Pitt turnaround began with Boston College loss in '01

Updated: October 27, 2003, 7:04 PM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Two years ago, coach Walt Harris' future at Pittsburgh seemed in doubt following a 45-7 loss at Boston College that ran the Panthers' losing streak to five games.

The offense was in disarray, clearly unable to grasp the no-huddle spread system hurriedly installed by Harris before the season. Even worse, his players -- especially those on defense -- seemed to be quitting on him.

With Pitt 1-5 and the season seemingly lost, then-athletic director Steve Pederson was reportedly calling prospective coaching replacements to judge their interest in the position.

Remarkably, what many perceived to be the end to Harris' stay at Pitt apparently was the beginning of a revival. Despite several unexpected losses over the last two seasons, the Panthers have regained much of the national stature they enjoyed before disappearing during most of the 1990s.

Nearly all in the Pitt program agree that it began with that loss to Boston College. The Panthers went on to win their final six games that season, including the Tangerine Bowl, and have since won 20 of 26.

"Some people say when you hit the bottom, that's an awfully good thing to push off of," Harris said Monday. "And we hit the bottom. They were challenged as a football team -- and I challenged them."

Most significantly, Harris stood up before his team and ordered any player not willing to be part of a turnaround to get out of the room. None left. Schematically, he junked the unsuccessful experiment with the no-huddle and went back to the pro-style system that had worked so well the previous season, and still forms the base of the Panthers' passing offense.

Harris' talk seemed to ease much of the tension among his players, many of whom are seniors now, and they went about the rest of the season relaxed and confident, not nervous and tentative.

"I don't know how much I said made that much difference, but we knew we were better than we were playing," Harris said. "Just like this year we knew we were better than the way we were playing, especially on defense, and we're in the process of making that happen."

Despite losses this season to Toledo and Notre Dame that knocked them out of the Top 25 briefly, the Panthers (5-2, 2-0 in Big East) are No. 25 heading into Saturday's game at Boston College (5-3, 1-2). With much of the Big East season remaining, including games against Miami and Virginia Tech, Pitt still can make something out of a season that began with disappointment and a fast departure from the Top 10.

"The Big East is still in our grasp of winning, and we need this game to win it," fullback Lousaka Polite said Monday.

That's why Harris hopes the players who were around in 2001 remember the "this is as low as it gets" feeling they had after that Boston College debacle.

"Two years ago, we didn't fight them and that was very disappointing to all of us," Harris said. "To the credit of our football players, we turned that baby around."

Defensive back William "Tutu" Ferguson remembers, and he plans to relate how it felt to the current Panthers who weren't on that team.

"We remember that stuff, and we're going get to the younger players, and we're going to make sure they're working harder -- and make sure that thing doesn't happen again," he said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index