Bowl duels of Hall of Fame quarterbacks in their prime (or close to it) sequentially were: Bradshaw and Staubach in Super Bowl XIII, Montana and Dan Marino in Super Bowl XIX, Montana and Elway in Super Bowl XXIV, Elway and Favre in Super Bowl XXXII, Eli Manning and Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLII, Brees and Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLIV and Eli Manning and Brady last year.

Unfortunately those marquee quarterback matchups didn’t always live up to the anticipation and pregame hype. I think this year’s duel between Manning and Rodgers will.

Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall via Visual Hunt /  CC BY-SA

John Baranowski is a Sports Historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites.

Third time the charm for Rex Ryan and the NY Jets? Don’t Count on it

History shows that the chances are slim for a pro football team to make a third consecutive conference championship game. After the New York Jets made it to two consecutive AFC championship games, I wrote about how slim their chances were. Turned out I was correct.

My article from 2011 was originally published at:  http://bleacherreport.com/articles/763232-third-time-the-charm-for-rex-ryan-and-the-new-york-jets-dont-count-on-it
If you haven’t heard by now, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan has, yet again, gone on record saying that the Jets will win the Super Bowl.

For the past two seasons, the Jets have been on the doorstep of the Super Bowl, losing in the AFC Championship game in 2010 to the Indianapolis Colts and in 2011 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

There have been quite a few teams over the years that have been “knocking on the door” of the Super Bowl one year and then “banging on that door” the next, but failed “to kick the dang thing in.”

Just ask Bum Phillips, although Bum said it with a bit more color. Phillips’ Houston Oilers teams of 1978 and 1979 may have been denied a Lombardi trophy, or perhaps two, as they lost consecutive AFC championship games to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Cleveland Browns, under Marty Schottenheimer, lost back-to-back AFC title games in 1987 and 1988 in heartbreaking fashion to John Elway and the Denver Broncos in games that became known as The Drive and The Fumble. Two years later, Cleveland again made it to the AFC Championship Game in 1990, only to lose to the Broncos again.

The Browns haven’t been that far since.

Don Coryell’s high scoring San Diego Chargers teams of 1980 and 1981 made back-to-back AFC title games, losing to the Oakland Raiders and then the Cincinnati Bengals. Coryell never got that far again.

The 1970 and 1971 San Francisco 49ers knew Super Bowl doorstep frustration, losing consecutive NFC Championship Games to the Dallas Cowboys. The 49ers wouldn’t return to the NFC title game for a decade. Then coach Bill Walsh and quarterback Joe Montana led the Niners past the Dallas Cowboys in 1982 in the game that became known as The Catch.

In fact, it’s not unusual for a team to lose three consecutive conference title games. The Oakland Raiders lost three consecutive AFC Championship Games in 1974, 1975 and 1976 before finally winning one and making it to the Super Bowl.

The Los Angeles Rams teams lost three straight NFC Championship Games from 1975-1977 and another in 1979 before finally making it to the Super Bowl in 1980.

Most recently, the Philadelphia Eagles, under head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb, lost three straight NFC Championship Games from 2002 to 2004 before finally winning one.

It remains to be seen if the Jets will be as hungry during this regular season as they were last year. The NFL isn’t like the NBA or the NHL, where just about every team makes the playoffs and one can coast during the regular season.

Any lack of intensity for even one or two games by the Jets could result in an upset, and could be the difference between home field advantage in the playoffs and even making the playoffs.

So this is a memo to Rex and New York Jets fans: You may think your team is due to get to the Super Bowl after getting so close two years in a row, but don’t count on it.

Photo credit: Marianne O'Leary via VisualHunt.com /  CC BY

John Baranowski is a Sports Historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites.

Baseball HOF Voting – Some Writers don’t deserve the privilege

You would think being a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame would be taken seriously by those that vote for players. For some, it’s a downright joke. How can all-time greats like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Stan Musial and other all-time greats not be unanimously voted into the Hall of Fame?

Conversely, some voters have voted for players who don’t even belong on the ballot for consideration. They are making a mockery of the process.

I wrote about this back in 2015. My article from 2015 was published at: http://www.groundreport.com/baseball-hall-of-fame-voting-some-writers-dont-deserve-the-privilege/

As it happens every summer, for one weekend in July, the eyes of the baseball world will turn to Cooperstown, New York, for Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. After the ceremonies, thoughts will turn to next year’s candidates and Ken Griffey, Jr., who was elected to Major League Baseball’s All-Century team in 1999, will be up for Hall-of-Fame induction in 2016.

Griffey, before Barry Bonds started rubbing flaxseed oil all over himself (which made Bonds’ head grow, who knew?), was the greatest player of his generation, and certainly the greatest “clean”, i.e. drug and steroid-free player of his generation. When one is selected to Major League Baseball’s All-Century team as Griffey was, and with his unquestioned character, is there any reason for any baseball writer to not vote Griffey in on his first year of eligibility?

Griffey should be elected by a unanimous vote, but don’t count on it. Despite not having a valid reason, some baseball writers will not vote for Griffey on their Hall of Fame ballot. Inexplicably, 16 writers did not vote for Greg Maddux for the Baseball Hall of Fame on this year’s ballot.  No baseball player, no matter how great, not Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Henry Aaron or Willie Mays, has ever been voted in unanimously. Mind boggling isn’t it?

Bill Conlin, who covered sports for the Philadelphia Daily News, was only one of six writers out of 497 to not vote for Nolan Ryan on his 1999 Hall of Fame ballot because he did not consider him among the elite of all-time pitching greats. Six out of 497! I guess it didn’t matter that Ryan is the all-time leader in strikeouts and no-hitters by a significant margin. Conlin and five other writers thought differently than their 491 counterparts.

Another line of thinking by some writers is that since no player has ever been voted in unanimously, that no one should. Trying to right a wrong with another wrong to make a right is wrong. In math terms, one wrong plus another wrong does not equal a right. It simply equals greater wrongdoing. In other words, a stupid act plus another stupid act equals further stupidity.

