Coach keeps door open, but leery of full-time

Updated: December 16, 2004, 6:04 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Former Miami Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt on Thursday morning withdrew his name from consideration for the job opening at the University of Pittsburgh, his alma mater, saying the timing was not right for such an important decision.

"It's just not the right time for me and my family and such a key career decision," said Wannstedt, who spoke Thursday morning to Pitt athletic director Jeff Long. "I love the city and I love that school, and I know they are going to make an excellent hire, and the program will continue to move forward. I'm just going to take some time and think about what else might be out there for me."

Wannstedt was believed to top the Pitt wish list, had spoken to Long at least twice earlier this week, and there were reports the two sides would meet to discuss the job by the end of the week. Long also has spoken by phone with Houston Texans secondary coach Jon Hoke and Oklahoma co-defensive coordinator Bo Pelini but, as of Thursday, he had not arranged interviews with either man.

Pitt wants to hire a coach as soon as possible to replace Harris, and Wannstedt wasn't prepared to make a decision so quickly. The key weeks of the recruiting season follow the holidays, and Pitt wants a coach in place by then.

Carolina Panthers defensive line coach Sal Sunseri, a former All-American linebacker at Pitt and one-time assistant coach there, is interested in the job. Players have lobbied hard for incumbent defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads, and it is believed that he will be among those interviewed.

The vacancy was created when Walt Harris, despite leading the Panthers to a berth in the Fiesta Bowl and having two seasons remaining on his contract, departed Pitt to accept the Stanford job. Harris had been under duress most of the year, particularly after his agent in October publicly suggested that the school either extend his contract or fire him, and that created considerable acrimony between the coach and the administration.

Harris will coach the team in the Fiesta Bowl, against Utah, the first BCS appearance for the Panthers.

Wannstedt, who left the Dolphins in a mutual agreement last month after a 1-8 start, both played and coached at Pitt and is a native of Baldwin, Pa., a Pittsburgh suburb. In the weeks since he left the Dolphins he has done considerable research on the Pitt roster and familiarized himself with returning players and potential recruits. There was strong sentiment that, as a native of the area, he would do well in the fertile Western Pennsylvania recruiting area.

In recent conversations, though, Wannstedt has gone back and forth on his sentiments about returning home to resume his coaching career, and about the possibility of taking some time off away from the game. He had two years left on his Dolphins contract, and it is not imperative, financially, that he hurry back to the coaching ranks. Wannstedt has had some broadcast work since leaving the sidelines, and that might be an option for him in 2005.

Wannstedt told ESPN's Chris Mortensen that he's not yet ready to jump back into a full-time load as a coach. However, he said that he would keep his options open depending on what jobs are available at the end of the season, and he didn't rule out a return as early as next fall.

"Everything is about timing, in life, in football, in whatever," Wannstedt said Thursday. "I'll know, with whatever it is I decide to do, when the time is right and the situation is right for me."

Asked if he would assist Pitt in its search, Wannstedt said he planned to talk to Long again Thursday to make some suggestions. Wannstedt is a longtime friend of Nordenberg, and their relationship was believed to be one of the reasons Wannstedt was such a strong candidate at Pitt.

"The program is heading in the right direction, but they need to get moving forward and capitalize on the year they've had and take advantage of that, and I just couldn't make it fit right now," he said.

Long is serving as a one-member search committee as Pitt seeks to replace Harris, who was allowed to leave for Stanford with two years left on his contract despite a 25-12 record the last three seasons.

The No. 19 Panthers (8-3) play No. 5 Utah (11-0) in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1 after unexpectedly earning the Big East Conference's guaranteed BCS bowl slot by winning six of their final seven games.

Hoke is a lifelong friend of Long's and the two played football together at Fairmont East High School in Kettering, Ohio. Hoke was the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at Florida under Steve Spurrier and now coaches the Texans' defensive backs. He turned down a chance to rejoin Spurrier at South Carolina.

Pelini is a former assistant coach with the 49ers, Patriots and Packers and was a Nebraska assistant last year before moving to Oklahoma, where Long was the senior associate AD before being hired by Pitt in May 2003.

Long said he will make no comments on the search until Pitt introduces its next coach.

ESPN.com senior NFL writer Len Pasquarelli, ESPN's Chris Mortensen and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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