Crisis management. Every large organization deals with it. The cliche, "it isn't if, it's when," applies. A large university will encounter crises in all facets of its business. In fact, most universities teach students and organizations how to deal with such circumstances. This is not foreign soil. The Pitt athletic department, the most visible part of the university, needs to go back to class. They have butchered their current crisis beyond comprehension.
When Pitt hired Mike Haywood to replace Dave Wannstedt on December 16, Athletic Director Steve Pederson spoke of his strong character and the fact that he was a disciplinarian. On December 31, Haywood was arrested and charged with domestic battery in South Bend, Indiana. On January 1, he was fired.
We can have a long debate as to whether Haywood got a fair hearing in this matter. Due process has not run its course. I don't hold Pitt accountable for not foreseeing such an event, but the media and public, as they generally are, were quick to crucify, and Pitt had to deal with the backlash. Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg released a statement explaining the University's position and how, regardless of the outcome of the legal proceedings in Indiana, it could not move forward with Haywood as the coach. I have no problem with this. In fact I wrote as much here, the morning after the arrest. But, how the University has managed events since is mind-boggling.
When A.D. Steve Pederson made the decision to fire Wannstedt - and don't be misled by the "resignation" press conference that Wannstedt couldn't get through, Wannstedt was clearly fired - I was surprised. Not only had Wannstedt won 27 games over the previous three seasons, he was an excellent recruiter and a Pitt alum. But, Pederson made his decision and hired Haywood, not a particularly inspired choice in my opinion, but his choice nonetheless. But he had already ceded control of the process.
Pederson gave Wannstedt the opportunity to continue to coach the Panthers through their January 8 bowl game against Kentucky. Fine. Wannstedt is good man and has served the university loyally during his time there.
So of course Pederson gave him 48 hours to make a decision. Wrong. Apparently Pederson didn't put a timeframe on Wannstedt's decision. So yesterday, Dave Wannstedt, the University's recently-fired head coach, became the first person to address the media since the firing of Mike Haywood. Are you kidding me? And to top it off, Wannstedt used the press conference to announce that he would not coach Pitt in their bowl game on Saturday. Wow. Talk about losing control of the process. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported this morning:
For more than 18 minutes Monday, former University of Pittsburgh football coach Dave Wannstedt stood gripping a podium, speaking passionately about the position he left early last month and often fighting back tears.
This was the resignation speech that his emotions would not allow him to give when he resigned under pressure on Dec. 7.
Whether you agree with the firing of Wannstedt or not, this was an unmitigated disaster. The university chancellor only released a statement regarding the firing of the newly-hired head coach, the A.D. was nowhere to be seen, and the recently-deposed head coach is the first person to address the media since Haywood's firing. And to top it off, he announces that he is not going to coach the bowl game taking place in five days.
Opinions differ as to whether Wannstedt was taking a parting shot at Pederson and being disloyal or rather, as he said, putting the focus squarely on the players where it belongs. It doesn't really matter. The fact that Pederson and the athletic department had not addressed the media following Haywood's firing and also allowed Wannstedt to take such a long time to decide whether or not to coach clearly shows that they are either completely unable, or now too shell-shocked, to make good decisions.
Only six of Pitt's recruiting class of 17 are still committed to the school. The currently have no head coach or staff in place. Their bowl game on Saturday is now an afterthought. This is an epic public relations failure of management under pressure. I don't think I could allow the people making these decisions to now quickly move forward and hire the university's next head coach.
Steve Pederson completely lost control of this process at its most crucial time. He didn't not step forward and deal with the issues, take responsibility and present a strong face to the media, public and fanbase. We have seen this countless times in moments of crisis on much bigger scales. Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil explosion come to mind. People in those positions were eventually held accountable. I have lost all confidence in Steve Pederson's ability to make a good decision on the next coaching hire. It needs to be taken out of his hands.