A bunch of Pitt fans/alumni writing and ranting about the University of Pittsburgh Panthers and anything sports and entertainment related. Other than being alumni, the writers of this blog have no affiliation or official connection with the University of Pittsburgh, the Pitt Panthers, and related entities. The views expressed on this blog are solely our own. You can e-mail us: PittSportsBlather-at-sbcglobal.net.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Some Other Things 

Well known ND shill Tom Lemming is raving about ND's recruiting class and giving some respect to Pitt.

The recruiting efforts of Weis and his staff thus far have Notre Dame sitting at No. 2 nationally among recruiting classes, according to recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. ND's season-opening opponent -- coached by another first-year coach coming in from the NFL, Dave Wannstedt -- also finds itself in the national top 10. Pittsburgh is rated seventh, based on verbal commitments to this point. Texas is No. 1.

"I haven't seen Pitt get off to a start like this since the early '80s, when they were still in their glory years," said Lemming, whose weekly recruiting show "Tom Lemming's Generation Next" debuts on CSTV Thursday at 6:30 EST (7:30 EDT).

"Wannstedt has been working recruiting almost like Charlie. But then again, I'm not sure anyone's worked it like Charlie."

The article gets strangely obnoxious because Coach Wannstedt mixed up a couple of the ND assistants during a press conference. Very odd.

A press release from some handicapper services picks Pitt.
Pittsburgh -3
Things likely to improve at Notre Dame, but perhaps not this quickly. Pitt still looking to prove something have plenty of talent back and more than enough motivation to beat ND at home to start the season. Lay the points.

Since May, I have been banging on the NCAA mandate to cut all media guides to a maximum 208 pages. I have said from the beginning that what they would cut, wouldn't be the fluff and the stuff they use to try and sell the school and program to recruits -- it would be the stats and records.

Pat Forde's column calls out one of the biggest examples of this malfeasance.
As is so often the case with NCAA rules, the intent was outflanked by the schools' reaction. Instead of trimming the fat, many schools eradicated or drastically reduced the history of their programs and kept the recruiting propaganda.

"This is what the coach wanted," came the apologetic response from one SID trying to explain why his guide had lost so much of its useful information. "And what the coach wants, the coach gets."

The Dash's favorite version of football Pravda belongs to Iowa (32), where the program has apparently just sprouted out of the cornfields within the last 12 months. (This should come as surprising news to Hayden Fry.) There is no year-by-year record of anything the Hawkeyes did before 2004, no school records, no bowl history.

If the Hawkeyes should start the season, say, 8-0, the media will report that it's the first time since ... uh, well ... we don't know when. If quarterback Drew Tate should throw for 500 yards in a game, it could well be a school record ... but we really wouldn't be able to tell you that for sure.

But let's look at what you do get: 144 pages of recruiting top spin titled "Why Iowa" to start the guide, including 16 consecutive pages trumpeting Iowa's success putting players in the NFL (in case the point didn't sink in, the back page of the guide reiterates the current Hawkeyes in the NFL). There are a mere eight pages on Minister of Information/head coach Kirk Ferentz (33), including a section entitled "Coach Kirk on Kirk." Eight pages apparently were not enough to include Ferentz's career record. (It's 42-31, in case you're wondering.)

And on page 17, recruits are shown pictures of Bill Cosby and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. The caption's unspoken message: Dear African-American player: See, black people really do come to Iowa City! By next year, we'll try to update this page with a picture of Fifty Cent!
Sadly predictable. Forde also offers the following thought on the game on Saturday.
Notre Dame at Pittsburgh (17): Which NFL expatriate coach gets his first college Gatorade bath? Huge game for both teams: Notre Dame has five ranked opponents on the schedule, and this might be the most beatable of the group; Pitt could be favored in its next seven games if it starts with a victory here. Loser finds its immense offseason optimism doused.
This is what I said, last week.
One way or the other, in a week Pitt or ND faithful are about to have expectations tempered.
Pitt needs to win. There can be no risk of a certain incident that took place on the South Side after the loss a couple years ago.

And You Thought Grandparents Day Was Stupid 

Collegiate Licensing Company is the organization responsible for licensing the use of university logos on everything from t-shirts to putters to golf bags to grill covers to mascot mobiles that play the fight song (I have to get one for the next kid) to coffins (for those of you who haven't read RJYH, I'm not kidding about the last). Well, they are starting a new holiday: College Colors Day.

What is it? Aside from the obvious ploy to get people to buy more gear?
College Colors Day, which coincides with both "back to school" on campus and the kick-off of the college football season, seeks to celebrate and promote the traditions and spirit that drive collegiate athletics by encouraging fans, alumni and students to wear apparel of their favorite college throughout the day of September 2.
I wish I were making this up.

Game, Players, Teams 

Some other stories.

The Notre Dame Offensive Line is a source of strength and continuity. Unlike Pitt's.
The Irish's first-string linemen -- center Bob Morton, tackles Ryan Harris and Mark LeVoir, and guards Dan Stevenson and Dan Santucci -- combine for nearly 100 games' worth of experience.

LeVoir has started the past 24 in a row. Morton and Stevenson have started 22 apiece.

John Sullivan, who is listed on the depth chart as the backup center, started all 12 games last season. He is expected to get ample playing time against Pitt as part of a four-player rotation at the guard and center spots.

"We have four guys who can start on the interior," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. "All four will play. The benefit of that (is) you end up keeping them fresh."
Pitt's first-team line consists of tackles Charles Spencer and Mike McGlynn, guards Dom Williams and John Simonitis and center Joe Villani.

"They (the Irish) are a good unit, but you can't really compare us to them," McGlynn said.

"With us, everything is sort of new, from a personnel standpoint," Wannstedt said. "Simonitis is really the only one that was in the lineup on Opening Day a year ago."

Simonitis is a third-year starter. He has played in 22 games, including 19 starts, in his career.

McGlynn, a red-shirt sophomore, became the starting right tackle five games into last season.

Williams redshirted as a freshman last year. He had a solid spring camp, and fills the vacancy created when Spencer was switched from guard to tackle.

Spencer, a fifth-year senior, was a backup defensive tackle in 2002 and '03. He started every game at left guard last year, and earned All-Big East honors.

For all the talk of ND having a more vertical game, with their O-line and running back Darius Walker, they are going to pound the ball -- a lot. Yes, they have a big playbook, but it seems that they should have a focus on running to set up the pass.

Even the in Syracuse where they host WVU to start the season, the student paper knows what is the game of the weekend.

DT Thomas Smith (not Charles as the article says) was back in practice and in pads, but looked stiff and slow. Clint Session was not in pads but on the sidelines doing conditioning exercises and stretching. And if you like glitter.

The ADT national championship trophy, which is awarded to the winner of the BCS title game, will be in Pittsburgh this weekend. The crystal football will be on display from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday at the U.S. Steel Tower and from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday outside Heinz Field.

The other time the ADT Trophy was at Heinz Field was in 2003, when Pitt upended Virginia Tech. Notre Dame is 1-4 when the trophy is in the house, with the lone victory coming in 1993 against Florida State.

That trophy ways 37 pounds (presumably that includes the pedestal).

Joe Starkey gives love to the way the Irish schedule.

Tyler Palko promises to watch his mouth. To which I say, "F--k that."

It seems Pitt has been working on recent commit Ricky Gary for some time.

"They've been on me ever since I was a sophomore," Gary said. "Coach Wannstedt, he was recruiting me the hardest. Anytime the head coach recruits you, it shows they really want you."
Finally, oft-forgotten and lost in the shuffle, Tez Morris the senior free safety gets a well-deserved puff piece from his local paper in Ohio.

Some athletes find it difficult to accept that they're entering the final year in their college career, but Morris said he couldn't wait for this season to get started and began thinking about it as soon as spring ball ended.

"This is my last go-around," Morris said. "This is what it's all about, and I've got to step into that leader role. I have to stop messing up and play perfect all season, but it's time to stop talking about it and start playing."

We hope so.

Until The Game Starts 

It's about the coaches. It's the compelling storyline. There's no sense in pretending otherwise.
Weis said he had declined overtures from ABC Sports to tape ''drop-ins'' -- brief bits of canned insight and information -- for use during its telecast of the Irish-Pittsburgh season opener Saturday (7 p.m., Ch. 7, 890-AM).

"I told them, 'Why don't you go to the players?'" Weis said Tuesday. "'Why don't you go get Brady Quinn on tape? Why don't you get Brandon Hoyte?'"

On the other side of Youngstown, first-year Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt had a different take on the request: "Why not? That sort of stuff is great for promoting your program, whoever they want to use."
The note piece doesn't say whether they did use ND players or not.