When you think of all-time great shortstops in baseball history, Honus Wagner immediately comes to mind followed by Cal Ripken. Ripken, also one of baseball’s greatest ambassadors ever, inexplicably was not voted into the Hall of Fame unanimously. One would think that arguably the second greatest player ever at his position would be voted in unanimously. Amazingly, eight baseball writers out of 545 did not think Ripken worthy of being voted in on his first ballot, which is utterly ridiculous.

How many voters will leave Derek Jeter off their ballot when he becomes eligible for induction in five years?

It is an honor and a privilege to be a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame and that responsibility should not be taken lightly. That vote helps determine a player’s legacy and helps define the sport’s history and its greatest players. It is not the time for a writer to make a statement or to self-promote himself and upstage the Hall of Fame and the sport itself. Write a column if you want to make a statement and not deny someone obviously worthy of a first ballot vote.

When you hear the name of hall of famers such as Stan Musial, Mays, or Aaron, the thought of what great players they were and unquestionably amongst baseball’s all-time greats should immediately come to mind.

Musial, winner of six batting titles, had a .331 lifetime batting average and 3,630 hits (4th all-time), and was a record 24-time All-Star, yet 23 voters did not vote for him in 1969 when he was on the ballot for induction. Twenty three voters! At the time of his retirement, Musial held of shared 17 major league records, 29 National League records and nine All-Star Game records. What possible reason could any writer not vote Musial in on his first year of eligibility?

Twenty-three voters did not vote for Mays, the greatest all-around baseball player of all-time, when he was eligible for induction. Aaron retired as the all-time home run and runs batted in leader, and yet was left off nine ballots. That is comparable to having an Art Hall of Fame and not voting for Michelangelo. When 97.8% of your counterparts are voting for Aaron and nine writers do not vote for a true all-time great of the game, it is no longer a question or whether the player is worthy or not, but for what reason are they not voting for him. For a writer not to vote for someone obviously first ballot worthy, and without a valid reason, then their voting privilege should be revoked.

Twenty writers did not for Ted Williams, arguably the greatest hitter of all-time, in 1966 when he was on the ballot. Sixteen baseball writers left Johnny Bench, arguably the greatest catcher in the history of the game, off the ballot in 1989. How could 13 voters out of 545 not vote for eight-time batting champion Tony Gwynn? Gwynn’s lifetime batting average is a remarkable .338.

If asked who was baseball’s greatest third baseman years ago many might of said Brooks Robinson, and then Mike Schmidt started to change a lot of people’s minds about that. If you are that good that you’re in the conversation of being the best ever at your position, shouldn’t everyone vote you into the Hall of Fame? Yet, 16 writers out of 460 did not think so in 1995 for Schmidt.

Eleven voters did not vote for Honus Wagner back in 1936, that very same number that did not vote for Ruth! Cy Young, the all-time wins leader with 511, got less than half the writers’ votes in 1936 and had to wait until the next year and barely got voted in. In 1974, there were 365 votes by writers and 43 of them did not feel Mickey Mantle was worthy of induction. Someone please enlighten me how Mantle was not worthy of the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

I am not saying that Griffey is better than Mays, Ruth, etc., or even more deserving of being the first unanimous first ballot electee into baseball’s hall of fame, but he is unquestionably a first ballot hall of famer. To not vote him on the first ballot would be a terrible mistake. It is time to stop repeating egregious mistakes.

As idiotic as it is to not vote for someone who should be an automatic first ballot Hall of Famer, it is also wrong to vote for someone who should not be considered for the Hall of Fame. That is a mockery of the system and an insult to the sport’s history. Those voters should be exposed.

There are many examples of this over the years. In 2010, David Segui, Kevin Appier, and Pat Hentgen all got one Hall of Fame vote, and Eric Karros got two. None of these players should be on the ballot much less receive a vote for the Hall of Fame.

In 2009, Jay Bell got two votes. In 2008, Chuck Finley and Todd Stottlemyre both got a vote. Who are these writers and what reasoning do they have to give such players a Hall of Fame vote? The writers should come out and explain the lunacy of their actions. In 2005, one writer, yes one writer out of 516 thought Terry Steinbach deserved to be in the Hall of Fame. That writer should have his voting privilege revoked.

When you think about players that are worthy of the Hall of Fame, one thinks of Ruth, Musial, Aaron and…..Grady Hatton? You never heard of Hatton? Me either, yet some writer voted for him in 1967. Hatton has a 12-year career beginning in 1946, had a lifetime batting average of .254 and hit 91 home runs, 533 RBIs, and 1,068 hits, which averages out to less than nine home runs a year, 44 runs batted in and 89 hits a season. This is Hall of Fame worthy?

These writers are belittling the process and the responsibility they have been given, and it is time their voting privilege be taken away for if no other reason than stupidity. Over the years, the numbers of voters has increased substantially. In 2007, there were 545 votes cast so eliminating those few writers who do not vote intelligently will not be missed at all.

I am not suggesting singleness of thought by all the baseball writers, but let’s be serious. Automatic first ballot hall of famers and those who have no business getting votes are easier to pick out than someone wearing scarlet and gray at a University of Michigan pep rally.

The American Sportscasters Association has been lobbying to let sportscasters vote for baseball’s Hall of Fame inductees. Boston Red Sox announcer Joe Castiglione has broadcast more than 5,000 games and cannot vote and once said he knew one writer that has not covered a game since 1972 and voted year after year.

I certainly would not advocate for fans to vote when it comes to who belongs in the Hall of Fame, but judging by how some baseball writers have voted over the years, they couldn’t do any worse.

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites.

Photo credit: candyschwartz via Visual hunt / CC BY


John Baranowski is a Sports Historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites.


The top 10 Pitt games at Heinz Field

Since Pitt began playing in Heinz Field in 2001, there have been some very memorable and exciting games.

My article from  2011 was originally published at:  http://bleacherreport.com/articles/823281-the-10-most-memorable-pitt-games-at-heinz-field

Since Heinz Field opened in 2001 there have been some great and memorable football games played there. In looking back at the past 10 years and the games Pitt has played there, a few things immediately come to mind: The two coaching regimes during that time for the Panthers, first Walt Harris and then Dave Wannstedt, the great skill players that Pitt has produced, the outstanding individual performances and the excitement and heartbreak of some of the most exciting games in Pitt football history.

