Pitt fires Haywood

Published 11:24 pm Saturday, January 1, 2011

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh fired football coach Mike Haywood on Saturday, saying he could not continue in the job he held for only 2 1/2 weeks because of his arrest on a domestic violence charge.

Haywood was released Saturday from St. Joseph County Jail in Indiana on $1,000 cash bond, said an officer at the jail who declined to give her name, after the charge was upgraded from a misdemeanor to felony domestic battery in the presence of a minor.

Within hours of Haywood’s afternoon release, Pittsburgh put out a statement from Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, saying Haywood had been dismissed, “effective immediately,” and the school was reopening its search.

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“To be clear, the university’s decision is not tied to any expectation with respect to the terms on which the legal proceeding now pending in Indiana might ultimately be concluded,” Nordenberg said in the statement.

“Instead, it reflects a strong belief that moving forward with Mr. Haywood as our head coach is not possible under the existing circumstances.”

Pitt moved swiftly to oust Haywood following an arrest that sullied a university that is proud of its Big Ten-like academics. It also raised questions why Haywood — who had only two seasons as a mid-major head coach, including a one-win season — was chosen Dec. 16 following a brief search.

Haywood’s hiring by athletic director Steve Pederson was greeted unenthusiastically by fans, boosters, alumni and students who questioned why a school with annual Top 25 aspirations hired him away from mid-major Miami (Ohio). Dave Wannstedt, forced to resign last month following a disappointing 7-5 season, had coached two NFL teams before his 2004 hiring.

“This is a matter of real regret for the many people at Pitt who had looked forward to working with him,” Nordenberg said. “However, head coaches are among the university’s most visible representatives and are expected to maintain high standards of personal conduct and to avoid situations that might reflect negatively on the university.”

Pederson emphasized Haywood would be a “role model” for Pitt’s players, most of whom wanted Wannstedt retained following seasons of nine, 10 and seven wins.

But Haywood’s introductory press conference, in which he never mentioned the word winning but repeatedly emphasized that his players would be disciplined, dress properly and attend class, was met with a lukewarm response.

According to Nordenberg’s statement, Pitt will reopen its search during the same week the Panthers (7-5) — the Big East preseason favorites — are preparing to play Kentucky (6-6) in the Compass Bowl on Jan. 8.

Wannstedt, angered and disillusioned by his ouster after six seasons, has not said if he will coach the Panthers.

While Pederson chose Haywood, his own job is not in jeopardy, according to an additional statement issued Sunday night by Pitt. Pederson was fired by Nebraska in 2007 following his failed hiring of football coach Bill Callahan, but returned to Pitt several months later for his second turn as AD.

“Mr. Pederson has played a key role in elevating Pitt’s athletics programs, remains an important member of the university’s senior leadership team and continues to enjoy the full support of the chancellor,” according to the statement.

Haywood’s firing came before he had landed a recruit, held a practice or coached a game at a school where successful coaches such as Pop Warner, Jock Sutherland, Johnny Majors and Jackie Sherrill once worked.

Since Haywood took over — though he had yet to occupy Wannstedt’s office — nearly half of Wannstedt’s strong 18-man recruiting class has decided to consider other schools or has committed elsewhere.

Before the firing was announced on Saturday, Haywood told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “It isn’t fair. The truth will eventually come out.”

Haywood was arrested about 3 p.m. Friday after a custody issue developed with a woman with whom Haywood has a child, police said. The unidentified woman told police that Haywood grabbed her by the arm and neck and pushed her as she tried to leave the home that Haywood owns in South Bend, Ind., where he once was a Notre Dame assistant.

Assistant St. Joseph County Police Chief Bill Redman said the woman had marks on her neck, arms and back.

Haywood led Miami (Ohio) to a 9-4 record and the Mid-American Conference title in his second season with the RedHawks, but the title came during a mostly down season for the conference. The RedHawks were outmatched against three BCS conference schools, losing to four-win Cincinnati 45-3, Missouri 51-13 and Florida 34-12. They also lost to Ohio 34-13. Pitt beat Cincinnati 28-10 under Wannstedt.

Previously, the 46-year-old Haywood worked as an assistant at Notre Dame, his alma mater, under Charlie Weis, but was ousted from his play-calling responsibilities late in the 2008 season.

Haywood is considered an exemplary offensive coach and tutored several players who went on to NFL careers, including former Doak Walker Award winner Cedric Benson at Texas and Kevin Faulk at LSU. He also has been an assistant at Army, Ohio and Ball State.

Pederson praised Haywood’s character when he was hired last month, calling his values “in line with the values of this great university.”

Haywood was the only one of the five candidates interviewed to be brought to Pitt’s campus.

It is uncertain whether Haywood signed a contract to coach at Pitt, because such contracts often take weeks or months to get worked out even after a coach has been hired. Such contracts routinely contain morals clauses that permit a school to fire a coach who gets into legal or personal trouble or embarrasses the school with his behavior.

Haywood had not retained any Pitt assistants and was planning to bring along most of his Miami staff. On the day Haywood was arrested, Miami hired Don Treadwell, a former Michigan State offensive coordinator, as coach.