PITTSBURGH - Pitt's football team had a winning record, a three-way share of the Big East title and is headed for a bowl game.
That's usually not the formula that leads to a coaching change.
But Dave Wannstedt was ousted after six seasons on Tuesday.
Technically, he resigned with a contract that runs through 2014, and he will now serve as a special assistant to the athletic director. But his emotional and brief
appearance at a late afternoon news conference, surrounded by many of his players, left little doubt this move was not voluntary.
Pitt was 7-5 this season in a weak Big East, and the conference's BCS bowl bid should have been within the Panthers' grasp.
Late-season losses at Connecticut and to West Virginia were devastating, and continued a pattern that had been established in Wannstedt's six seasons.
The Panthers had a knack for losing games they shouldn't lose, and were also prone to flopping in the biggest games.
The performance against West Virginia was especially disheartening. Pitt wasn't even competitive in the 35-10 loss.
Wannstedt has a reputation as a good recruiter who couldn't deliver on the sidelines.
The word was that Wannstedt had the support of chancellor Mark Nordenberg, but never had the same backing from athletic director Steve Pederson.
Wannstedt appeared to be a perfect fit for Pitt. He had experience as an NFL head coach in Chicago and Miami, which gave him instant credibility among recruits looking at Pitt as their springboard to pro football.
He was a Pittsburgh native who had played and coached at Pitt and had great respect for the program. He was an assistant on Johnny Majors' staff in 1976, when the Panthers won the national championship. He wasn't aiming for another job.
Things were even on the right track up until this season.
The Panthers won nine games in 2008 and were 10-3 in 2009. The first line of Wannstedt's media guide biography reads, "The Pitt football program's stock continues to rise under the direction of Dave Wannstedt."
But the stock crashed this year with the disappointing on-field performance, and a series of off-field incidents that embarrassed the university.
Had things gone well on the field, those police blotter issues wouldn't have been as significant.
Pitt always has an interesting set of circumstances that are uncommon to a lot of college football programs. Even in their best years, they're always in the shadow of the Steelers. They're also in an environment where residents are just as likely to be fans or alumni of Penn State or West Virginia.
Pitt football is never an automatic sell the way it is in some towns.
There were empty seats at Heinz Field for the post-Thanksgiving game against West Virginia. Pederson has stated one of his goals is to sell out the 60,000-seat stadium regularly.
Fan discord was a factor, along with the spotty play and off-field issues.
Now it's on Pederson to find someone who fix those problems.
There's no favorite in-house, and the search will probably be national. Pederson undoubtedly has someone in mind.
They'll be looking for a coach who can win the Big East, keep the players out of courtrooms and do better than the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Tuesday's developments showed that a middling record and minor bowl fall short of Pitt's expectations.
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.