Once the game starts, then it is something else:
"This game is between players, not between coaches," Weis said. "I think a lot of times the fanfare and the attention goes toward the coaches -- but in reality it comes down to which team executes the best."

For Weis, Saturday's game will be the first true referendum on how well his team has absorbed the changes he and his staff have implemented, everything from a new offensive system to a fresh defensive lineup that includes just three returning starters.
Personnel, Wannstedt said, would be the key. When he was the Bears head coach, Wannstedt couldn't get his teams past Mike Holmgren's Packers, compiling a 1-11 record in six seasons. In his first game as head coach of the Dolphins in 2000, he went against Holmgren's Seahawks.

"We beat them 23-0, intercept them six times," Wannstedt said. "Mike is shaking my hand after the game, and he says, 'God those plays didn't look the same as they did when [Packers quarterback] Brett Favre was running them, did they?'"
Hey, have you heard that both coaches were in the NFL? Yeah, I managed to miss that factoid too. That startling piece of information led the P-G to run a timely story on pro-level coaches coming back to college. Cutting edge. Hasn't been beaten into the ground around the country for the last couple of years. I mean, there have been some small stories out there regarding someone named Pete Carroll. Here and there stuff on Al Groh, Chan Gailey, Mike Shula,Sylvesterr Croom and so on -- occasionally. No one ever mentions poor Rich Brooks at Kentucky, though. Same with Ron Zook. Why is that?

When Wannstedt and Weis are out recruiting, though, they like to use props.
Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis likes to flash his 2004 Super Bowl ring when chatting up high school recruits.

Since returning to his alma mater, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt has worn two rings that are much older, but also are testaments to devotion.

"My wedding ring and my Pitt national championship ring," Wannstedt said, smiling.
"I use the ring more for recruiting," Weis said. "Everyone knows that when a kid is trying to decide among Division I programs, one of (his) aspirations is to play in the NFL. The ring is a symbol of being at the height of the NFL."

Weis has not bothered to show the current Fighting Irish players his jewelry collection. He prefers to express that message to them verbally.

"It's not the ring itself and the bling-bling," Weis said. "It's what it stands for."

Wannstedt said that if he did not have a Pitt ring, he probably would wear his Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl ring or University of Miami national championship ring.

"It means, hey, you've been there," Wannstedt said. "You've been the very best at what you do in your profession. There's not many people in any profession -- there's not many coaches, at any level -- that have been the very best at what they do. It's something that adds credibility to what you're doing."

I'll give Weis credit for a solidly crafted, self-effacing, one liner regarding rings and recruiting.

"I wear them any time recruiting is possible," Weis said. "Every one of the kids you're recruiting to a Division I school aspires to play on Sunday. So when you sit there and flash a ring on them, they're not looking at your face, they're looking at your hand.

"Like I tell my wife, if I can get them to look at my hand instead my face, I got a chance."

For Charlie Weis, unplugged here's his press conference from yesterday.

Q. What significance or importance do you put on the fact that you have two passionate head coaches going back to their alma maters and playing each other in the first game against each other on such a stage?

COACH WEIS: I think Dave (Wannstedt) would say the same thing that I would say, is that this game is between players, not between coaches. I think a lot of times the fanfare and the attention goes toward the coaches and the coaching staff, but in reality it comes down to which team executes the better, the best.

Both teams are going to be well prepared. I don't think that's going to be the issue, then comes down to who executes the best. Like I said before, I have a lot of respect for Dave and his entire staff. I don't think this should be about Dave and I. I think it should be about University of Pittsburgh versus University of Notre Dame.
Q. You mentioned Dave Wannstedt as a defensive guru, and you've been called an offensive guru. Describe how your styles go against each either as pertains to Saturday?

COACH WEIS: Dave is a really good coach, and remember, it's not just Dave, they have Rhoads there who is a good coordinator who he kept. When he came in there, he kept Rhoads. I think that their philosophies are interesting because, you know, I know Dave; Dave knows me. Now, that doesn't mean that's what's going to end up happening, but now you have to throw the other factors, the other factors that are involved: Who are the other players that are involved; and by players, I mean, the other coaches that have an influence on defensive game plans and offensive game plans. I think that this is going to come down to, I don't think there's going to be a trick game. This is going to come down to an execution game.

Finally, a puff piece on Coach Wannstedt from the Chicago Sun-Times (warning, Beano Cook quotes in the story).
"Right now, the immediate goal is just to get off the bus Saturday night and get going," said Wannstedt, Pitt Class of '74, master's of education, 1976. "But I hope that one day that night is looked back upon as the night that the University of Pittsburgh began its climb back to being a team consistently ranked nationally in the top 10 and beyond."
Soon, or at least for a Saturday night, it will be all about the game, the teams and the players -- not the coaches.

...Or Maybe Not 

Following up on Trevor Ferguson. Seems it isn't academic or criminal reasons that caused him not to enroll (cynical, perhaps but it is the times we live in when you immediately wonder), but personal/emotional.

A 6-foot-6 combo guard, Ferguson enrolled in summer school and went through voluntary workouts with Pitt players. But he decided within the past month that he wanted to return home to Tampa, Fla., and pursue other opportunities.

"He's back home and looking at other options," said Kenny Gillion, Ferguson's former AAU coach. "I think it's just one of those things where he's homesick. His family is going through some things and he wants to be home. It wasn't a problem with the coach or a player up there. He's just looking for another situation. I think he'll be staying in Florida this time."

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said Ferguson did not enroll in classes Monday after spending the past month at home.

It's not as simple as just being homesick.

In Florida yesterday, Oldsmar Christian assistant Pannone said Ferguson credited Dixon and Pitt assistant Joe Lombardi for the positive impression they made on him.

"Trevor's mother passed away from cancer when he was a junior here, and he just has this special feeling for the area where he was raised," Pannone said.

"Trevor went to Pittsburgh in the summer and added 10 pounds. He had a great time, but people forget that he didn't visit Pitt before this. Those winters are something else up there. I just don't think he felt he could adjust."

Under these circumstances, Coach Dixon released him from his National Letter of Intent. Under NCAA rules (apparently), however, Ferguson will still have to sit out the 2005-06 season. He will still have all 4 years of eligibility.

This is a little selfish but all I ask is that he doesn't end up going to South Florida. If he blossoms as a player, I don't want to see him in the Big East where he can hurt Pitt.

Flakking Flacco 

Joe Flacco officially transferring seems to have stirred things up a bit.

I was and am of the opinion that if Flacco had decided to transfer after the bowl, while Coach Wannstedt was transitioning into the job, a release of his scholarship probably would have been given. It's something of a common courtesy to do so when a new coach comes into the program.

Flacco, however, waited until after the spring game and semester ended before seeking a release. And judging by the lack of communication throughout the summer, did not appear forthcoming about where he wanted to go play. At that point, Pitt and Coach Wannstedt couldn't just let him go. Like Luke Getsy, he will probably get released after the fall semester, so he can go on scholarship at Delaware in the winter.

Now he's at Delaware, practicing with the team but sitting out the year, saying all the stock things:

"I would rather go somewhere I know they want me," Flacco said. "I felt wanted here."

He'll have two years of eligibility at Delaware beginning in the 2006 season. Next spring and summer, Flacco, 20, should compete for the starting job against junior Ryan Carty and red-shirt freshman Jarryd Moyer. They are presently backing up returning senior starter Sonny Riccio as Delaware prepares for its Sept. 10 opener against Lehigh.

This past winter, Delaware had hoped to sign high school quarterback Marquel Neasman of Bradenton, Fla. But he chose to attend Division I-A Central Florida.

Ever since, Delaware coach K.C. Keeler has said he needed more depth at the position and would welcome a transfer. Riccio, a former backup at Missouri, and his predecessor as UD starter, Andy Hall, who left Georgia Tech, also were transfers.

Flacco was No. 2 on Pitt's depth chart last fall and after spring practice behind Tyler Palko, who became the starter last year as a sophomore and was named second-team All-Big East. Wannstedt, a former Miami Dolphins coach who succeeded Walt Harris, installed a more run-oriented offense in which Flacco said he felt less comfortable.

"The bottom line is, I wasn't going to play there," Flacco said. "I felt that moving on would put me in the position to feel more like I was on the team."

Flacco apparently really likes pass oriented offenses, and Delaware runs a variation of the no-huddle spread.

Delaware, meanwhile, hopes to someday actually get a freshman QB recruit rather than a transfer.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Got an e-mail update from Pittsburgh Sports Report Keystone Recruiting. Trevor Ferguson, who signed with Pitt in the spring, decided not to enroll at Pitt. According to this article it was for "personal reasons, and the school is working with him to determine his future."

