Of all the good decisions the Rooney family has made over the years as owners of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and they’ve made many, one of the best has to have been the decision to hire Bill Cowher over Dave Wannstedt to replace the retiring Chuck Noll in 1992. Both were Pittsburgh natives and wound up being the two finalists for the job. Cowher went on to put up a 149-90-1 record over 15 seasons, with 2 Super Bowl appearances and one victory, in SB XL. Wannstedt went on to have great success in Chicago.
Well, not so much in Chicago, but then he had a great run in Miami.
OK, so that didn’t pan out either. Humbled at the NFL level, Wanny decided to try being a college head coach, and where better to do that than his alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh? It was a great match for both sides: Pitt got a big-name head coach to replace Walt Harris, who resigned/was pushed out and went to Stanford, one who likely wouldn’t go looking to jump ship for the next big job that came up, and Wanny got to go home, get the kind of job security that a popular alum coming back to coach his old team can have, and try coaching at a level where he maybe could have some success, since he clearly wasn’t up to the job as an NFL head coach.
Wannstedt came into the job with an incumbent quarterback named Tyler Palko, who had been pretty successful in Harris’ West Coast offense the previous year, but Wannstedt wanted to install a pro-style running offense and there was some question whether Palko could be as successful in that system. Pitt also had a red-shirt sophomore QB on the roster named Joe Flacco, whom Harris had recruited in 2003 but who had been Palko’s backup the previous year. Harris loved his size, arm strength, and athleticism, but Palko was the incumbent and hadn’t done anything to lose the job, so Flacco was stuck at #2. However, with the coaching change, Flacco thought he might have a chance to take the starting job. Wannstedt, given the choice, kept Palko as the starter for the next two seasons and Flacco transferred to Delaware. Under Palko’s veteran leadership, Wanny’s first two Pitt teams went a combined 11-12. But he had success, right?
Yeah, not so much. He was out as Pitt head coach after the 2010 season. Palko has thrown all of 140 passes since entering the NFL in 2007 and is probably out of the league for good at this point.
The reason this is relevant today is that Joe Flacco just became the highest-paid player in NFL history. So, yes, Dave Wannstedt truly is S-M-R-T.