Excited atmosphere on hand to witness Pitt beat Manhattan, pave way for new leadership
By: Ryan Bertonaschi
Not one seat in the Petersen Events Center has a name suggesting ownership engraved into its backing, but, for now, let’s pretend that there is one seat.
Well.. Was one seat.
That iconic blue throne, which is bolted into cement on the edge of section 121, belongs to a Mr. Steve Pederson, 57, of North Platte, Ne.
Wednesday night during Pitt’s basketball game against Manhattan, Mr. Pederson’s seat sat vacant, and he was nowhere to be seen. The game began at 7 p.m. before a reserved crowd of 8,149, many of whom had the 13-year Pitt athletic director on their minds.
Thus spawned the unusual aurora that wafted through the air following tipoff.
Rumors had been swirling for days that Pitt’s acting football coach, Paul Chryst, was heading to Wisconsin to accept the program’s open head coaching position. Those rumors became fact a few minutes into the basketball game, when, at the same time, Chryst was introduced as the Badgers next head coach in Madison, Wi.
The aforementioned did not come as a surprise to anyone in attendance, but news that Mr. Pederson had been ousted from his helm as AD, however, did.
Those in blue and gold sat at the edge of their own seats for the majority of the game. Many scrolled through Twitter feeds and were hit with an updated final chapter to the never-ending book of Pitt history. Some fans made ensuing phone calls, while others presumably texted friends and relatives.
All looked like kids in candy stores, and rightfully so.
According to a University press release, Gallagher has appointed Dr. Randy P. Juhl, who is Vice Chancellor for Research Conduct and Compliance, to serve as Pitt’s acting athletic director, effective immediately. The statement also said that “a full national search for the next athletic director will begin.”
In addition, a “working group” of unspecified people is being assembled to hire Pitt’s next football coach. For the time being, Joe Rudolph, Pitt’s assistant head football coach and offensive coordinator, has been named interim head coach and will coach Pitt in the Armed Forces Bowl on Jan. 2.
Upon hearing all the news, two notable Pitt donors sat restlessly at the basketball game in their courtside folding chairs. Smiles and fist bumps were exchanged to their court-side buddies, and they never seemed to get off their phones.
Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon stood and hollered about rebounding for the majority of the game, which his Panthers won 65-56.
After the game, Dixon was saddened by the departure of Chryst and the “mutual agreement” between Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and Pederson for the end of Pederson’s tenure. Dixon described both Chryst and Pederson as “two very good friends who I respect greatly.”
“It’s tough to see friends leave,” Dixon continued. “But Pitt will be fine and Pitt will continue to battle and improve and get better. We have great leadership here. I’m excited about the future. I can’t thank Paul [Chryst enough] for his friendship over the three years and Steve over the many, many years that he’s been here and what he’s done for the athletic department.”
Dixon had appeared visibly shaken by the news, which, according to a team source, was not revealed to him until game’s end.
Much like Chryst, Dixon has had to make decisions on whether to stay at Pitt or leave for more savvy jobs.
The 12-year head coach had been rumored for several west coast coaching vacancies during his tenure at Pitt. Dixon said, however, that he is “excited” for what’s to come at Pitt, and that he is likely to not become fazed by whoever follows in Pederson’s trail.
“I’m very fortunate to be at the University of Pittsburgh,” Dixon said. “It’s the people that have made it special, and that’s not going to change. To me, that’s the most important thing at any university that you’re at. I’ve never had any reason to question the character, the leadership or the integrity of the University, and that’s a pretty good feeling after 16 years.”
For now, Dixon and Gallagher have the support of a re-ignited fan base.
Don’t believe me? Check your Twitter feed.
A lot of change will be made at Pitt in the next several months, and one can only hope that the University’s new employees are able to continue injecting change into Pitt over the next several years, as well.