Obviously, we don't know everything yet, but I'm a little disappointed about this. I really liked the kid's potential. Not sure what the NCAA rules are regarding him. He signed the binding NLI, but never enrolled in classes. Seems like it puts you in some sort of nether region for eligibility.

The good news, the transfer from East Carolina, Mike Cook did enroll in class.

ND Perspectives 

So what does the Domer-centric media have to say?

Well, they import a piece from the Trib. on what is happening with Pitt and Coach Dave Wannstedt.

Notre Dame has released their game notes (PDF). Game notes, as I often mention, are more amusing when you are watching the game at home. If you've looked them over you can usually start catching just how much the broadcast team is relying on that information to drop little information to make it seem they have worked really hard at the research for the game. For example (pg. 3):
Coach Weis Vs. Coach Wannstedt
Charlie Weis of Notre Dame and Dave Wannstedt of Pittsburgh are making their collegiate head coaching debuts this weekend and are no strangers in terms of coaching competition on the football field. During their careers in the college ranks and the National Football League, Weis and Wannstedt have played each other on opposite coaching staffs 22 times. Weis carries a slight edge, as his teams have won 12 of the 22 meetings. The first meetings between the two coaches occurred when Weis was an assistant at South Carolina and Wannstedt was with the Miami Hurricanes (1986-87). The coaches then met on opposite sidelines during the New York Giants - Dallas Cowboys rivalry during the 1990s in the NFL. As Weis moved from the New York Giants to the New England Patriots, New York Jets and back to the Patriots, the two coaches met several more times with Wannstedt coaching the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins. Most recently, the two coaches met on the NFL gridiron in 2004 - splitting a pair of games between the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins.
So you may see someone throw out that 10-12 stat. Or worse, not realize that they are including both games from the 2004 NFL season. The second game -- a New England loss -- came after Wannstedt had already resigned from the Dolphins shouldn't be included. Now personally I find that kind of reaching all the way back a little silly. I'm willing to give him the time at New England as offensive coordinator, but not when he was the Patriots tight ends (93-94), running back (95) or wide receivers coach (96)

Just from his offensive coordinator time with New England, Weis has a 5-4 advantage over Wannstedt and the Dolphins from 2000 to 2004. The Dolphins won the first 3 meetings and New England the last 4. The total points scored by both sides in 9 games: 153 for Miami and 152 for New England. You can take from that kind of superficial information whatever you want.

Here's an article talking about ND looking to stretch the field more with the passing game. They now have two receivers at 6' 5". They are a senior and junior with rather lackluster numbers for their careers.

Of course, Charlie Weis is calling the offense.

A one-year turnaround seems daunting, but Weis believes he has the key ingredient: His success in the NFL was predicated upon the premise of fewer plays and multiple looks, thus confusing defenses as to what exactly he would call.

"Most offensive people would like to do the unexpected as often as they can," quarterbacks coach Peter Vaas said. "If you can come out with three tight ends and two running backs, and you have the ability to stretch the field and throw the ball deep, now when everybody sees two running backs and three tight ends, what are they thinking?"

Said Weis: "With that veteran offensive line returning and with the number of veteran skill people we have, it allows me to be versatile. I don't have to come out here and be conservative."

It will still be up to the players to execute, and it is still a new system.

This piece discusses whether and how fast ND can turn things around under Weis.
Quick fixes are fewer and farther between in Division I-A college football, however, where the nation's powers tend to remain the elite.

There are exceptions -- and Notre Dame hired Charlie Weis as coach with the intention of becoming the latest.
Finally the issue of Charlie Weis and his past influencers -- Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick.

If Weis can meld Patriots mojo with Notre Dame mystique and make the Fighting Irish fearsome again, he'll take a place with Rockne, Parseghian and Leahy, coaches with icon status at Notre Dame.

"And the flip side of it is, if you don't you're just a dunce," Weis said, typically blunt.

It's impossible to watch the 49-year-old Weis, with his windbreaker pulled over his thick upper body and shorts down to his knees, slide behind a microphone and start zapping reporters in his Jersey accent and not think of Bill Parcells.

"Several people say it and especially my wife," Weis said. "It's not exactly the same but, really, I'm from Jersey, he's from Jersey .... He's earned the right to bust chops with the media. So I have to pick and choose my spots and be more tactful, because people are like, 'What have you ever done?'"

Hours before Notre Dame's first practice of the preseason, Weis picks and chooses a couple of spots.

Asked about access to players:

"Well, what do you need to talk to them about? I'm coming up here and basically answering most of the questions that you're asking. I think I know more than they do."

The whole thing that Weis has modeled in media dealings of "one voice." Where he controls and restricts all access to coaches and players. Here's the thing. He's got one year of grace with the media. Then he has to start winning or they start turning on him -- hard.

I live in Cleveland. Before that I've spent time in Pittsburgh and Chicago. Cleveland sports media is not exactly a rough crowd. I got here in '94 when Belichick was head coach and the year after the mess with Bernie Kosar. Everyone says Belichick got burned in Cleveland because of the Kosar thing.

No. In '94 the Browns went 11-5. That after going 6-10, 7-9 and 7-9. Seems to indicate the moves were working. Everyone except the hardest of the hard-headed at the time conceded that Belichick was right -- it was the way he did it and the absolute refusal to talk to the media (and by extension considering the lack of internet and direct communications, the fans) that kept the fuse lit.

Here was what started it really burning. Belichick lost both division games to the Steelers and a 3rd to them in the playoffs. 0-3 against the hated rival in one year. Never been done before.

That made things uncomfortable, but what got the media to turn on him was his continual restrictions on talking to players, coaches and him.

Again, no willingness to give any answers or talk. The lack of access and information when people and the media wanted something.

If you're winning (like in New England) you can get away with the arrogance and controls. The media may grumble and grouse a little, but it has no traction. The fans don't care when you are winning. That's all that matters.

So when Weis refuses to do any interviews before the Pitt game with ABC Sports -- except completely on his terms -- and operates that way with everyone; it won't hurt him this year, and it may not come back on him if he does succeed quickly. But if it takes him a couple years to get going -- he's in trouble. Once goodwill is lost, it is doubly harder to get it back.

Short People Got, No Reason... 

Apparently Florida Cornerback Ricky Gary is a little tetchy about his height. That's what gave Pitt a, uh, leg up.
Pahokee senior cornerback Ricky Gary believes the University of Pittsburgh was the only school that ignored his dimensions and focused on ability.

And for that, Gary on Sunday rewarded Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt by giving the Panthers an oral commitment.

"They don't care about my size," Gary said. "They just love my play."

Gary, who is 5 feet 9 and 177 pounds, said several schools were concerned with his size. He said Wannstedt never mentioned it and was active in the process.

"Coach Wannstedt recruited me harder than any other head coach," Gary said.

Gary, a member of the Sun-Sentinel's Super 11, is one of the top cover cornerbacks in the state.
Up in NY, Kevin Collier made his verbal known.
Churchville-Chili's Kevin Collier expects dozens of phone calls from college football recruiters on Thursday.

The number of coaches who ring the Collier family home will dwindle down after that.

Collier, whose stock among college teams rose significantly this off-season, plans to share the news that he has given a verbal commitment to accept a scholarship from the University of Pittsburgh.

"It was the environment," the 2004 All-Greater Rochester team running back said. "The guys on the team was the selling point. It's where I felt comfortable. I can go there and take the majors that I want (communications and physical education).

"I'm going to get an education and have fun doing it playing football."
Not that I'm not glad he chose Pitt, but it isn't exactly like he is choosing subjects not offered at other schools.

With 17 verbals, Pitt has been one of the most active teams in the country in securing early commits. Only Texas and North Carolina have more commits than Pitt. Recruiting Coordinator and Tight Ends Coach Greg Gattuso sees more baby sitting than anything else at this point.

"We're in the ballpark of being done," said Greg Gattuso, Pitt's recruiting coordinator. "Up to this point, we're happy where we are, but we still have a lot of work to do.

"These are still verbal commitments. The bottom line is we still have to keep working at recruiting. We have to keep recruiting the kids we already have, and there are kids out there who are going to have great seniors years. We want to keep our eyes on them, too."

Still, this will also be a huge recruiting weekend with a lot of out of state kids visiting.

Eight high school players who are being recruited by Pitt are expected to make official visits to the school this weekend and attend the season opener against Notre Dame. Some other players will attend the game, but won't be on official visits.
Gary will make his official visit this weekend along with teammate Tamarcus Porter, a receiver who is considering Pitt. Porter also has offers from Ohio State, Boston College and Maryland, among others.

