Pittsburgh fires athletic director after Chryst leaves
PITTSBURGH -- Steve Pederson deftly guided Pittsburgh through conference realignment from the crumbling Big East to the rebuilt ACC. The longtime athletic director could never find stability for the football program.
When Paul Chryst left for Wisconsin on Wednesday to send the Panthers into their fourth coaching search in four years, it cost Pederson his job.
The school parted ways with Pederson in what chancellor Patrick Gallagher called a mutual decision but one necessary for Pitt to move forward following the latest setback for a football program stuck in neutral. Pederson had nearly four years remaining on a contract that ran through 2018.
Randy Juhl, vice chancellor for research conduct and compliance, will serve as Pitt's acting athletic director. Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph will serve as interim coach for the Panthers as they prepare for the Armed Forces Bowl on Jan. 2 against Houston. The announcements came as Chryst was being introduced as Wisconsin's coach following three seasons at Pitt.
''On behalf of the entire Pitt community, I would like to thank Paul Chryst for his efforts the past three years,'' Gallagher said in a statement. ''He leaves the program with a strong foundation for future success, both on and off the field. Before beginning a robust national coaching search, Steve Pederson and I spoke this morning and we mutually agreed that this would be the appropriate time to make a change in athletic department leadership.''
Pederson kept the Panthers at the forefront of conference realignment, announcing in September 2011 that the school was joining Syracuse in a move from the Big East to the ACC. The bold stroke kept Pitt out of the mad scramble that ensued, but it did little to stop the churn atop a football program that has struggled to generate momentum on the field or much enthusiasm off it.
Pederson forced out Dave Wannstedt following an 8-5 season in 2010 and brought in Miami (Ohio) coach Mike Haywood. Haywood's tenure lasted all of 16 days before he was fired following a domestic incident at his home on Dec. 31, 2010. Forced to scramble, Pederson hastily brought in Todd Graham from Tulsa. Graham made it through a 6-6 year in 2011 before sprinting to Arizona State.
Chryst's hire brought the program a sense of calm but also the same mix of spirited wins and befuddling losses. Attendance stagnated at Heinz Field and when Chryst was lured home to Wisconsin by athletic director Barry Alvarez, the Panthers were forced to begin another search.
It's one they will do without Pederson after his second stint at Pitt ended abruptly. He served as athletic director from 1996-2002 before spending five turbulent years at Nebraska only to return to the Panthers in 2007. The vision he set forth to lead the Panthers back to football prominence never materialized.
''With major decisions to be made about the future of football, I thought it was in the best interest of the University of Pittsburgh for Chancellor Gallagher to assemble his own team,'' Pederson said in a statement. ''I am a Pitt and City of Pittsburgh fan, and want what is best for everyone moving into the future.''