Presenting the list of Pitt’s 10 most memorable games at Heinz Field…

Honorable Mention: October 26, 2002: Pitt 19 Boston College 16 in Overtime

1 OF 14

David Abdul kicked his fourth field goal of the day, a 42-yard field goal in overtime to lift the Pittsburgh Panthers over the Boston College Eagles. Pittsburgh quarterback Rod Rutherford finished 20-of-38 for 201 yards passing in the victory. The Eagles (4-3, 0-3) were led by Brian St. Pierre who completed 18-of-34 pass attempts for 179 yards with a touchdown.

The Panthers took a 10-3 lead in the first quarter when Rutherford connected with Larry Fitzgerald on a seven-yard touchdown pass.

The Eagles, trailing 13-6 at the start of the fourth quarter, scored 10 unanswered points to take a 16-13 lead.  Abdul knotted the affair at 16-16 when he kicked a 30-yard field goal with just five seconds left on the clock to send the game into overtime.

After Abdul had made his fourth field goal in overtime, Boston College kicker Sandro Sciortino had an opportunity to tie the game in the first extra session but his 39-yard kick missed wide left.

Honorable Mention: September 18, 2004 – Nebraska 24 Pitt 17

2 OF 14

Pitt Quarterback Tyler Palko threw for 228 yards on 22-of-45 passing and had a touchdown, but Pittsburgh fell to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, 24-17, before a crowd of 40,133 at Heinz Field.

Palko threw two interceptions in the first quarter and the Cornhuskers capitalized and jumped out to a 10-0 lead. The Panthers got on the board when Marcus Furman went 96 yards on a kickoff return to cut Nebraska’s lead to 10-7.

Nebraska would score twice in the second quarter and took a 24-10 lead into halftime.  A Palko to Greg Lee 34-yard scoring pass cut the Huskers lead to 24-17 with less than five minutes to go in the game.

Pitt got the ball back one last time and got inside Nebraska’s 20-yard line but on the game’s final play Palko’s last ditch pass was batted down in the end zone.

Honorable Mention: Nov. 28, 2008 Pitt 19 West Virginia 15

3 OF 14

Pitt running back LeSean McCoy rushed for a career-high 183 yards and scored his second touchdown with 52 seconds left to lift Pitt to a 19-15 win over West Virginia. McCoy carried the football on nine of 10 play game-winning 59-yard drive.

Pitt scored the game’s first touchdown in the first quarter on a 30-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Bill Stull to Derek Kinder. In the third quarter, West Virginia quarterback Pat White scored on a 54-yard run that put West Virginia ahead 12-7. Another Mountaineer field goal extended West Virginia’s lead to 15-7. McCoy would rush for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter which proved to be the difference in Pitt’s win over rival West Virginia.

Honorable Mention: October 16, 2004: Pitt 20 Boston College 17 in Overtime

4 OF 14

More so than the outcome, this one is remembered for one singular play and not even a scoring one at that. This game is remembered because Pitt sophomore quarterback Tyler Palko lowered a shoulder and got the better of Boston College cornerback Peter Shean on the sideline, knocking Shean’s helmet off his head and leaving Shean lying on the ground flat on his back. The hit inspired Pitt to become even more physical against the Eagles.

Boston College quarterback Paul Peterson kept moving the chains for the Eagles completing 32 of 53 passes for 367 yards and two touchdowns but Pitt was able to hold  BC to three points on two possessions inside their five-yard line.

The Eagles had to settle for a field goal on the opening drive in the fourth quarter. On a fourth-and-goal, Pitt cornerback Darrelle Revis tackled BC’s Grant Adams at the one-yard line to prevent a touchdown.

Pitt kicker Josh Cummings kicked a 27-yard field goal in overtime and Boston College turned the ball over on their possession giving Pitt the upset win.

10. Nov. 25, 2004: Pitt 16 West Virginia 13

5 OF 14

A game that wasn’t particularly well played was made memorable by the leadership that Pitt sophomore quarterback Tyler Palko displayed. He lead the Panthers on a game-winning 73-yard fourth quarter drive culminating in a Palko 2-yard touchdown run.

West Virginia led 10-0 at the end of the first quarter and the Panthers answered back with two Josh Cummings field goals to cut West Virginia’s lead to 10-6.

With 10 minutes left in the game and Pitt trailing 13-9, Palko drove Pitt down to the West Virginia 10-yard line. Panthers’ wide out Greg Lee had three catches for 38 yards on the drive and on the night had eight receptions for 124 yards. After a pass interference call in the end zone, Palko took matters into his own hands and ran in for the winning touchdown with four minutes remaining and Pitt leading 16-13.

The Mountaineers then drove to Pitt’s 33-yard line, but on a fourth-and-five situation West Virginia elected not to try the long field goal, and the Panthers’ defense held on for the 16-13 Panther victory.

West Virginia quarterback Rasheed Marshall rushed for 118 yards while Panther running back Tim Murphy gained 106 yards on 20 carries.

9. October 11, 2003 Notre Dame 20 Pittsburgh 14

6 OF 14

Pitt came in 3-1, ranked no. 14 in the country and fresh off a win over Texas A&M the week before. Notre Dame came in with a 1-3 record, having lost three straight games to Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue. All that mattered not as a then record crowd of 66,421 watched on as Notre Dame dominated the game on offense with their running attack.

The Fighting Irish came into the game ranked 109th in the nation in rushing but one would have never  known it watching Notre Dame running back Julius Jones set an all-time single game Irish rushing record with 262 yards on 24 carries with two touchdowns.  Notre Dame finished with 352 yards rushing to only eight rushing yards for Pitt.

Pitt quarterback Rod Rutherford kept Pitt in the game on offense.  Rutherford came into the game leading the nation in passing efficiency and threw two first half touchdowns to Larry Fitzgerald; however, the Irish held Fitzgerald without a catch in the second half.