Eric Latimore, a defensive end from Middletown, Del., also will visit this weekend. Penn State and West Virginia are a few other schools that have offered Latimore.

Woodland Hills defensive back Darrin Walls will visit this weekend. A few other top players who are considering Pitt are defensive end McKenzie Mathews of Syracuse, N.Y., and offensive lineman Dan Wenger of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Both have numerous scholarship offers.

I hope the wealthy alumni and donors aren't expecting to get much face time with Coach Wannstedt aside from at the Kickoff Lunch on Friday.

Finally, it appears that former Pitt back-up QB Joe Flacco is indeed enrolling at U Delaware to play for the Blue Hens.

Plenty of Stuff 

He's as fired up as the players:
Dave Wannstedt had a bit of a bounce in his step as he approached the microphone yesterday to address the media for his first game-week news conference as the Panthers' head coach. Months and months of anticipation and hype about the program, about recruits, about a new attitude have overshadowed the main reason Wannstedt came to town in the first place -- to coach football.

Saturday, the Panthers will play host to Notre Dame at Heinz Field in a nationally televised game.

"We are here! Game week!" Wannstedt declared with all of the excitement of a young kid anticipating opening his presents on Christmas morning.

He's exerting a calming influence.

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt does not want his players to get too psyched, too soon for Saturday's game against Notre Dame.

"It will build up soon enough," he said. "This is not going to be, 'Win one for the Gipper,' because there's going to be enough emotion and excitement in a game like this. The real key, I think, is not to let it happen too soon. You want to build it gradually.

"If anything, I'm going to be slowing 'em down a little bit, trying to let it take its natural course and not get ahead of ourselves."

There's plenty happening this week.

A pep rally and bonfire -- "I can't remember the last time I went to a bonfire," Wannstedt said, smiling -- will be held at 8:30 p.m. Thursday on the Cathedral of Learning's law.

ESPN will station its GameDay crew at Heinz Field. Lee Corso, one of the cable network's resident college football gurus, will do a book signing from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at Petersen Events Center.

"Guru" and "Lee Corso" do not belong in the same sentence together unless a negative modifier is included. Also surprising, is that Corso will not be signing picture books but copies of the ESPN College Football Encyclopedia. No truth to the report that he signs in crayons.

This AP Piece about Pitt developing a running game and more balanced offense has been getting in a lot of papers.

Here's the one thing to remember about Pitt's offense last year. As much as it gets characterized as a pass-only offense (as opposed to a more pass-first), Pitt's problem was that it was unable to effectively run the ball. Taking out all of Tyler Palko's carries shows that Pitt ran the ball 319 times, or about 26.5 times per game. Also remember that Pitt had no featured back. Whether due to injury and just trying to find the hot hand. Yes, Pitt passed more than they ran, but given the line and where the talent was, that made more sense.

Offensive Coordinator Matt Cavanaugh gets a puff piece looking back on 1977 when he broke his wrist in the opening game of the season -- against ND.

Is it any wonder that high on Cavanaugh's priority list for Pitt's offense Saturday night is keeping quarterback Tyler Palko clean and safe?

That would give Pitt a better chance of beating Notre Dame than it had in that 1977 game after Cavanaugh was injured. Notre Dame was ranked No. 3 at the time, Pitt No. 7. The Panthers had won the national title the year before in no small part because of Cavanaugh, their quarterback. He was named MVP of their 27-3 rout of Georgia in the Sugar Bowl on a night his more celebrated teammate, Tony Dorsett, closed out his Heisman Trophy-winning career by rushing for a Sugar Bowl-record 202 yards.

"Tony was gone and it was supposed to be my team in '77," Cavanaugh said. "I was the guy who was supposed to carry us. That's why what happened was so devastating."

Cavanaugh marched Pitt down the field on its opening drive. But at the Irish 12 late in the first quarter, he was chased out of the pocket and forced to roll to his right. Just before the sideline, he planted and threw back across his body to wide receiver Gordon Jones. An instant later, defensive end Willie Fry planted him in the Pitt Stadium turf.

People would joke a few years later that this was the first of two times that Fry would play a cruel trick on Pittsburgh. He was the Steelers' No. 2 draft choice in 1978 but never made it in the NFL.

No one was laughing after Cavanaugh was hurt, though. It didn't matter that he completed that pass to Jones for a touchdown and a 7-0 Pitt lead or that the Panthers would add a safety to boost the margin to 9-0. His left wrist was broken. Pitt wasn't going to win this game against that opponent without him. Backup quarterback Wayne Adams had trouble even getting the snaps from All-American center Tom Brzoza. The Panthers fumbled eight times, losing five. They didn't score again and lost, 19-9.


The one extra advantage ND can arguably have, is that 2 members of their coaching staff worked with Coach Wannstedt with the Dolphins.

Bill Lewis is not too familiar with Pitt -- which is no surprise, considering it has been 37 years since he worked there an assistant coach.

However, Lewis knows a lot about Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt. They spent the past six years together on the Miami Dolphins coaching staff.
"Whatever information (about Wannstedt's schemes) that coach Weis would want me to share, I'll certainly share," Lewis said. "We'll try to study Dave's background and then the background of his coordinators and so forth."

Just as Weis and Lewis are trying to climb into Wannstedt's head out in South Bend, Ind., Wannstedt's crew is doing the same thing over at the South Side complex.

Wannstedt expects Weis to incorporate some of New England's offensive tendencies into Notre Dame's schemes.
In that regard, Weis might have an edge on Wannstedt, because he has another ex-Dolphins assistants on his staff. Irish tight ends coach Bernie Parmalee performed the same duties for Wannstedt the past three years.

"We pretty much knowns that style (Wannstedt) likes to play, but that doesn't guarantee that he's going to play that style," Parmalee said. "We just have to do what we have to do, and everyone else has to stop us. We can't go into a game thinking about what they're going to do. They have to worry about what we're going to do."

However, if they know what we know, and we know that they know we know, and -- oh forget it.

Notebooks: We Need More Time 

The various Big East Notebook stories from around the country echo that familiar theme from the coaches after the weekly Big East coaches teleconference.

West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez came up with an idea during Monday's Big East coaches' teleconference that drew unanimous support from his peers.

"If there could be one rule change to make in Division I football,'' mused Rodriguez, "it would be to have a scrimmage game or an exhibition against somebody else before the start of the season.''

Rodriguez is getting ready to take an inexperienced Mountaineer team to Syracuse for a nationally-televised season opener on Sunday afternoon.

It's the only game pitting two conference foes against each other on opening weekend.

"That's the thing about Division I football,'' said Rodriguez. "The first time you play, it counts - and for us it counts a lot because it's a league game.''

The attraction for coaches of a preseason scrimmage or exhibition is the chance to find out how their players - and coaching staffs - react in the heat of battle without running the risk of a loss in September that could come home to roost when bowl bids are issued in December.

I guess it's a good question to ask considering the fact that most of the Big East teams are playing non-patsy games to open the season: WVU vs. Syracuse, USF at Penn St., rivalry game Louisville vs. Kentucky, Rutgers at Illinois and of course Pitt vs. ND.

So the reporters ran with it, getting everyone to comment.

What else is new? College football coaches are notorious worriers, a fraternity of detail-oriented fanatics who take pride in preparation and believe there are insufficient hours in the day or days in the week to get their teams ready to roll.

The rules of Division I-A football feed those flames of doubt by prohibiting teams from playing preseason exhibition games or even controlled scrimmages against another team. High school teams do it. Professional teams do it. Division III teams do it. So do I-A teams in other sports.

Football is the exception, and Monday morning the league's coaches wondered why.

"If we could add one that doesn't count I'd be all for it," said Connecticut coach Randy Edsall, whose Huskies open Thursday night at home against non-league foe Buffalo. "Our soccer team just had two exhibitions. The basketball team has them. In football, it just doesn't happen for whatever reason."

"The biggest thing that has been kind of different for me is we don't have preseason games," said Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt, whose last stop was coaching the Miami Dolphins. "You have four NFL preseason games. Even high schools around here have scrimmages. That's the unknown of this whole college experience I'm still trying to figure out."

From a selfish, fan perspective I can think of a good reason not to: money. Specifically they would want more of mine. Every school would want to host and sell tickets -- likely add the cost to the season ticket package as well -- meaning there would need to be 2 scrimmage games for each school to ensure at least one home scrimmage.

More repetitive notebook pieces focusing on scrimmages or exhibition games can be found from New Jersey and West Virginia.

I other notebook summaries there is the issue of heightened expectations at UConn and Louisville.

After leading Connecticut to a bowl game in the school's third year in Division 1-A ranks last season, coach Randy Edsall knows he has created a monster in terms of expectations.

