Wannstedt, Robinson ready for new challenges
NEWPORT, R.I. -- When the coaches and players from the Big East gathered to meet the media at the conference's preseason media outing Tuesday, Dave Wannstedt and Greg Robinson drew the majority of the attention.
Their teams, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, are holdovers in a league that welcomes three new teams to the gridiron this fall.
But Wannstedt and Robinson are not only new coaches at their respective schools, they are also entering their first seasons as head coaches at the college level, leaving many of the media on hand with questions.
Both men bring impressive resumes to their new positions and have extensive experience at the NFL level, and both are enthusiastic to be in their new positions.
Wannstedt has inherited a Panthers team ranked in most preseason top-25 polls, a team picked by the media to finish second behind Louisville in the Big East, while Robinson takes over a Syracuse program that has slipped in recent years.
A Pittsburgh alumnus, Wannstedt wasn't sure a return to his alma mater was a move he wanted to make.
After compiling an 82-87 record in 11 seasons as the head coach of the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins, he denied interest in the Panthers opening when first approached. But conversations with three college coaches who had returned to the game from the NFL helped change his mind.
"I talked to Pete Carroll (Southern California), Chan Gailey (Georgia Tech) and Mike Shula (Alabama) before I took the job," Wannstedt said. "I got a little something from each of them. Pete talked about recruiting, Chan talked about building a staff and Mike talked about going back to his alma mater. It was very helpful."
Wannstedt said the biggest changes from the NFL are the year-around commitment to recruiting, which he was prepared for, and the importance of time management, which he's still getting used to.
"In the NFL, if I wanted to keep the players from 7 a.m., to 7 p.m., it was fine," said Wannstedt, who's taking over for Walt Harris, now the head coach at Stanford. "But now, you get an hour and a half here and an hour and a half there, and you have to maximize that time. You can't waste time in your meetings, and you can't waste time in practice."
Wannstedt also emphasized that while he expects to win and wants to win, that he appreciates that winning isn't everything at the college level, an attitude after being let go by the Dolphins despite averaging 10 wins per season.
He also knows that he'll be able to make a mark on his new community.
"You're going to have a chance to do things in the community outside of football, you get to give back," Wannstedt said. "To me, that's exciting."
Early recruiting success, Wannstedt's experience and a solid nucleus of returning players has created an air of excitement around the Pittsburgh program, which represented the Big East in the BCS last season.
And that excitement hasn't been lost on the program's players.
"It's been fun to have him as our coach," junior linebacker H.B. Blades said. "He's won championships at every level and he's coached some of the greatest players in the history of football.
"We can be as good as we want to be, and the only thing that can hold us back is us. We have the most talent that we've had since I've been here, and there's no reason why we can't win games."
Wannstedt, as you would expect from a coach was more cautious in his view of the program, saying, "There's a lot of excitement right now, and that's great, but we've got a long way to go."
At Syracuse, Robinson comes in after spending last season as the defensive coordinator at Texas. But before that he spent 14 seasons coaching defense in the NFL. Several years at the college level preceded that run, but this will be Robinson's first head-coaching gig after 30 years in the business.
"I feel very confident about my level of expertise. I've had opportunities and I've worn the hats that make me relish the opportunity to be a head coach," Robinson said. "It's more than exciting to be the head coach at Syracuse."
Robinson replaces Paul Pasqualoni, who was released after compiling a 107-59-1 mark in 14 seasons. Back-to-back 6-6 records, as well as a bad loss to lowly Temple and a lopsided 51-14 defeat against Georgia Tech in the Champs Sports Bowl last season, were the undoing for Pasqualoni
While change can be difficult on players, the Orange are excited about what their new coach brings to the table.
"Coach Robinson has been great," senior defensive end Ryan LaCasse said. "He's very available to his players and very approachable, which is very different from coach Pasqualoni. He's more of a player's coach, and you have to respect his experience."
Robinson's rapport with his players won't be the only thing changing at Syracuse this fall.
The run-oriented option offense has been scrapped in favor of a West Coast offense that will feature more passing. A more aggressive defense is also in the works.
"I think we're going to have a more aggressive package to keep people guessing," LaCasse said. "We're going to try to force the quarterback into mistakes instead of sitting back in a zone and waiting for him to make one."
Robinson knows the kind of success he's aiming for won't happen overnight, but he says that's fine.
"It's another challenge, and these are young people trying to do their best," he said. "I'm a lot more patient then when I left college football the first time."