8. November 29, 2003: Miami 28 Pitt 14

7 OF 14

In a game that was eagerly anticipated, no. 20 Pitt was playing in its biggest game in a long time facing no. 10 Miami with first place in the Big East at stake.

The game started off well for the Panthers. In the first quarter, Pitt quarterback Rod Rutherford hit Kris Wilson in the end zone to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead. It was all Miami after that as Miami responded with 28 unanswered points. Tyrone Moss scored touchdowns of 30, and six yards to give the Hurricanes a 14-7 halftime lead.

In the second half, the Hurricanes continued to extend their lead and went up 28-7, sending many of the crowd of 60,486 in attendance towards the exits early. Miami running backs Moss and Jarrett Payton both rushed for over 100 yards through the Panthers porous run defense.

It was a rough night for Rutherford, who was sacked nine times and threw three interceptions. Larry Fitzgerald, having one of the best seasons in college football history for a wide receiver, didn’t catch a pass till early in the third quarter and was held to just three catches for only 26 yards.

The Panthers had one second half highlight that came late in the fourth quarter. Fitzgerald caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Rutherford to extend his consecutive games with a touchdown streak to an NCAA record 18 games. The touchdown was his 22nd of the season and cut the Miami lead to 28-14. Pittsburgh recovered the on-side kick, but any Panther hopes of a comeback ended with Rutherford being intercepted, giving Miami a 28-14 win.

7. Nov. 14, 2009: Pitt 27 Notre Dame 22

8 OF 14

The Panthers came into the game with an 8-1 record and ranked no. 8 in the Associated Press Poll. Notre Dame was 6-3.

In front of a national TV audience and a crowd of 65,374, youth would be served as the night belonged to a pair of Pitt sophomores, wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin and running back Dion Lewis. Baldwin caught five passes for 142 yards, one a diving 36-yard touchdown catch. He also had a great leaping catch for 51 yards. Lewis carried the ball 21 times for 152 yards and broke the game open with a 50-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers a 27-9 lead in the fourth quarter.

Notre Dame’s outstanding wide receiver Golden Tate nearly brought the Irish back. Tate finished with nine catches for 113 yards and one touchdown, an 18-yard touchdown pass from Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen that cut Pitt’s lead to 27-16 with 9:10 remaining. Tate then returned a punt 87 yards less than two minutes later. That score temporarily quieted the raucous crowd and the Panthers held on for a 27-22 victory.

6. Nov. 30, 2002: West Virginia 24 Pitt 17

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In front of the largest crowd ever (66,731) to watch a Pitt game at Heinz Field, and the second largest ever for a Pitt home game, the Panthers couldn’t overcome four turnovers and lost to rival West Virginia 24-17. Pitt’s largest home crowd ever was 68,918 against Fordham at Pitt Stadium in 1938.

The Panthers scored first on a first quarter 32-yard scoring strike from Pitt quarterback Rod Rutherford to freshman wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.  With the score tied at 10 in the second quarter, Pitt turned the ball over on three straight possessions and the Mountaineers took advantage scoring 14 points off the Panthers miscues.

Pitt cut the lead to seven early in the 4th quarter with Rutherford again hooking up with Fitzgerald on a 25-yard touchdown pass. Late in the game Pitt had its chance to tie the game as Rutherford led the Panthers downfield. But the 13 play, 79-yard drive stalled at the Mountaineers 11-yard line with three straight incompletions.

West Virginia was led by quarterback Rasheed Marshall who ran for one touchdown and threw for another along with running back Avon Cobourne who rushed for 104 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown. Pitt running back Brandon Miree also broke the 100-yard barrier rushing for 121 yards on 25 carries and Fitzgerald finished with 11 catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns.

5. Sept. 3, 2005: Notre Dame 42 Pitt 21

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Few games at Heinz Field were more anticipated and looked forward to than this one, and it resulted in the largest crowd ever to watch a Pitt game at Heinz Field.  A crowd of 66,451 turned out to witness the start of the Dave Wannstedt era at Pitt. The local kid from Baldwin, PA, came back to his alma mater to take Pitt to the next level after taking over for Walt Harris. This game also marked the start of the Charlie Weis era at Notre Dame.

Pitt came into the game ranked 23rd in the nation and got off to a 7-0 lead thanks to a Tyler Palko touchdown pass, but the rest of the first half belonged to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish scored four  touchdowns in the second quarter to take a commanding 35-13 halftime lead. By halftime, the Irish had 319 total yards of offense. In the third quarter the Irish had a 20-play, 80-yard drive that lasted more than seven minutes to cement the victory.

Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn completed 18 of 27 passes on the night for 227 yards and two touchdowns as the Irish ended up with 502 yards of total offense.

4. Nov. 8, 2003: Pitt 31 Virginia Tech 28

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Led by sophomore wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and senior quarterback Rod Rutherford, No. 21 ranked Pitt upset No. 5 Virginia Tech 31-28 in front of a Heinz Field crowd of 66,207.  The last time Pitt had beaten a top five team at home was in 1987 when Pitt upset No. 4 Notre Dame 31-27.

Rutherford completed 24 of 31 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns, while Fitzgerald had eight catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. Fitzgerald’s touchdown was his 17th on the season, establishing a new school record and extending his NCAA record of consecutive games with a touchdown reception to 15.  Not to be outdone, Virginia Tech junior tailback Kevin Jones rushed for a school record 241 yards on 30 carries and scored four touchdowns.

With 4:16 remaining, Pittsburgh’s defense stopped Virginia Tech on fourth down on its own 30 yard line. With 4:10 to go they were down 28-24.  Rutherford and Fitzgerald connected on three plays for 49 yards. The Panthers faced third and goal from the two yard line with 54 seconds remaining and then Lousaka Polite bulldozed his way into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

3. October 10, 2007 Navy 48 Pitt 45 in Double Overtime

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A weeknight crowd of 30,103 never would of imagined that they would witness the longest game ever played at Heinz Field. And not only was it the longest game but also one of the most memorable ones played there as well.

The two teams combined for 905 yards of total offense, with Navy gaining 497 yards, 331 of those on the ground. Pitt gained 418 yards, rushing for 227 and passing for 191. Navy came into the game with the number two rushing offense in the country averaging 348 yards per game.