Never mind that the Huskies have to replace record-setting quarterback Dan Orlovsky or that seven of the 10 offensive linemen on the two-deep have never played a snap heading into the opener at home against Buffalo on Thursday. The 31,000 people who bought season tickets for this fall did so for one reason: They expect more of the same.

Still, everyone covering the Big East knows the Pitt-ND game is the biggest on the opening weekend slate.

For some of the straight questions asked of Coach Wannstedt, PantherLair (Rivals.com) posted a transcript of part of the teleconference.

Reporter from the Ft. Wayne Journal-Gazette: How well do you know Charlie Weiss? In your first time in college you may be facing a guy that knows you better than anyone else in college football.

Coach Wannstedt: That's true. Charlie and I are friends personally just from our acquaintance through the NFL for the last 10 or 15 years. We probably know each other better from an X and O standpoint than from a personal standpoint. It's going to come down to this. You can only do what your players can execute. You can only do what your players have time to comprehend and learn. For me to sit here and think we are going to be able to do a lot of things we could do with the Miami Dolphin defense is really unrealistic. It is the same thing I am sure Charlie is going through. We would like to do some things but I don't think we have a Jason Taylor on our team. He'll be facing the same thing with some of his players. That is going to be the biggest adjustment. There are things we know about each other and things we would like to do but can the players go out and execute it? We will see.
[Emphasis added.]

Monday, August 29, 2005

Game Week 

Coach Wannstedt had a press conference this afternoon to talk about the week and the game on Saturday.
Opening remarks:

We are here! Game week! I guess as a coach you probably feel, at least my experience has been that there's never enough time. I don't care if you were in training camp for six months. You're leading into that last week, and you say, 'Boy if I had just one more week.' Or 'If I could just get one more practice, then we'd be okay.' But then you really get to the point, and we're almost there now, where you're ready to play. And you really sense that, I think, from the players and how they're reacting on the field. And that's about where we're at.
On a side note, I think every program encourages walk-on players to come on your roster, and it's great, it's fantastic, to be able to reward these guys. This past week we awarded scholarships for this year to Ron Idoko, Joe Villani and Kellen Campbell. Those three guys were awarded scholarships - two of them seniors, one of them a junior. That was a real upbeat thing for our team and primarily for those players.
On Wannstedt's familiarity with Charlie Weis' schemes:

With Charlie Weis running the offense, we're going to see the majority of the (New England) Patriot stuff. Each coach is going to have an influence on the offense, I'm sure, in some form or fashion. Originally, he hired David Cutcliffe to be the offensive coordinator from Old Miss. He obviously left. They have a new coordinator, but they did bring in a guy from Old Miss. Bernie Parmalee, who's coaching his running backs (and) who was with me at the Dolphins the last two years. I think there will be thoughts from everybody. But the nucleus of what they do -- but probably more important, when they do things -- that will be very similar. Guys may change their offense, but there are tendencies that people have: when they like to try the trick plays, when they like to take a shot deep. Those things are part of someone's personality.

A lot of people are asking me about my relationship with Charlie. We're friends and we get along, but we probably know each other from an Xs and Os standpoint a lot better than we know each other personally. We are preparing for some New England (schemes). We are preparing for a couple of other assistants that are on that staff. We looked at some of their film, but the most important thing in this game is really not as much what they do, but making sure that we execute what we're supposed to do. And that goes for both sides of the ball. They're going to see things for the first time from our offense and from our defense. I really think that the team that has the best grasp for their own offense and defense will be able to make the adjustments as the game goes on, and it will give that team a chance to be successful.
On Notre Dame's offensive strength:

I've got to start with their offensive line really. I think that those guys have been together for awhile, and they've got an experienced quarterback. They've really got all eleven (starters) back. And they've got Darius Walker, and he played most of the time last year. So they've got everybody back on offense. A lot of athletic ability, a lot of speed, but it's probably going to come down to the quarterback. It usually does in high-energy games. And it may not be the great plays. Usually in early games, it's usually not the team that makes the most great plays, but it's usually the team that makes the fewest bad plays. And that involves the turnovers and the kicking games. Special teams is going to be huge in this game. We feel real good about our kickers, but I'm talking about our coverage units, I'm talking about our returners. It's early on, and you're trying to get a lot of new people and that scenario where you're always fighting to get practice time and you're trying to get some young kids on the field, or you have to. We've spent almost as much time on special teams here, in the evenings and so forth, as we would have in the NFL and for that purpose. Those first couple of games are going to be real big.
Now, before I get any further, I have to bring up this rather unfortunate choice of jacket was worn. That they used as a photo for the press conference story is just disturbing. This couldn't be left unremarked.

Would you buy a house from this man?

Better now.

Of note in the press conference, Offensive Coordinator Matt Cavanaugh will be on the sideline for the game rather than up in the coach's box. Seems to be a comfort thing with Palko.

Recognized Before Anything Happens 

Trying to keep some perspective on some positive publicity.

Sports Illustrated listed it's pre-season All-American Team. It included Greg Lee.

As mentioned last week, H.B. Blades is on the Butkus Award Watch list. Here's the Pitt press release.

The new commits Pitt got on Sunday seems to have impressed Scouts, Inc/ESPN Director of Recruiting Tom Luginbill (Insider Subs.):
Dave Wannstedt and the Pittsburgh program have done a great job of securing many top players in Pennsylvania, but these two verbal commitments show the Panthers have the ability to recruit in both the Northeast and Florida.

While Ricky Gary lacks ideal size, he has explosive ability on the perimeter and can be a threat for Pittsburgh in the return game. Gary, currently the 17th best cornerback in the nation, along with recent verbal commitment Aaron Smith, currently the 32nd ranked cornerback in the nation, will form a quick and athletic secondary. Smith plays quarterback in high school, but we project him at either the cornerback or safety position in college.

Kevin Collier is Pitt's first verbal from a running back and has the potential to blossom into a great player at the next level. Collier is a playmaker who is especially effective bouncing runs to the outside and catching screens on the perimeter, and although the competition he's playing against isn't the greatest, we feel he has all the tools to be successful at the next level.

Now it's just a matter of getting to Saturday and doing the work on the field. All of this stuff is nice, but going out there and beating the Irish will really be the way to help the program. National stage, debut game, lots of recruits on hand. It's big.

Getting Juiced 

Classes begin today at Pitt. It will be very interesting to see what the students do this weekend. Usually, half the campus would clear out for Labor Day weekend for one last chance to get together with some old friends from high school, freshmen would go dashing home to recap that first exciting week to the parents. The Oakland bars would seem to be running at 1/2 speed and feel very odd since you could actually move.

I suppose those who live in the Pittsburgh area might still clear out, but those that live a little further away have to be thinking of staying. How do you skip that opening game against ND? One of the most exciting season opener at Pitt in years. The last time was back in '96 with an opening day blowout loss to WVU in Johnny Majors, the Sequel's final year. In fact, Coach Wannstedt is almost more worried about keeping everyone in check for the rest of the week.
"We've got three or four days of hard work in preparation, but by Wednesday or Thursday ... we've got rallies, bonfires and (ESPN) Game Day coming in. So, if anything, I'm probably going to be slowing them down a bit and just trying to let it take its natural course and not get ahead of ourselves.''
Yeah, there's apparently going to be a bonfire on campus on Thursday.

Everyone is excited for the game.

The Irish and the Panthers meet 8 p.m. Saturday at Heinz Field and the game is being billed as one of the most anticipated Pitt openers in the past two decades. The game will be nationally televised on ABC and ESPN "GameDay" live Saturday morning from Heinz Field.

Pitt also will attempt to do something it hasn't done in nearly two decades -- beat the Irish twice in a row. That is something that hasn't happened since 1986-87.

Pitt linebacker H.B. Blades said making history is not important -- but history is always made when you beat a tradition-laden program like Notre Dame.

"Coaches may say that every game counts the same, but everybody here knows Notre Dame is a big game and always will be," said Blades. "You get up to play against Notre Dame just because of who they are. Everybody understands their history, their tradition, the great, great players who have played there and what that program means to college football.

"So this game is special, no matter when it is, what our record is or whatever. It is huge. We're not worried about streaks. We're worried about finding a way to beat one of the best programs in the country."

ND's Coach Weis is also eager to get to game time. Strangely, and I guess this is part of Weis' master plan, he is now entering the piss off the media mode.
Keith Jackson figures it has been more than 20 years since he last broadcast a college football game from Pittsburgh.

"It was 1984," he said. "I remember Foge Fazio was coaching Pitt back then."

