Time for Pitt to think bold

My research team did some exhaustive analysis to come up with the following statistic: Pittsburgh leads the nation in fired football coaches since December.

Yes, despite the decidedly unfunny domestic violence charge against now-dismissed coach Mike Haywood, jokes are easy to make at the Panthers expense. They are a national laughingstock after forcing out Dave Wannstedt and then hiring a supposed disciplinarian who lasted all of 16 days before winding up in jail.

Nobody looks worse than athletic director Steve Pederson, who now has made two straight disastrous football coaching hires. Pederson lost his job at Nebraska for his decision to replace Frank Solich with Bill Callahan.

The Haywood hiring makes you wonder how much due diligence Pederson did in his search process. Colleague Pat Forde reports that at least one BCS-level school looked into hiring Haywood but was turned off by some red flags in his personal life. While those concerns didn't suggest that Haywood would be charged in a domestic violence incident -- and here is where I emphasize that Haywood has only been charged, not convicted -- the bottom line is this: Pederson prioritized character, integrity and discipline with this hire, and he chose a guy who couldn't make it to New Year's Day without getting arrested. And remember that Pitt paid a search firm to aid in this process, so those kinds of details should have been vetted long before the New Year's Eve bombshell dropped.

Pederson had to sell Haywood to his fan base with the discipline and integrity buzz words, because there was very little on Haywood's actual coaching résumé to get anybody too excited. He did a great job in turning Miami around and leading the RedHawks to a MAC championship his second season. But Haywood had a losing record and had struggled to get a head coaching job after a long career as an assistant. Pitt didn't go for a home-run hire; at best Pederson legged out an infield single. Upon further review, it was a game-changing error.

Sorry for straining the baseball metaphor here, but now is the time for Pittsburgh to swing for the fences. It would be easy to panic, try to hire a safe, conservative choice and salvage what remains of a tattered recruiting class. Recent precedent in these types of situations is not promising. Notre Dame hired Ty Willingham after backing away from George O'Leary and his enhanced résumé flap in 2001. Alabama turned to Mike Shula after Mike Price's infamous strip-club fiasco in 2003. Willingham was fired after three seasons, Shula got canned in four.

Pitt needs to go the opposite route from its original search process, when Temple's Al Golden and Haywood were at the top of the list. Go after a hot name like Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. Check in with Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. Roll the dice with old rival Rich Rodriguez if he doesn't keep his job at Michigan. Do something to change the conversation and get the fan base back on board. Bite the bullet on this year's recruiting class, although a bigger name might even help lure in some prospects at the last minute.

To do this, the notoriously budget-conscious Panthers need to open the wallet. Haywood was set to make about $1 million annually. Pitt may need to double that to attract a top-notch candidate. The extra money will be worth it for the public-relations fix. Call it a stupid tax. Alabama turned out OK when it spent some money on a good coach, didn't it?

If there's any good news for Pitt, it's that the Haywood baby mama drama came sooner rather than later. If the school makes a good hire now, the Haywood disaster will be a footnote, not the moment the program went into a downward spiral. The Panthers -- and Pederson, if he still has enough credibility remaining to be allowed to make this call -- get a do-over.

Now's the time to be bold and aggressive, to turn a crisis into an opportunity. Either that, or remain a laughingstock.