Freshman LeSean McCoy led all rushers with 165 yards on 32 carries and three touchdowns.  Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada rushed for 122 yards and was 9 for 12 passing for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Pitt quarterback Pat Bostick was 20-of-28 for 191 yards with one touchdown and an interception.

The Panthers were in position to win when Navy kicked a field goal in the second overtime and the Panthers got the ball back with a chance to win.  Pitt gambled going for a touchdown on fourth down when a chip-shot field goal would have forced another overtime. It will be the win-it-or-lose-it on one play call that will long be debated among Pitt fans.

With Pitt facing fourth-and-goal at the Navy 2, Wannstedt went for the win and Bostick threw incomplete to Darrell Strong in the end zone.

2. Nov. 16, 2006 West Virginia 45 Pitt 27

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This game was Marvelous Marvin Hagler versus Thomas the Hit Man Hearns in cleats, with both teams throwing heavy body shots at one another from the very outset of the game.  Defense took a holiday this November night.  The Backyard Brawl was more like a track meet as fans turned their heads like at a tennis match to try keep up with the teams racing up and down the field in the first half.

Pitt’s defense had no answer for West Virginia’s duo of quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton.  White had 424 yards in total offense as he  was 11-for-16 passing for 204 and two touchdowns as well as rushing for 220 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns.

Slaton had 345 yards in total offense, rushing for 215 yards on 23 carries with six receptions for 130 yards.  Slaton became the first player in West Virginia history to have over 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game and scored four touchdowns, two rushing and two receiving.

Pitt’s offensive star was quarterback Tyler Palko who was 28 out of 37 passing for 341 yards and two touchdowns.

Midway through the second quarter, Mountaineer and Plum High School graduate Pat McAfee kicked one of the longest field goals in Heinz Field history, college or pro, converting from 51 yards away.

The play of the game and the ESPN College Football Play of the Year took place when Pitt cornerback Darrelle Revis returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown with just over two minutes to go before halftime to give Pitt a 24-17 lead.  Revis’ return was made possible by a tremendous block by Derek Kinder that took out two Mountaineers on the play.

West Virginia answered right back, taking just over a minute to do so on a 3-play, 74-yard drive with Slaton scoring on a 67-yard pass play from White to tie the game up at 24 apiece.

With less than a minute remaining in the half, it was Pitt’s turn.  The Panthers went 61 yards in four plays setting up a Conor Lee 39-yard field goal with three seconds left to take a 27-24 halftime lead.

Pitt had held West Virginia to 67 yards rushing in the first half.  But on the second play from scrimmage in the third quarter, White went 64 yards for a touchdown and West Virginia was on top to stay.  White would score again on the Mountaineers very next possession as well.

Pitt was shutout and outscored in the second half 21-0 as the Mountaineers took control, rushing for 371 of their 438 yards after halftime and holding the Panthers to only 30 total yards in the second half.

The two teams had combined for nearly 1,000 yards in total offense with West Virginia gaining 641 yards in total offense (437 yards on the ground) and Pitt with 341 yards passing but -1 yards rushing.

It all added up to a 45-27 victory for West Virginia and their fourth victory in the last five meetings with Pitt.

1. December 5, 2009 Cincinnati 45 Pitt 44

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The most memorable game would have to be, without question, the game that also provided both the greatest temporary feeling of euphoria and the greatest low to Pitt football fans in decades.

In front of a national TV audience with the Big East championship and a BCS bowl birth on the line, the most memorable game in Pitt’s Heinz Field history took place on a cold, snowy, grey December afternoon.

One would think the Panthers had the formula for victory. They rushed for nearly 200 yards on offense, won the time of possession battle nearly two to one and intercepted Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike three times. They led 31-10 before halftime, yet found a way to lose in the most excruciating and heartbreaking loss ever for Pitt at Heinz Field.

The difference maker in the game was Cincinnati wide receiver Marty Gilyard. With Pitt leading 31-10 with 1:10 left in the half and the crowd sensing a Big East Championship and a BCS bowl bid, Gilyard returned the kickoff 99 yards and created a huge shift in momentum for the Bearcats going into halftime. Gilyard finished with 381 all-purpose yards on the afternoon.

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt showed total belief in the adage that in the big games you put the ball in your best player’s hands.  Pitt freshman running back Dion Lewis carried the ball a school-record 47 times for 194 yards and three touchdowns and also had six receptions on the day.

It was a tale of two halves for Pike as he was 8 for 23 for 84 yards with two interceptions in the first half, and in the second half was 14 for 21 for 218 yards with three touchdowns. The Bearcats scored touchdowns on their last three possessions of the game.

Apparently Pitt didn’t learn its lesson in kicking it to Gilyard, in the second half Gilyard had a 49-yard kickoff return that led to another Bearcat touchdown.

With the score tied at 38, on Pitt’s next possession Dion Lewis scored but the extra point attempt failed as holder Andrew Janocko mishandled the snap from center and kicker Dan Hutchins never got to kick the extra point—giving Pitt a six-point lead.

Gilyard again gave the Bearcats good field position as he returned the ensuing kickoff to the Bearcats 39-yard line. Pike took the Bearcats down the field in just over a minute to tie the game on a 29-yard touchdown pass. Unlike Pitt on its last possession, the Bearcats made the extra point giving them the game, the Big East Conference championship and ultimately a trip to the Sugar Bowl. The crowd of 63,387 had witnessed a classic.

Photo credit: alexabboud via Visual Hunt /  CC BY-NC-SA

John Baranowski is a Sports Historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites.

Why Wisconsin-TCU is the most intriguing BCS bowl game

The 2011 Rose Bowl was one of great interest not because of Wisconsin being there, but because of TCU making it. TCU was just emerging on to the national stage of college football. Could they play with the big boys from the Big 10. That is what made the match-up a compelling one to watch. It turned out to be quite a game.

The article I wrote can be found at: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/541768-why-wisconsin-tcu-is-the-most-intriguing-bcs-game

Photo credit: eytonz via VisualHunt.com /  CC BY-NC-SA

John Baranowski is a Sports Historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites.

