A new sheriff is in town

By Paul Zeise
Updated: December 19, 2010

PITTSBURGH — Michael Haywood, 46, was introduced as Pitt’s head football coach last week, and it is clear by the tone of his news conference that there is new sheriff in town, one who isn’t to be messed with.

Haywood, previously the head coach at Miami (Ohio), led the Redhawks to a 9-4 record and the Mid-American Conference championship this year.

He spoke early and often about the discipline he will instill in the program, about high expectations he will have for his players on and off the field and that he is a proponent of tough love.

He talked about players wearing suits and ties to games, and strict rules on appearance and academics. Then he was asked about reports of his 6 a.m. practices, and it was there that he provided the first clue that maybe he is a little more of a softie than he lets on.

“Actually, you should say 6:50 because that is what it really is” he said, with a laugh. “But the 6:50 practices are unbelievable, and I am really surprised more people don’t do it.”

“I was really skeptical about doing it, but it is the best thing we could ever [have] done and, if you look at any game that we play in, we’re winning in the fourth quarter because we are the fresh team.”

Haywood, Pitt’s first African-American head football coach, said the idea of morning practices is twofold: It allows players to practice before school — meaning they never have to miss classes or practices — and it forces them to be in bed early — meaning they avoid the trouble that comes with hanging out at night.

It’s that discipline and tough love that has made Haywood — who said he wants the Panthers to be “dangerous and relentless for 60 minutes” — as successful as he has been.

Such insights are provided by people he has coached with or players he has coached, including Steelers safety Ryan Clark, who played at LSU when Haywood was an assistant.

“He’s a guy who can infuse a program with fire, a guy who can infuse a program with confidence,” Clark said. “I think he does that with his intelligence, but also with his ability to communicate. And I think he commanded respect because he gave it. He treated us like men. He allowed us to learn, he allowed us to work, but he also talked to us like men.

He was straight up.

“You never have to wonder about how coach Haywood felt about something you did.”

Haywood signed a five-year contract and, although financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, they are believed to be similar to what Wannstedt earned. Wannstedt’s base salary was $979,288 last year and $1,010,873 this year, which ranked sixth among the eight Big East Conference coaches.

Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson, who conducted the eight-day search, said he had “extensive meetings” with “five college head coaches” that he had identified from a list of about 400 in a database provided by Parker Executive Search, the firm the university hired to assist in the coaching search.

Pederson would not identify those coaches, but, according to sources, two of them were Al Golden, who left Temple for the Miami (Florida) job Sunday, and Tulsa’s Todd Graham. Golden also was considered a serious candidate at Pitt before he took over at Miami.

There also was at least one other minority candidate along with Haywood among the five. Pederson denied he had contact with Dana Holgorsen, who Wednesday was named the head coach in waiting at West Virginia — although sources close to Holgorsen say he was contacted by Pitt.

“We talked with five excellent coaches, all of who are a credit to this profession,” Pederson said.

“From the first meeting with Michael Haywood last Friday morning, the qualities that he exhibited were absolutely in line with the values of this great university. He was the only candidate who was brought to campus and the only person offered the job.”

Haywood admitted at the news conference that he had interviewed for a number of other jobs — including the head coaching position at West Virginia.

Yesterday, West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck told the Post-Gazette that he had identified Holgorsen as his target about month ago, but according to a source, Luck met with a number of coaches about the job, including Haywood.

“I would say that I had contact with multiple universities during this point in time, and West Virginia was one of them,” Haywood said when asked why he chose to pursue the Pitt job instead of the West Virginia job, “I’ve always wanted to be here at Pittsburgh.”

Haywood, joined at the news conference by his sister, Paula Haywood, is not married but has a young son by the name of Michael Christopher.

He also was joined by Bill Elias, his assistant head coach at Miami.

Elias will be Pitt’s assistant head coach, recruiting coordinator and outside linebackers coach.

Elias is the first coach to officially be hired by Haywood, who said he will offer all Pitt’s current assistants a chance to interview with him, even though he made it clear he likely will keep only one or two.

He will bring a number of assistants from Miami and said he expects to have eight (of the nine full-time assistant positions on a coaching staff) filled by Monday so they can start to recruit.

Haywood, a native of Houston, Texas, has recruited extensively in the Midwest and South. He said Pitt will focus its recruiting efforts in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C.; Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan as well as Texas, Louisiana and Florida.

Pederson made it clear that although Haywood has been hired, the Panthers are Wannstedt’s team until after the BBVA Compass Bowl Jan. 8.

Wannstedt, forced to resign last week, has yet to decide whether he will coach the Panthers in that game.

Haywood said Wannstedt, reassigned to special assistant to the athletic director, would be a valuable resource and asset to the program and that he hopes to be able to meet with him and “pick his brain” in the near future.

“It is an unusual situation because he is going to still be working at the university and what a great asset,” Haywood said, “[There is an] opportunity to sit down and understand from his point of view what was going on and the lay of the land. So it is a great opportunity for myself and the rest of my staff when I am finished hiring it to sit down and get to know him really well.”

Haywood, who spent two years as Miami’s head coach and had stops as an assistant at Notre Dame (2005-08), Texas (2003-04) and LSU (1995-2002), favors a pro-style offense and a defense based on stopping the run.

But he made it clear that his philosophy always will be dictated by his personnel and what the opponents are likely to do.

“The most important thing is once we understand the talent we have and the opponent we are going against, we create mismatches and try to put our best players against their worst players,” Haywood said. “And, by doing that, you get multiple formations, so we will be a multiple-formation team”

Haywood, who’s already met with Pitt’s players, will not coach Miami in the GoDaddy.com bowl. He said he already has cleaned out his office at Miami and has started building his program at Pitt.