By Stewart Mandel, SI.com
How do you obliterate nine months of goodwill in the span of three hours? Just ask Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt.
Reaction in the Steel City to the No. 25 Panthers' season-opening loss to Bowling Green has been predictably frenzied and apocalyptic. Veteran Post-Gazette beat writer Paul Zeise cut straight to the chase in his recap of the game, suggesting that, "The beginning of the end of the Dave Wannstedt era at Pitt may have taken place this afternoon at Heinz Field." The top headline Sunday morning on PantherDigest.com: "Commentary: Changes Need to Be Made."
Only a few weeks ago, I visited Pittsburgh and wrote of the considerable excitement surrounding the Panthers' 2008 prospects stemming from their season-ending upset of No. 2 West Virginia. With the return of star tailback LeSean McCoy, a top-five defense and the expected impact of three consecutive top-25 recruiting classes, all signs pointed to this being the year Wannstedt's program turned the corner.
That is, until he went and lost to Bowling Green, an admittedly respected MAC team (SI picked the Falcons to win their conference) -- but still a MAC team. An inexperienced offensive line had been Wannstedt's biggest concern and it certainly came to fruition Saturday -- McCoy managed just 71 yards on 23 carries.
Pittsburgh fans are through listening to excuses in this, the fourth year of Wannstedt's bowl-less tenure. Rarely have I seen such a vast disconnect between a coach's reputation among his players and recruits (McCoy raved to me about Wannstedt during our August visit) and that of the general public, most of whom remember "the Stache" as a mediocre NFL coach who now seems to be doing more of the same in college.
Sorry to burst your bubble, Pitt fans, but barring an utterly disastrous season (like 4-8), Wannstedt isn't going anywhere. He's an alum, the administration loves him, high-school coaches and players fawn over him, and he's going to be given every last opportunity to rebuild.
But as Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Joe Starkey wrote following Saturday's game, Wannstedt continues to cling to a "stone-age," smash-mouth offense in an age of mobile quarterbacks and spread offenses. This is a shared trait of nearly all NFL-bred college coaches -- and so far, only Pete Carroll has been successful at it.
The good news is, Wannstedt did not come close to suffering the most embarrassing opening-day loss by a former NFL head coach. That distinction belongs to Texas A&M's Mike Sherman, whose Aggies blew a 14-3 lead and lost 18-14 ... to Arkansas State. Aggies fans seeking advice on how to cope with the next few years best seek counsel from their friends in Pittsburgh.