These days, Jackson, who will turn 77 in October, prefers to work exclusively on the West Coast. However, he is breaking his self-imposed ban on crossing the Rocky Mountains to join the ABC-TV crew for Saturday's Pitt-Notre Dame game at Heinz Field.

"I know I'm getting near the end of the trail," Jackson said by phone from his home in Sherman Oaks, Calif. "I wanted to go back and see Pittsburgh. It will be fun to see Pitt play again."

Jackson will arrive in town Thursday, and hopes to have dinner with Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt. The conversation likely will include a anecdote or two from Jackson about the games in which he saw Wannstedt play for Pitt.

Jackson has never met Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis. And it appears that will not change, even after this weekend.

"He's turned down all of our interview requests," Jackson said. "He told us he'd be glad to talk with (ABC broadcaster Dan) Fouts out there in South Bend, but he won't do it on camera.

"Somebody needs to sit down with Charlie and tell him how important marketing is to Notre Dame."

I mean, he spent a week-long media blitz in late-July (or was it early August) including one day when he was on just about every ESPN TV and Radio show. Now he's only willing to do an interview off camera a couple days before? I'm not saying that it wouldn't just be fluff and irrelevant to the game itself, but what is really served by that kind of action? That's just being an asshole.

I can hardly wait until that always useless moment when a sideline reporter trots upto or after Weis before or after half-time to ask an inane and useless question. What happens? A "No comment"; coach speak answer; a withering look of contempt; bitch-slapping?

I know, this is part of Weis' super-genius strategy to galvanize the Domer fans. Piss off a legend -- albeit an increasingly confused and befuddled legend -- of college football broadcasting so Domer fans can yell at the TV and everywhere else in self-righteous, aggrieved tones about how ABC and Jackson are biased against ND.

I'm going to have to get a tape of this game.

Recruiting Recapping 

Busy weekend on that front. First it was Aaron Smith on Saturday. Then reports came that Kevin Collier had pulled the trigger -- though it seems he may be holding a press conference today to make it official. Then Ricky Gary, a bit undersized but speedy and athletic cornerback, from Florida committed.

Gary chose Pitt over schools like Iowa, Maryland, UNC, Ole Miss and Miss St. Here's what Scouts, Inc./ESPN has to say (Insider Subs.)
Gary may lack ideal size for the position, but he doesn't lack any of the physical tools. Dangerous return man and is threat to go the distance. This guy is a playmaker on the perimeter and what you really like is his aggressive, physical style of play in every area. Play much bigger than size indicates. All of his natural cover skills are solid including change of direction, the ability to turn and run, and explosiveness when breaking on the ball. He has good plant and drive qualities, and he has the speed to run with most receivers. Possesses excellent feet and closing burst. Is a reliable open-field tackler with surprising pop. He has a nose for the ball, likes to mix it up and is very willing in run support.
They rank him at 6.9 on their 9.0 scale and as the 17th best CB recruit (just behind Aaron Berry of Bishop McDevitt in Harrisburg). Both Scout.com and Rivals.com have him as a 3-star recruit.

As for Kevin Collier, he chose Pitt over Maryland, Syracuse, BC and Wisconsin. Scout.com has him as a 3-star, while Rivals.com is significantly higher on him. They have him as a 4-star and in their top 250 recruits. Not to mention the 17th best RB in the country and 3rd best recruit out of NY (preseason).

Aaron Smith is an athlete playing QB, and part of why he chose Pitt over Maryland was the chance to play WR. The Scouts, Inc./ESPN people don't have an "athletes" category, so they put him in Cornerbacks at #32 with a 6.6 score. Both Scouts.com and Rivals.com have him as an athlete -- though both indicate he would be better on defense. Scouts.com has him at 3-star, but indicate a rising stock from summer workouts. Rivals.com likes him more with a 4-star rank and in their top 250. They also have him as the 16th best athlete in the country, 15th best recruit in PA (preseason) and Pantherlair puts him at 14 in the state.

Rough weekend for Maryland. Three recruits they had on their list, all going to Pitt.

Kendall's Canadian Canoodling Crashes 

A disappointing performance for the Canadian National Team.
Marcelo Machado scored a tournament-high 42 points as Brazil downed Canada 105-81 in the FIBA Americas world qualifying tournament, eliminating the Canadians from the competition. Canada (1-3) finished at the bottom of its five-team group, with the top four teams advancing to the quarter-finals.

The loss also means Canada will not play in next year's world basketball championships in Japan. It's the first time Canada has failed to qualify for the world championships since 1967.
Levon Kendall finished with 13 points (6-11) 6 rebounds and 3 blocks in that game. A decent final game.

It wasn't a particularly good tournament for him. He did pretty well in the team's opening game.
In the second game against USA -- which the Canadians actually won -- he had 4 fouls, 2 points and 2 rebounds in 20 minutes.

Then in a loss to Panama, it was a 3 rebound 4 point effort in only 16 minutes.

Well he needed to come back to Pitt for the start of classes, I guess.

Satellite Radio 

You know, maybe I'll just chalk this up to letting it slip through the cracks.

A few weeks ago, AD Jeff Long said that Pitt was close to a deal to get its radio broadcasts on Satellite Radio, but wouldn't say with which group.

I figured when they had the deal, they would announce it. Call me arrogant, but I don't think I missed the announcement.

So, a closer look at the game notes (PDF, pg. 1) reveals that the games will be on Sirius.

This was a stupid slip. Something that should have gotten released sooner for the fans. Not a major error, but a stupid one. If you are going to say it's coming, then let people know when it happens.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Peeking Through the Veil 

The game is officially sold out. Some standing room only tix will be on sale on Tuesday.

So, what's the word on the team residing in a state that looks something like a dripping, spent phallic representation?

The same but different. While Pitt has a new coach who is considered long on personality and inspiring players, but short on actual game coaching; ND's new coach is considered an X-O guy who has needed to prove himself in the personality/charisma department.

Obviously both coaches will need to prove themselves again on the field with what they do, but for now everyone around the program believes in Coach Charlie Weis and what he has done with the attitude of the team.

No, the only thing Weis, a 1978 Notre Dame graduate, seems concerned about at the moment is changing the attitude of the entire program. He's a demanding coach in the mold of Lou Holtz -- minus the endless bluster -- who won't settle for anything less than restoring the Fighting Irish to national prominence.

"It's a fair question if you're worried about what people are thinking," Weis told reporters during media day in South Bend, Ind., earlier this month. "I'm not really worrying about it. Mind you, the object is to win as fast as we can."

Weis inherits a program that finished 6-6 last season.

It has been 16 long seasons since Notre Dame won the last of its 11 national championships -- equaling the longest draught in school history from 1950-65.

The master plan under Weis is based on instilling faith.

"The first message we're trying to teach the players is, 'You have no chance of winning if you believe you're not going to win.' If you have games you're already thinking, 'Well, this team is a lot better than us,' you really have no chance.

"If you go into a game thinking anything other than you're going to win that game, you can count on losing it," Weis said.

"The sooner we can get more people thinking that way, the better our chances are," he added. "There are not many games where I've looked at the schedule and said, 'Well, we're losing that one.' I've tried not to do that."

In fact, that was the overwhelming theme of stories today on Weis and the Domers.

But Charlie Weis needed more than four Super Bowl rings and a proven playbook to win over his new team.

He needed to push. He needed to teach. He needed to inspire.

And, perhaps most important, he needed to relate.

Maybe it's the outgrowth of the "one voice" theory from Bill Belichick that Weis is adhering to that creates a uniformity of stories. I'll have some more thoughts on that theory later in the week, from someone who got to observe it in action in Cleveland under Belichick.

The players, of course, in their interviews are positive, but it is already causing media people to look for tells --

When the subject turns to Charlie Weis, as it always does, Notre Dame football players offer variations on the same reaction.

A chuckle suggests their responses will be edited for sensitive tastes.

Then maybe darting eyes, or a thumb and forefinger tracing the corners of their mouths, some kind of tic to buy time.

Wary, weary expressions developed over three weeks of the Weis treatment, a persistent drumbeat of criticism and instruction and perpetual unhappiness with their performance, as promised.

"It's hard to describe," serves as a common throat-clearing remark from Notre Dame football players asked to explain the tactics and intensity of their new coaching staff.

Goading questions about comparing them with their predecessors go nowhere -- they have been trained -- but their words reveal more than the usual preseason anticipation.

Exhaustion and excitement on their faces illustrate their current state of mind.

Sounds like the first couple weeks while dating a crazy chick. But then, I may just be projecting.

Wanting To Be Part of Something 

Pop open a Saranac.

