Pederson to serve second stint as Pitt AD

Updated: November 30, 2007, 4:44 PM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- The University of Pittsburgh brought back Steve Pederson as athletic director Friday, after an embarrassing decline of the Nebraska football program led to his dismissal from his alma mater.

"We are thrilled to be back in Pittsburgh," Pederson said at a news conference. "Leaving here five years ago was the hardest professional decision we had ever made. Coming back was the easiest decision we had ever made."

Pederson was Pitt's athletic director from 1996 to 2002 before leaving to take the same position at Nebraska. He was fired Oct. 15 under intense pressure from fans and boosters.

Pederson, who helped rebuild Pitt's basketball and football programs in his first stint at the school, replaces Jeff Long, who left Pitt in September for the University of Arkansas.

Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg called Pederson "a really great leader."

"I know were are going to benefit greatly from his future involvement," Nordenberg said.

Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman said Pederson rubbed some people the wrong way during his time in Lincoln. Nebraska spent at least $2.2 million to buy out his contract two days after a 45-14 loss to Oklahoma State and only months after signing a five-year extension.

"I think managerial style depends on how many games your teams win," Pederson said when asked about his reputation. "I'm a demanding boss in a lot of ways, but not more than I would demand of myself. That doesn't mean everybody's going to like it."

Pederson's most infamous decision at Nebraska was firing Frank Solich, the longtime assistant who replaced legendary coach Tom Osborne. Pederson vowed that the football program would not slip into mediocrity and hired former Oakland Raiders coach Bill Callahan.

Callahan was fired last week after a 5-7 season that included a stunning 76-39 loss to Kansas, one of six games in which the famed Nebraska defense surrendered 40 or more points.

Pederson on Friday pointed to some of his successes at Nebraska: The women's volleyball team won a national championship and the football team won the Big 12 North last year.

"Certainly, we would have liked to have more success on the football field," Pederson said.

Although Pederson "was an outstanding athletic director" at Pitt, Nordenberg said the school made efforts to determine what went wrong at Nebraska.

"I did make calls to people in Nebraska and the Big 12 Conference who had a more informed perspective than I would have," Nordenberg said. "The consistent response was that Steve continues to be respected as one of the best athletic directors in the country."

Pederson shook up the Pitt establishment his first time in town. He tried to force outsiders to refer to the school as "Pittsburgh" instead of Pitt, an idea that has since been dropped, and razed Pitt Stadium, building the Petersen Events Center for basketball in its place.

He hired Walt Harris, who has since left, to rebuild the football program. Pederson also hired Ben Howland, who built the men's basketball team into a national power.

Howland has since left for UCLA, but the basketball team remains a Top 25 program under former assistant Jamie Dixon.

"This is a different place than it was in 1996," Pederson said. "The university has skyrocketed. It's spectacular. ... I believe there are no limits as to what can be done at the University of Pittsburgh."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press