NFL Playoffs: Pats no Super Bowl shoe-in

During the 2007 football season, the New England Patriots went undefeated and set an all-time scoring record with points scored. They looked unstoppable and looked to be a sure thing going into the Super Bowl to be the first team in NFL history to go 19-0.

Well, I didn’t think so and cited a few instances when a team winning looked like a sure thing and it didn’t happen which led me to write this article before the Super Bowl. Turned out I was right.

My article can be found at: http://www.pittsburghsportsreport.com/PSR-News/show_news.php?subaction=showfull&id=1200077353&archive=&template=PressRoom

PSR Press Room

NFL Playoffs: Pats no Super Bowl shoe-in

By John Baranowski

For fans and media alike who are ready to coronate the New England Patriots as undefeated Super Bowl champions and the greatest team ever, as ESPN analyst Lee Corso so aptly puts it, “Not so fast my friend.”

Granted the Patriots are the first team in NFL history to go 16-0 during the regular season. Yes, they defeated their closest rival in the AFC the Indianapolis Colts in Indianapolis, and the NFC’s best team Dallas in Dallas, as well as the Chargers and Steelers at home. There’s no doubt they deservedly will be the clear cut favorite to win Super Bowl XLII, but many have forgotten about other heavy favorites who have faltered on their way to the Vince Lombardi trophy.

The ’98 Minnesota Vikings, under head coach Dennis Green, had a 15-1 regular season. Their only loss that season was by three points, and 12 of their 15 wins were by 10 points or more. They had home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and the league’s all-time highest scoring offense under offensive coordinator Brian Billick.   That was when Billick’s offenses weren’t offensively challenged. The Vikings scored a record 556 points led by quarterback Randall Cunningham throwing to the receiving tandem of Cris Carter and Randy Moss. Yes, Randy Moss, in his rookie season, had 17 touchdown receptions.

In addition, the Vikings had three All-Pro offensive linemen and a kicker who had not missed a kick the entire regular season. Not a miss until it mattered most – in the postseason. Gary Anderson had made all 35 of his field goal attempts in the regular season, but missed a 38-yard field goal in the NFC Championship Game against Atlanta that most likely would have put the game away and sealed a trip to the Super Bowl for the Vikings. Their dream season ended a short time later in overtime, losing 30-27 to the Falcons. Upsets happen – all the time.

One might counter that the Vikings’ head coach and quarterback had never won a Super Bowl, and Minnesota’s coach and quarterback tandem were far less than that of Bill Belichek and Tom Brady of the Patriots. When you have a coach and a quarterback who have won a Super Bowl, they know what it takes to win. Who can match Belichick and Brady in terms of game planning, playoff success and quarterback play?

So surely this year is again going to belong to Belichick, Brady and the Patriots. Well, may I remind you of the ’87 San Francisco 49ers.

The ’87 Niners were coached by Bill Walsh and quarterbacked by Joe Montana, maybe the only coach and quarterback tandem in NFL history the equal or greater than Belichick and Brady. Walsh and Montana had already won two Super Bowls. This was to be their year – again. The ’87 Niners were favored to get to and win their third Super Bowl in seven seasons.

Going into the playoffs, San Francisco had the best record in the league at 13-2 and were the NFL’s top scoring team, along with the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFC. Montana led the league in passing efficiency with a 102.1 rating and Jerry Rice had a record 22 touchdown receptions. One of every three balls he caught that season resulted in a touchdown. Great coach, great quarterback, great wide receiver, best record in football – sound familiar?

The 49ers’ playoff opponent in the divisional round that year was the 8-7 Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings had the worst record of all the teams in the playoffs and only scored one more point than they gave up that season (336-335). The 49ers were a 10-½ point favorite at home. Talk about a walk in the park…

It was anything but. In front of a stunned home crowd, the Vikings shocked the 49ers, 36-24, led by Anthony Carter’s 227 yards receiving.

So despite having the best record in football, home field advantage throughout the playoffs, the league’s top scoring offense, arguably the greatest quarterback ever, a future Hall-of-Fame head coach, the greatest wide receiver in the game’s history, and playoff and Super Bowl experience… the best team in the regular season didn’t win the Super Bowl that year.

That could describe this year’s Patriots. Another seemingly unbeatable team with an unstoppable offense upset in their dream season.

So please, let’s not coronate the Patriots as Super Bowl champions and the greatest team ever until that crown is earned.

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites.   

Jan 11 2008 by Tony DeFazio


Photo credit: insidethemagic via VisualHunt.com /  CC BY-NC-ND

John Baranowski is a Sports Historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites.

Looking through Pitt Blue-and Gold Tinted Glasses = Misperception

If a person’s perception is usually what they believe, and that is based on what they hear, see and think, apparently Chris Dokish, writer for Panther’s Prey Blog, is in need of getting his hearing, vision and thought processes checked.

In Dokish’s article, Why Pitt football recruits at the level they do, http://panthersprey.blogspot.com/2016/09/why-pitt-football-recruits-at-level.html, to his credit he listed as the blue bloods of the college football recruiting world: Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Clemson, Florida State, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Notre Dame, USC, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn and LSU as being the elite level. They also happen to all be in the top 20 in winning percentage for the last 30 years.

However, Dokish also wrote in his article, “In the second group we have very good programs that could flirt with top 10 status with the right coach. That group includes Louisville, Virginia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Stanford, Washington, Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State, Utah and Texas A&M. None of these programs are always excellent, but they’ve proven that they are good enough programs that with an excellent coach they can be among the elite.”

Shall we examine Dokish’s thinking? Like Sergeant Friday said on Dragnet, give me the facts and just the facts. I believe everyone would agree that 30 years of statistical data more than qualifies as a fair assessment. After all, a lot can happen in a 30-year time span and let us use the past 30 seasons 1987-2016. To put that in perspective, a graduating college senior in 1987 would be older than 50 years old today. No Pitt alum under the age of 50 has experienced Pitt finishing in the top 10 or winning a major bowl game.

