Michael Haywood takes Pitt coaching job
Michael Haywood is known for his fiery speeches and CEO-like leadership skills. What he hasn’t proven yet is if he can coach title-contending teams at college football’s highest level.
That didn’t prevent Pitt from hiring the former Miami (Ohio) coach to replace Dave Wannstedt, who won 26 games during his final three seasons at his alma mater, but didn’t win enough big ones to keep his job.
Formerly the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, Haywood took over Thursday after going 1-11 and 9-4 in two seasons at Miami. The RedHawks won the Mid-American Conference during a down season for the mid-major league.
Miami’s only out-of-conference victory was against Colorado State, which went 3-9. The RedHawks were manhandled by Cincinnati, 45-3; Missouri, 51-13; Florida, 34-12 and Ohio University, 34-13. Cincinnati, which lost to Pitt 28-10, won only four games.
Unlike rival West Virginia, where athletic director Oliver Luck said Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen was brought in to compete for national titles, there was no such talk at Pitt.
"There’s a lot of athletes in this program," said Haywood, who received a five-year deal. "We’re looking forward to coaching them and having some success. … We want to be dangerous, relentless for 60 minutes. When we’re knocked down to the canvas, how fast do we get up?"
That’s partly why athletic director Steve Pederson asked Wannstedt to resign after six seasons – because Pitt got knocked down too much. Wannstedt had few signature wins, but a string of upset losses, while going 9-4, 10-3 and 7-5 in his final three seasons and 41-32 in six seasons.
While Haywood has been an assistant at Army, Ohio U., Ball State, LSU, Texas and alma mater Notre Dame, he is starting only his third season as a Division I head coach.
"He’s a man of integrity and character and will be a true inspirational leader for our football team," Pederson said.
Miami plays Middle Tennessee State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Jan. 6 in Mobile, Ala., two days before Pitt plays Kentucky in the Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. Defensive backs coach Lance Guidry will serve as Miami’s interim head coach.
"We are grateful for the success – on and off the field – that Michael Haywood brought to Miami’s program," athletic director Brad Bates said in a statement.
Wannstedt, who hasn’t yet said if he will coach Pitt in its bowl, was assembling what appeared to be his best recruiting class. Five players have backed away from their verbal commitments since he was forced out Dec. 7.
"It’s important to find out what gentlemen are wavering, approach these guys and keep them in the fold," said Haywood, who planned to start recruiting Thursday night.
At Miami, Haywood became known for making his players wear coats and ties on road trips and for being a skilled motivator. His pregame talk before Miami’s 23-3 victory against Temple was widely viewed on YouTube.
"When you’re dressed nice and feel good about yourself when you arrive at the stadium, to a certain degree you’ve got a little jump start," Haywood said.
He also promised 6 a.m. practices, saying they free up most of the players’ days for attending class and getting treatment for injuries.
Haywood’s hiring did not immediately excite Pitt’s fan base or students. Radio talk shows and Pitt-related message boards were overwhelmed with calls and messages criticizing the hiring of a MAC coach, rather than one from a major school.
The negative reaction was similar to that when Pederson, then at Nebraska, fired Frank Solich after a 9-3 season and hired former Raiders coach Bill Callahan. Both Pederson and Callahan were fired there in 2007, and Pederson subsequently returned to Pitt.
Even a former Miami player, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, didn’t seem all that excited.
"He (Haywood) never reached out to me," Roethlisberger said. "I don’t really know him. I know what helped Miami, Ohio win this year, in my opinion, more than anything, is Brad Bates … what an awesome guy."
Steelers safety Ryan Clark, who played for Haywood at LSU, said, "He’s a guy who can infuse a program with fire, a guy who can infuse a program with confidence."
Haywood is a former Notre Dame cornerback, worked under Charlie Weis, Nick Saban and Mack Brown, among others. He was Weis’ offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, but lost his play-calling responsibilities in 2008.
Haywood’s offense is run-first and features considerable play-action looks in the passing game. Defensively, the idea is to stop the run first.
"We create mismatches, our best players against their worst players," said Haywood, a tactic common at every level of football.
Before being hired by Miami, the 46-year-old Haywood was passed over for head coaching jobs at Houston, Minnesota and Washington.
Pederson said Haywood was one of five head coaches he interviewed, but was the only one who was brought to campus and offered the job. He estimated he spent 20 hours with Haywood before hiring him.
Haywood is the first black head coach in a major men’s sport at Pitt.
Haywood plans to interview all of Pitt’s assistants, although he said he likely would retain only one or two. Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. is seen as a future Division I head coach, but it is uncertain if he will stay on.