Kevin Collier, the running back recruit from upstate NY, has apparently committed to Pitt. This recruit gets credited to RB Coach David Walker. Scouts, Inc./ESPN has Collier ranked as the 26th best RB in the country (Insider Subs.).
Evaluation: Collier has the potential to become a special player and is a very natural, explosive runner with excellent vision and instincts. He is what you would call a darter type back, with superb quickness and explosiveness. He shows great burst to the hole, can pick and slide to avoid contact and can really make people miss. Has smooth hips, can swerve and slash and is very difficult to get a beat on. Is certainly fast enough, but not a burner. Question level of competition as he is a man amongst boys in his conference. He is surprisingly effective as an inside runner, has some power, runs low and can avoid taking on big hits. Will bounce plays outside and this is where he is at his best. He does not have great size, but he is well built, and he has excellent change of direction skills and the ability to create in space. He shows some suddenness, he can bounce it to the outside, and he has the ability to get to put it into a second gear. He catches the ball naturally out of the backfield and he is a threat in space when you get him on the perimeter or if you can line him up in man-to-man coverage on a linebacker. He is very effective on dump offs and screens, and he can give you a lot of big plays.
The optimism for the future is on the verge of unbridled at this point.

Depth Charts 

ND debuts it's 2-deep depth chart out (PDF).

Pitt has the game notes available (PDF). The depth chart is on page 3.

Study them. Learn them. There will be a quiz later.

Prep Work 

According to our spiritual and base leader for tailgating, Pat, we got our parking passes. We are back in Green 23 which is fine, as long as they maintain or increase the number of port-a-johns. The bright side, we don't need the feelings of inadequacy of our tailgate that came from being in the lot that had S.H.A.T. Now this is organization for games (not to mention a pretty good menu).

We're a little more basic. Just burgers and dogs each week with some snack foods. Yuengling lager (though occasionally something from Penn Brewing thrown in) and some Makers Mark. To a degree it's necessitated because over a third of our group comes in from out of town1-3 hour drives. After that, no one wants to put that much effort into the food.

Plenty of media stuff for the coming week. FSN Pittsburgh will be airing a Pitt preview show at 7:30 pm on Wednesday, followed by a story on Coach Dave Wannstedt coming back to Pitt called "Homecoming."

Just to conflict with both, the Dave Wannstedt Radio Show airs that night at the exact same time. Don't you think someone might have coordinated this a little better? A little cooperation? I mean the radio show airs on Fox Sports Radio 970.

Can't radio and tv under the same corporate parent get along?

The College GameDay site needs a bit of updating.

Here's the information on Pitt's site about going down for the AM GameDay show.

Heinz Field Great Lawn

FREE parking is available in the Posvar Hall parking garage located in Oakland off of Roberto Clemente Drive from 8:30 A.M. - 12:30 P.M. Click here for parking map.

FREE shuttle bus service from Oakland to Heinz Field for all ESPN College GameDay fans will also be available from 8:30 A.M. - 12:30 P.M. Shuttle buses will board and drop-off from Bigelow Blvd. located in-between the William Pitt Union and the Cathedral of Learning.

Event parking is available on the North Shore (rates may vary).
I like the free shuttle service for both students and fans. The free parking is very cool.

Pitt Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations, E.J. Borghetti helped me find the link (now, that's just shameless namedropping). He also added the following in an e-mail:
Due to the Pirates game attendees in the a.m. will have to pay for parking. However, if you have a Pitt park pass, you can hang it up upon arrival and then just stay the rest of the day. You won't get booted.

In contrast, people who attend the Pirates game for noon that day will get the boot at the conclusion of that game. Let me know if this explains it.
Well, it makes sense to me. It also makes the shuttle service that much more attractice.

The Wannstedt Topic 

Capsule pieces abound in newspapers this weekend trying to find something else to talk about regarding college football. The most popular subject has been new coaches. Lots of little, mostly useless 1 to 2 line pieces on each new coach and their potential impact.

This story from Louisiana is a little more, but it is also very familiar to Pitt fans.

And sometimes the coach comes to the school with a ready-made body of knowledge of the institution, if not his new position.

Wannstedt spent the past 15 years in the NFL, most recently five seasons as head coach of the Miami Dolphins, but he is a native of Pittsburgh with two degrees from the school.

"We thought Dave would be a great fit, and he's done nothing but prove us correct," Pittsburgh athletic director Jeff Long said. "With our current and former players, with the community and with all of Pennsylvania, Dave has served notice that Pitt is back in a major way on the college football scene."

Wannstedt has declared Western Pennsylvania "our back yard" and has 12 early commitments, 11 from the Pittsburgh area. Rival Penn State has only two.

He's also related well to the locals, bringing up his college summers working alongside his father in the Jones & Laughlin steel mill. That's a stark contrast to Walt Harris, his aloof predecessor, whom the school didn't try to hold back when he took the Stanford job last December.

"Everybody cares about their own, but Pittsburghers love and embrace them in a way I've never seen before," Long said. "Dave's strong faith and integrity resonates extremely well in this community. He's forged in steel."

Now, anyone who lives or has lived in Chicago knows there is not exactly a lot of love for Coach Dave Wannstedt. So, this very positive, practically glowing story on Coach Wannstedt taking over at Pitt is stunning -- and probably caused more than a few in Chicagoland to mutter and curse.

His moment of anonymity lasted only as long as a few rings of a cellular phone, "Unknown Name" and "Unknown Number" concealing his identity ever so briefly.

But the moment Bill Stull answered the phone, the voice, with its unmistakably "Pittsburgh-ese" cadence and pronunciations, gave away the caller.

"I usually don't answer 'Unknown Name, Unknown Number,' but I answered it," Stull said. "He said, 'I was just calling to make sure you were safe on your commit.'"

Stull was so stunned by the call, so stoked to finally get a look from his hometown school, that he stammered out an unconvincing yes.

Stull, a star quarterback at Pittsburgh's Seton-LaSalle High School, had made an oral commitment to attend Kentucky in the fall of 2005 on a football scholarship.

But . . .

"I've always wanted to play here," Stull said, standing on the University of Pittsburgh's practice field last week. "I knew deep down I was going to wind up here."

Stull was not the only one. The 2005 season has yet to begin, and Pitt already has a dozen oral commitments for the class of 2010 from western Pennsylvania high school stars looking to follow in Stull's footsteps.

Because when it's Dave Wannstedt doing the asking, few people in these parts will turn him down.
It also touches on the loyalty and fondness former players have for him.
Wannstedt knows the key to successful recruiting is spotting the best players, reeling them in and maximizing their talent. Though he hasn't been involved in college football for more than a decade, he has a track record.

"A lot of people figured I was a little bit small as a linebacker, but he believed I was a player and thought I could play at Miami," former Hurricanes linebacker Maurice Crum said.

Crum justified that faith by leading the Hurricanes in tackles for three straight seasons, from 1988 to 1990.

On Saturday, Crum's namesake son, Maurice Crum Jr., will start at linebacker for Notre Dame.

"Maurice called me the other day and said he is going to be starting," Maurice Crum Sr. said. "I told him to tell coach Wannstedt thank you, because all the things I was taught by coach, I taught him."

Any other game, any other team, and he would be rooting wholeheartedly for his former coach, Crum said.

"I think Dave will work hard enough to get the team to a national championship," Crum said. "He'll do whatever it takes."

Bennie Blades played safety for Wannstedt at Miami, and he is more than happy to have his son, H.B., starting at middle linebacker for the Panthers.

"Dave had such an aura about him," Blades said. "When you pick a guy who has played the game, who knows how to coach the game, you can take everything he says and basically lay your hat on it."
Read and enjoy it all.

Finally, I've always enjoyed stories of how one event can impact so many, so tenuously connected. Here's a good one about coaching changes starting with Wannstedt resigning from the Dolphins.

Only 154 Hours To Go 

We'll work our way into the meat for this one then fade back.

With a puff piece that borders on an unhealthy man-crush, Ron Cook plants a juicy one on Tyler Palko. As happens with revisionism, all credit for his development and emergence last year stays with Palko.

He made himself a great quarterback after picking himself up out of that Nebraska mess and playing the kind of fabulous football that had longtime Pitt people mentioning his name in the same sentence with Dan Marino's. The proof is that he somehow found a way to get an otherwise ordinary, three-loss Pitt team to the Fiesta Bowl. It's also that he's on the fringe of the early Heisman Trophy talk, a tremendous achievement for a player on a team that finished last season No. 25 in The Associated Press poll and starts this season No. 23.

"It's nice, but it's not like I wake up in the morning trying to win the Heisman," Palko said. "I wake up thinking about getting to practice and trying to get better and trying to help this team get better."

