The first coaching job Dave Wannstedt wanted may turn out to be his last one. Wannstedt was hired at alma mater Pittsburgh yesterday, a week after taking his name out of consideration...

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PITTSBURGH — The first coaching job Dave Wannstedt wanted may turn out to be his last one.


Wannstedt was hired at alma mater Pittsburgh yesterday, a week after taking his name out of consideration because he wasn’t ready to get back into coaching so quickly after leaving the Miami Dolphins in early November.


After his initial talk with athletic director Jeff Long on Dec. 13, Wannstedt remembered one of his first staff meetings as an assistant on Pitt coach Johnny Majors’ staff in 1976.


“I was at the end of the table, and I was a little upset — probably because he made me make the coffee,” said Wannstedt, a former Pitt tackle who once blocked for future Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett. “I said to myself, ‘Someday I will be the head coach at Pitt.’ I’ve thought about that for a long time.”


Now, the former Dolphins and Bears coach takes over a program that isn’t quite at a level with that 1976 national-championship team but is vastly improved from the one predecessor Walt Harris inherited in 1996.


Majors went 12-32 during his second and less successful stay at Pitt from 1993 to 1996, but Harris has since taken Pitt to six bowl games in eight seasons and is 25-12 over the past three seasons. The No. 19 Panthers (8-3) play No. 5 Utah (11-0) in the Jan. 1 Fiesta Bowl, Harris’ final game before leaving for Stanford.


Like Long, Wannstedt thinks Pitt can win a national championship and contend each year in the Big East Conference. He also thinks this will be his final head-coaching job, and isn’t looking at it as a path back to the NFL.


“Nobody needs to tell me about Pitt’s tradition,” said Wannstedt, 52. “I lived it, experienced it, felt it. The passion that drives me is to return to the great days at Pitt.”


The immediate future looks promising: Pitt returns most of its regulars next season, including star quarterback Tyler Palko.


Palko was the only player to attend Wannstedt’s news conference, sitting a few seats from Majors. Palko was the most outspoken of Pitt’s players about retaining Harris, hired by Stanford without Pitt making an effort to keep him.


“He (Wannstedt) wants to win, win now and win at the highest level,” said Palko, who in previous days had said it “stinks” that Harris wasn’t coming back. “I’m real excited about that.”


Wannstedt doesn’t plan to tinker with Palko, the first quarterback to throw five touchdown passes against Notre Dame, but said Pitt needs better running backs to support him.


Pitt did not discuss Wannstedt’s contract, but he is believed to have signed a five-year deal worth at least $800,000 per season, or about $150,000 more than Harris was making.


Wannstedt faces a busy few weeks hiring a staff. He wants to retain some of Harris’ assistants, including defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads. Wannstedt isn’t worried about trying to recruit 18-year-old high-school students rather than millionaire NFL free agents.


“I wish I could talk to a recruit today,” Wannstedt said. “Nobody has to coach me up on how to sell this university.”


Big Ten wants instant replay for all


CHICAGO — The Big Ten’s experiment with instant replay went so well the conference is asking the NCAA to approve its use on a permanent basis for all of Division I-A.


The Big Ten hopes its proposal will be heard by the NCAA Football Rules Committee at its February meeting. If instant replay can’t be approved for widespread use in time for next season, the Big Ten also is asking the NCAA for a one-year extension for its system and to allow other conferences to experiment with it in 2005.


“It’s our understanding that the request for more permanent change may require a more lengthy process of review in the NCAA governance system,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said. “We wanted to make sure we didn’t lose the opportunity to continue the experiment in the event the NCAA process is elongated.”


There seems to be widespread interest in instant replay, Delany said. He’s had “reasonably lengthy” conversations with seven or eight other conference commissioners, and he thinks most would explore it further if the NCAA gives the OK.


Delany hasn’t gotten any indication of which way the rules committee will vote, but he’s optimistic.


“I think with this information, this data, the cost basis, the support by coaches and administrators, that provides some real momentum,” Delany said. “I don’t want to speak for how they might look at this, but it seems to me the proof and the information developed from this experiment is going to be hard to rebut. That’s my observation.”




Notes


* Some Wyoming fans missed watching the Cowboys play in the Las Vegas Bowl last night, a day after their plane slid off an icy runway in Colorado. A Las Vegas-bound plane carrying the fans slid off the runway late Wednesday night at the Fort Collins-Loveland airport. No one was hurt, but the passengers were stranded.


* USC quarterback Matt Leinart, the Heisman Trophy winner, was named The Associated Press player of the year. Leinart completed 66 percent of his passes for 2,990 yards and 28 touchdowns, guiding the top-ranked Trojans to an Orange Bowl matchup with No. 2 Oklahoma.