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Bills assistant Wannstedt defends Pitt past

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP)

Former Pitt football coach Dave Wannstedt believes he and his program were unfairly centered out in a magazine article that concluded the Panthers led the nation's top-ranked teams in players getting into trouble with the law.

Now an assistant with the Buffalo Bills, Wannstedt on Thursday acknowledged ''an unfortunate stretch of incidents last summer,'' during which four players were arrested. Wannstedt, however, added he remains proud of his staff's ''body of work'' regarding player behavior during his six-year tenure at Pittsburgh.

''Every player was evaluated and scrutinized, and we tried to project whether they would become productive members of our football program as well as the university at large,'' Wannstedt said by phone, repeating comments he made to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette a day earlier. ''Every player and each incident was evaluated on an individual basis. And we did our due diligence to make sure that we treated each player fair.''

His comments came a day after Sports Illustrated published the results of a six-month investigation it conducted with CBS News which found Pitt opened last season with 22 players that had faced criminal charges. The magazine reported that it did criminal background checks on every player on the roster of each team that made its top 25 preseason poll.

Pitt opened the season ranked 16th by the magazine. Iowa, which was ranked sixth, and Arkansas, ranked 23rd, each had the second-most players with criminal records (18).

Wannstedt was ousted in December after the Panthers' disappointing 7-5 season. The former Dolphins and Bears coach was hired by the Bills in January.

Pitt's off-field troubles became the center of negative attention starting in July. That's when defensive end Jabaal Sheard was suspended indefinitely after being accused of throwing another man through the glass door of an art gallery. Sheard eventually pleaded guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct.

Defensive back Jeffrey Knox was kicked off the team in September after being arrested for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend after she told him she was pregnant.

Also, offensive lineman Keith Coleman and running back Jason Douglas were suspended from the team in September after being arrested on several charges in separate instances.

Wannstedt said he and the school acted quickly and fairly in disciplining each player.

What Wannstedt could not control was checking the criminal records of some recruits dating to junior high school because some states do not make that information available.

Following Knox's arrest, Pitt did change its recruiting policy, providing coaches a checklist of questions to gather more information on a recruit's background.

On Wednesday, Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson called the number of criminal charges against his players as ''totally unacceptable.'' Pederson said the school is addressing the issue and moving forward.

Tagged: Pittsburgh

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