The schools Dokish listed in his second group have combined to make the top 10 in the last 30 years a grand total of 76 times. Each of them has appeared in the top 10 final AP poll at least once, with one exception, that being the University of Pittsburgh. Pitt is the only school on Dokish’s list that has not appeared in the top 10 at least on one occasion within the last 30 years.

That same group of teams has finished in the top 20 at season’s end a combined total of 154 times. Pitt’s contribution to that – a robust three. By my math, that is an average of finishing in the top 20 once every 10 years. Yes, once every 10 years. Flirting with top 10 status you say Dokish?

Does that lead one to believe that Pitt can be among the elite of college football?  Evidently it does to Dokish.

Let us delve even further, shall we?  That same group of teams appeared in the five major bowl games (the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, Rose, and Sugar Bowls) a combined total of 81 times. Pitt contribution to that total is a whopping one, that being the 2005 Fiesta Bowl.

That same group of teams over the past 30 years won those five major bowl games a combined total of 41 times. Pitt’s contribution to that total is – zero.

Still think Pitt should be in Dokish’s group that flirts with top 10 status? Among the elite?

That same group of teams combined for 120 10-win seasons in the last 30 years. Pitt’s contribution to that is one. I repeat, one 10-win season in the last 30 years.

How close has Pitt come to flirting with top 10 status?  In that 30-year period, the highest Pitt has been ranked in the final AP Poll was 15th back in 2009. To put that in perspective, the following list of schools have finished 15th or higher in a final AP Poll within that same time frame: Air Force, Arizona (2x), Boston College (2x), California (3x), Central Florida, Colorado State, East Carolina, Houston (3x), Illinois (2x), Kansas (2x), Marshall, Maryland (2x), Miami of Ohio, Mississippi (3x), Mississippi State (3x), Nevada, North Carolina State, Oregon State, Purdue (2x), Rutgers, Southern Mississippi, Syracuse (5x), Tulane, Virginia, Washington State (5x) and Western Michigan. All those schools finished higher than Pitt ever did in the last 30 years but somehow Dokish omitted them from that second group just below the elite of college football.

What about winning percentage over the last 30 years? Care to guess which school Dokish listed has the lowest winning percentage?  If you guessed Pitt, you are correct!

Here is how the teams rank among Division I FBS schools in winning percentage:

  5. Miami .732
16. Oregon .674
21. Virginia Tech .664
22. Texas A&M .651
23. West Virginia .634
24. Utah .628
25. Wisconsin .627
28. Louisville .616
31. Iowa .593
35. UCLA .577
36. Washington .574
37. Michigan State .571
41. Oklahoma State .558
43. Arizona State .550
47. Stanford .546
62. North Carolina .512
65. Pitt .507

In case you were wondering, Pitt’s record in the last 30 years against those teams Dokish listed as part of the next group, 26-64-1, a winning percentage of .291.

This leads me to believe that Dokish certainly looks through thick blue-and-gold colored glasses in hoping to sway his audience to believe what he writes and preaches. Facts?  He doesn’t need any stinking facts. Based on the above factual and statistical analysis Dokish certainly has a myopic view of Pitt’s football program and where they stand amongst college football programs.

What about Pitt’s two closest schools that Pitt feels equal if not superior to? Penn State has been to six major bowl games, winning four. The Nittany Lions have nine 10-win seasons and have a winning percentage of .678 that ranks 14th and finished eight times in the top 10 and 15 times in the top 20.

West Virginia has been to five major bowl games, winning three. The Mountaineers have seven 10-win seasons and have a winning percentage of .634 that ranks 23rd and finished five times in the top 10 and seven times in the top 20.

Obviously, Pitt’s success in the last 30 years pales in comparison to its neighbors Penn State and West Virginia. Pitt’s record against Penn State and West Virginia during the last 30 years is 12-23-1, a winning percentage of .347.

So which schools should be Pitt compared to when talking about college football programs over the last 30 years? For comparison sake, let’s use Arizona State and North Carolina from Dokish’s list and add Boston College, Cincinnati, North Carolina State, Northwestern, Syracuse, and Virginia into the mix.

Looking at the major bowl games appearances: Syracuse 3, Cincinnati 2, Arizona State, Northwestern, Pitt, and Virginia 1 each, and Boston College, North Carolina and NC State each with zero.

Looking at major bowl victories: Syracuse one and the rest zero.

Comparing the amount of 10-win seasons:

5 Cincinnati
5 Syracuse
4 Arizona State
4 North Carolina
3 Northwestern
2 Boston College
1 North Carolina State
1 Pitt
1 Virginia

Looking at top-10 seasons:


3 Syracuse
2 North Carolina
1 Arizona State
1 Boston College
1 Cincinnati
1 Northwestern
0 North Carolina State
0 Pitt
0 Virginia

As for top-20 seasons:

6 Arizona State
6 Syracuse
5 North Carolina
4 Boston College
4 Virginia
3 Cincinnati
3 Pitt
3 North Carolina State
3 Northwestern

As for those schools ranking for winning percentage among Division I FBS schools:

43. Arizona State .550
45. Syracuse .547
46. North Carolina State .546
48. Virginia .543
55. Boston College .527
62. North Carolina .512
63. Cincinnati .511
65. Pitt .507
83. Northwestern .448

When comparing Pitt’s last 30 years with Arizona State, Boston College, Cincinnati, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Northwestern, Syracuse, and Virginia, Pitt is the bottom half of virtually every category. Pitt’s record against those schools since 1987 is 32-42-1, a winning percentage of .433.

Perhaps Mr. Dokish needs to take off those blue-and-gold tinted glasses and try to objectively look at the facts and convey the truth instead of propaganda.

John Baranowski is a Sports Historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites.

Paterno to O’Brien to Franklin: Is history on Franklin’s side?

Is it true that it is better to be the coach who follows the coach that followed a coaching legend rather than the coach who followed the coaching legend?

My article from 2014 that discusses that was originally published at: http://www.nittanyturkey.com/author/johnbaranowski/

There is an axiom in sports that it is better to be the coach who follows the coach that followed a coaching legend rather than the coach who followed the coaching legend. I would venture to guess that Bill O’Brien and Lane Kiffin would concur with that notion.

