PITTSBURGH – Todd Graham agreed Monday to leave Tulsa and become Pitt's third football coach in a month, a move designed to quickly bring stability to a program rocked by former coach Mike Haywood's arrest last month.
Graham told his Tulsa players of the move at a meeting Monday night, and Pitt made the hiring official shortly after that.
Graham had a 36-17 record in four seasons at Tulsa, including a 10-3 record this season that included a 28-27 upset at Notre Dame — where Pitt lost under coach Dave Wannstedt. Wannstedt was forced to resign last month following a disappointing 7-5 regular season and repeated failures to win an outright Big East Conference title.
Graham made $1.3 million at Tulsa, about $300,000 more than Wannstedt was paid from 2005 until this season, but is expected to be paid about $2 million per season at Pitt. Graham's salary is believed to be one reason he was bypassed during Pitt's initial search, but the school subsequently decided to pay more.
The 46-year-old Graham was the only coach known to have had two interviews, and he met with Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg — a requirement for any finalist. Nordenberg became involved in the search after athletic director Steve Pederson's hand-picked choice, Haywood, was fired Jan. 1 following his arrest on a domestic violence charge.
Haywood was hired in mid-December, but the image of Haywood posing for an Indiana police mug shot became a national embarrassment for the university. It also led to a more thorough search for Pitt's next coach.
"We are thrilled that Todd Graham has agreed to become the head football coach at the University of Pittsburgh," Pederson said in a statement issued by the school. "His innovative, creative and energized approach to football makes him an exciting leader for our program. He has a proven track record of success at all levels of football and his wealth of experience on both sides of the ball gives him a unique set of credentials."
While Graham grew up in Texas and was the head coach at Rice for one season, he is not unfamiliar with the Pittsburgh area. He was an assistant coach at nearby West Virginia in 2001-02, serving as co-defensive coordinator the second season.
"Pittsburgh is a tremendous football city with great fans," Graham said in a statement. "We will work diligently every day to earn their respect and build a program that competes for and wins championships. I'm also excited to return to the Big East."
Graham likely will drastically alter the system at Pitt, where Wannstedt employed a pro-style defense that featured a fullback and a traditional defense. Graham prefers a spread-type offense, and his defense borrows from the three-man stack employed by West Virginia.
Tulsa led the nation in total offense in 2007 and 2008 and was fifth this year, averaging 505.6 yards and 41.4 points per game. Tulsa's 661 points in 2008 set a school record and marked the second highest single-season total in the NCAA's modern era, trailing only Oklahoma's 716 points that season.
"Much of the credit for the rise of TU's football program to its present level is directly attributable to the efforts and hard work of Todd and his staff," Tulsa athletic director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement. "We're extremely grateful to Todd for his dedication in moving Tulsa football to an even greater level of success."
Cunningham said Tulsa would begin a national search for Graham's successor.
Graham will attempt to salvage Pitt's once-promising recruiting class. About two-thirds of the 18-man class recruited by Wannstedt has defected and, with only a couple of weeks remaining in this recruiting cycle, most of the top players already have committed.
Losing a recruiting class can be a setback because each of the next five Pitt teams will feel the effects not having a full class.
Even as Pitt was hiring Graham, three of the Panthers' best players were announcing they were leaving for the NFL. Junior wide receiver Jon Baldwin, junior fullback Henry Hynoski and sophomore tailback Dion Lewis all announced Monday they would declare themselves eligible for the draft.
Pitt finished its season Saturday, beating Kentucky 27-10 in the Compass Bowl with former defensive coordinator Phil Bennett serving as interim coach. He then left to become the defensive coordinator at Baylor.
The 6-foot-5 Baldwin is a two-time all-Big East player who made 53 catches for 822 yards and five touchdowns this season. Lewis ran for a Pitt freshman record 1,799 yards last season and was chosen as a second-team All-American, but he had a major falloff to 1,061 yards this season.
Hynoski is leaving in part because he believed Pitt's next coach will do away with the fullback role.
Penn State assistant coach Tom Bradley was among the first to be interviewed by Pitt, but he apparently did not have a second interview despite being pushed by some prominent Pitt boosters.
Unlike the initial search, which was conducted by Pederson, a search committee was formed this time that included university executive Jerry Cochran and senior associate athletic director Donna Sanft. Nordenberg also was heavily involved.