This week, Palko will wake up thinking about beating Notre Dame, Pitt's opponent Saturday night in the nationally televised and much anticipated season opener at Heinz Field.

He is Pitt's best chance.

It doesn't matter that Harris and his pass-happy offense are gone, replaced by a more balanced offense under new coach Dave Wannstedt and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh.

The only references to former Coach Walt Harris, who Palko has credited and was not happy to see leave, is how Palko saved him from immediate firing by winning against Temple at the end and in passing above.

I don't mind puff pieces, but revisionist history pisses me off. Elevating Palko (or Wannstedt) does not mean you need to tear down or ignore Harris. Other wise it is worth a look.

Darrelle Revis gets the game-type puff piece. It talks a lot about his development from basically playing on pure athleticism to understanding the game and the position.

"Last year, I played off of raw talent," Revis said. "This year, I'm learning more about offenses and what they want to accomplish in certain situations.

"The game really has slowed down for me. If you relax and take your time, the game will come to you. Last year, it was crazy. My head was everywhere. Now, I'm comfortable."

Revis reached his comfort zone with the help of some excellent teachers. Rhoads is a rising star in the collegiate coaching ranks. Wannstedt was the guru who, as the Dallas Cowboys' defensive coordinator in 1992, molded the NFL's youngest defense into the league's most dominant unit.

And, every week during the season, Revis has a skull session with his uncle, Sean Gilbert -- who had a standout career as a defensive tackle at Pitt and in the pros.

"After every game, we talk about a lot of things -- what I did wrong, what I did good, what I can do better," Revis said. "I'm thankful for having an uncle who cares about me and supports me in that way. It's a family thing."

The secondary should be so much better this year (Pitt was 100th against the pass, how much worse could it get?) with Lay and Revis playing much tighter and aggressive coverage. Plus, with Morris and Phillips at the safeties big things have to be expected.

The other reason why the secondary needs to be good is the fact that the defensive line is one of Pitt's question marks for the season.

The defensive line is inexperienced, though. Thomas Smith is the only starter with extensive playing time, but he is learning a new position and has been hurt for most of camp.

The defensive line has plenty of speed, though, and that alone is an upgrade from a year ago.

"Our defensive line isn't big, but they get to the ball quick, a lot quicker than in the past," Blades said. "You can tell because it seems like our D-line is making a lot of plays and that's really what is the most important -- just make plays. That goes for all the rest of us as well."

The running game and offensive line are expected to be improved (Again, they really only had one direction they could go.).

The only other big question regards the Wide Receivers. After Greg Lee and Joe DelSardo, Derek Kinder has been the most consistent receiver to claim the 3rd spot. Then it is more of an ongoing audition with Marcel Pestano presently leading.

The kickers and punters have been getting extra practice at Heinz Field rather than at the practice facilities to refresh their recollection regarding the winds.

The kickers and punters practiced twice last week at Heinz Field while the rest of the squad worked out at the South Side facility.

Because of swirling winds, kickers have a notoriously difficult time kicking toward the open end of Heinz Field. Those conditions affected the outcome of at least one game last season, when Furman's Scott Becker missed a 37-yard field goal attempt in overtime.

"Right before he went out to kick it, I said, 'He's going to miss wide right,' " Pitt kicker Josh Cummings said. "And, yes, he did."

Before every game, the Panthers kick toward the open end of the stadium, so they have an extra chance to gauge the wind. Opponents kick toward the enclosed end of the field.

"There's definitely a big difference," Cummings said. "For the most part, I'm not sure if (other teams) are aware of it when they come in here. Maybe if they were, they might think about it more -- which could be bad for them. So I don't know if ignorance is bliss or if it's better to know what you're getting into."

Finally, a little on Pitt's latest verbal:

Aaron Smith got a big cheer from the crowd last night during pregame warmups.

Smith, a senior at Gateway, announced on the public address system that he had made a verbal commitment to the University of Pittsburgh. The announcement came on the field before Gateway's season opener against Cleveland Benedictine. Smith's news also was carried live by FSN Pittsburgh.

Smith (6 feet, 180 pounds) plays quarterback and defensive back for Gateway, but he was recruited by Pitt to play receiver. Smith had more than a dozen scholarship offers from Division I colleges, but had narrowed his list to Pitt and Maryland.

"Pitt's close to home and they wanted me to play receiver," he said. "Maryland wanted me to play defensive back. Receiver is where I feel more comfortable."

It's going to be a long week of anticipation.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

And It Is Pitt 

Aaron Smith from Gateway High chose Pitt over Maryland.

BlogPoll Questions, Round 6 

Been a while. This one's hosted by the HeismanPundit.

What criteria do you use to determine if a team and its players are good?

Past performance, while not necessarily indicative of future performance is still the leading factor. This goes for teams, coaches and players. That is always a starting point. It has to be. There is no way anyone with anything approaching a life and normalcy could possibly be able to look at each team without taking the past into account. This means taking into account the coaching staff's history -- developing players, finding talent, gameday coaching and in-game adjustments.

As for players, only a fool or a liar doesn't admit to taking some note of how they were ranked by various recruiting services as at least a starting point/shortcut. I want Pitt to land Darrin Walls. Why? I haven't seen him play. I've not bothered to watch any video. I have, however, heard from voices with credibility that he is an absolute talent, though. I have some measure of trust in what I've heard -- again, looking to past performance on someone to base the opinion.

From there I go by what I see on the field when the time comes. I look for the fundamentals and natural ability. Natural ability is easy to spot and is good initially. It's what comes afterwards that determines just how good. Does he know the system and the plays? Does he make the same mistake continually? Does he adjust accordingly? Does he make improvements from game to game?

To shift to basketball, Pitt had 2 players in the front court this past season who couldn't be more different -- Chevy Troutman and Chris Taft. Both good players, but different. Taft showed no adjustments, or growth. He relied on pure natural ability to take him where he wanted -- but no further. Troutman continually improved and adjusted. He tweaked what he was doing as a game went on, and continually looked for new ways to accomplish his goals on defense or offense.

If you could choose one coach to build an offensive system for your school, who would it be? Conversely, who would you choose to devise the defense? Why?

I know, Urban Meyer on offense and Pete Carroll on defense is the easy call. I'm not taking that way, though. Just for fun, I'm going with actual coordinators.

For the Offense, how about Chris Petersen. This is his 5th season as offensive coordinator at Boise State. How or why he hasn't taken over OC duties at a bigger school is a mystery to me. Maybe it's because of the blue turf, but he has just made an offensive machine there. Before that he was the WR coach at Oregon under Mike Belotti. Judging from what hasn't been seen from Joey Harrington in the pros, maybe his WRs and their WR coach need a little more credit.

On Defense, I'll take Bo Pelini now the d-coordinator at LSU. He's been a hot assistant for a few years now. I like his aggressive defenses, and the way he makes in-game adjustments (the USC game notwithstanding). I actually think being d-coordinator at 3 schools in 3 years (Nebraska, Oklahoma now LSU) has hurt his head coaching prospects -- makes him look so blatantly like he is just eyeing the next job. Second choice, Tom Bradley, Penn State D-coordinator. Coming from a Pitt guy, that should tell you all you need to know about him.

Describe your typical college football Saturday.

Oh, boy. If Pitt is at home, and it is a noon start, that means things started the night before. Preload the car with the chairs and whatever else I'm bringing and showering the night before. Then it means rolling out of bed around 5 or 6, smacking my foot or stepping on some toy my kid left as a landmine for me as I stumble to the bathroom -- all curses quietly muttered. Get dressed and get in the car to begin the drive from Cleveland and hope to stay conscious until I hit about mile marker 193 on the Ohio turnpike where there's a rest stop for a triple shot of espresso at a Starbucks kiosk.

Get to the designated meeting spot of the tailgating group -- Pat's house on the South Side -- make sure we have everything, wait for the rest of the crew to show (and likely grab some more espresso) and convoy over to the parking lot around 10 am. Start drinking and grilling while listening to the radio pregame.

Attend the game.

Afterwards, it's more tailgating for a couple hours while watching the roads back-up. We are usually one of the last groups to leave the parking lot.

Eventually drive home.

For non-home games, it means getting a game on around noon after I've done the dad thing by playing with my daughter all morning (so I can dump her off on the wife for the afternoon). Around noon start watching football and begin cursing the fact that because I live in Ohio they think I actually want to watch Northwestern vs. Illinois. Don't even get me started with the realization that I am going to be stuck with Ohio St. v. San Diego State on September 17 at the same time Pitt plays Nebraska -- looks like I'm springing for ESPN Gameplan that day.
Alcoholic beverages are involved in all of this. Sometimes food.

Now you know.

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