There was no doubt that whoever followed Joe Paterno as Penn State head coach at Penn State would certainly have big shoes to fill. O’Brien went 15-9 in two seasons and bolted for the NFL. Kiffin at USC had a 28-15 record following Pete Carroll’s record of 97-19. Kiffin’s .651 winning percentage wasn’t enough to keep him from being fired not after losing nearly as many games in less than four years than Carroll did in nine. Beginning this season, Penn State’s new head coach James Franklin and Steve Sarkisian at USC will have the opportunity to test that coaching axiom. But how true is it really?

Looking at examples that support the axiom, in 1931, Hunk Anderson had the unenviable task of following Knute Rockne as head coach at Notre Dame. Anderson’s 16-9-2 record with a winning percentage of .630 at many schools would be welcome but not following Rockne’s coaching record of 105-12-5. In three seasons, Anderson lost nearly as many games as Rockne did in 13. Rockne’s winning percentage of .881 just happens to rank first among Division I coaches all-time. Good luck following that. Elmer Layden, the coach who took over after Anderson, had a 47-13-3 record. This was more to Irish fans’ liking.

At the University of Florida during the ‘90s, the Fun ‘N Gun offense was in full force as Steve Spurrier won 122 games in 12 seasons and racked up a winning percentage of .817. His successor, Ron Zook, lasted only three seasons going 23-14 and that set the stage for Urban Meyer. Meyer in six seasons as Florida’s head coach won 65 games and two national championships and had a winning percentage of .813.

The situation at the University of Alabama was slightly different. One can say that the shadow cast by Bear Bryant affected the next two men that succeeded him or at the very least set a near impossible standard to follow. In 25 seasons, Bryant won 232 games with a winning percentage of .824. Ray Perkins could relate to Anderson at Notre Dame as Perkins lasted only four seasons as his teams compiled a 32-15-1 record for a .677 winning percentage. That is not nearly good enough at Alabama, particularly after following the Bear.

Bill Curry followed Perkins and even with a 26-10 record and a .722 winning percentage, Curry lasted only three seasons. Gene Stallings followed Curry and despite having a slightly lesser winning percentage than Curry, .713 to .722, Stallings lasted seven seasons, no doubt aided by winning a national championship in 1992.

At Michigan, it was an interesting situation as well. Following Lloyd Carr proved to be more difficult than following Bo Schembechler. Schembechler paced the sidelines in Ann Arbor for 21 years and amassed a 194-48-5 record for a winning percentage of .796.

Following Schembechler was not going to be easy. Gary Moeller did so for five seasons, winning three conference titles, and had a winning percentage of .758. Moeller resigned in May of 1995 and the head coaching job now belonged to Carr. Carr won five conference titles in 13 seasons and a national championship in 1997, Michigan’s first since 1948. Carr’s head coaching record was 122-40 for a .753 winning percentage.

Rich Rodriquez, “a non-Michigan man” succeeded Carr. Rodriquez brought a radically different offensive mindset to Ann Arbor and some might say a non-defensive mindset as well. After three seasons and a 15-22 record, Rodriquez was replaced.

There are numerous examples where a coaching legend’s successor did well but the following coach did not.

Perhaps a long-time successful coach creates such a well-oiled machine that it helps facilitate success for his immediate successor but by the time the next head coach comes along, significant fall-off begins.

John McKay at USC compiled a 127-40-8 record for a winning percentage of .749. One would think trying to match McKay’s winning percentage would have been very difficult. However, John Robinson nearly did just that succeeding McKay. Robinson’s record was 104-35-4 for a winning percentage of .741.

The fall-off at USC came following Robinson under Ted Tollner. Tollner, in four seasons from 1983 to 1986, went 26-20-1 for a winning percentage of .564. That is not going to cut it at USC.

Another example was at the University of Texas where Darrell Royal became a coaching legend winning 167 games losing 47 with five ties for a winning percentage of .774 over 20 seasons. His successor, Fred Akers, was 86-31-2 for a .731 winning rate over the next 10 seasons.

The fall-off in Austin came following Akers. David McWilliams managed only a 31-26 record over the next five seasons for a .544 winning percentage.

Meanwhile in Norman, Oklahoma, Chuck Fairbanks won 77% of his games compiling a 52-15-1 record. His successor, Barry Switzer, took that to an even higher level winning nearly 84% of his games with a record of 157-29-4. Switzer’s successor, Gary Gibbs, managed only 44 wins over the next six seasons going 44-23-2 from 1989-1994.

At Notre Dame, Ara Parseghian’s .836 winning percentage from 1964-1974 was followed by Dan Devine who produced a .764 winning percentage. Following Devine, who was under a hot seat following Parseghian until he won a national championship in 1977, proved too much for Gerry Faust. Faust’s 30-26-1 record just was not good enough for Notre Dame.

Then enters Lou Holtz, the last head coach to lead the Fighting Irish national championship in 1988, and his coaching record at Notre Dame was 100-30-2.

Succeeding Holtz was Bob Davie and then Ty Willingham, and each had an identical .583 winning percentage in their short tenures as Notre Dame’s head coach.

Tom Osborne roamed the sidelines as Nebraska’s head coach for 25 years, compiling a 255-49-3 record and a winning percentage of .836. Following the legendary Osborne would not be easy.

Keep in mind that Osborne followed Bob Devaney who won national titles in 1970 and 1971 and had a 101-20-2 record in 11 seasons and a winning percentage of .829.

Osborne was succeeded by Frank Solich in 1998 and in six seasons Solich won 58 games losing only 19 for a .753 winning percentage and was fired by then Nebraska Athletic Director Steve Pederson. Pederson hired Bill Callahan and over the next four years, Nebraska went 27-22-0, which definitely did not sit well with Husker fans.

So perhaps more importantly than simply being the coach who follows the coach that replaced a coaching legend, it is more important to have the right coach for the job. Nittany Lion and Trojan fans hope and believe they do.


John Baranowski is a Sports Historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites.

Photo credit: pennstatenews via Visual Hunt /  CC BY-NC-ND