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Pitt, Miami share plenty of history

Pittsburgh and Miami haven't played since 2003. But when the two teams meet on Thursday night (ESPN, 7:30 ET), there will still be a lot of shared history between the two programs.

The Panthers and Hurricanes, of course, used to be Big East brothers before Miami bolted for the ACC. Pitt only beat the the Hurricanes once during their Big East days, also on a Thursday night in 1997.

Even deeper than that, though, is the connection between the two head coaches. Pittsburgh's Dave Wannstedt helped recruit Miami coach Randy Shannon out of high school when he was the Hurricanes' defensive coordinator under Jimmy Johnson. Wannstedt then went on to the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, which drafted Shannon in the final round.

Later, when he became coach of the Miami Dolphins, Wannstedt promoted Shannon on his staff. He also helped him land the defensive coordinator job with the Hurricanes from there.

"When you hire coaches you want people that No. 1 are very knowledgeable particularly about what you want to do defensively. Randy is very smart that way," Wannstedt said Monday. "You want to hire people you know as people, you know their work ethic, you know what they stand for. And people that you trust [so] when you get to those tough parts of the season people as you always do, you want to surround yourself around people that are loyal."

Shortly after becoming the Miami head coach, Shannon flew to Pittsburgh and visited with Wannstedt's staff.

"I asked him to come up and spend some time with some of our defensive coaches," Wannstedt said. "They talked about some of the things they were doing on defense and it was a great exchange.

"We talked a little bit about certain things that come up with head coaching and hiring people. Me knowing the culture at Miami and having coached there, we were able to have a real good conversation. Heck, we talked about ex-players, from their involvement to spring practice. We kind of just talked back and forth on a lot of topics."

Given the coaches' close association, it's no surprise that Pitt and Miami play similar styles. They both run 4-3 defenses that are built on speed. The offense is a pro-style system.

"They're very similar to what we do schematically on offense and defense," Wannstedt said.

There are other connections as well. Pitt linebackers coach Bernard Clark played for the Hurricanes from 1985 to 1989. Offensive line coach Tony Wise held that same position once with Miami.

Pittsburgh also heavily recruits Florida, with eight current players from the state on the roster. But there's some Pennsylvania pride on the line as well.

"They always say the best football is from Florida," said defensive end Brandon Lindsey, who's from Aliquippa. "People up here always say we have the best football. So it's kind of like a grudge match."

Though none of the current Pitt players have ever faced Miami, the Hurricanes were one of the most dominating teams in the country when many of them were growing up.

"I have an older brother, and most of his friends always wore Miami jerseys," linebacker Tristan Roberts said. "They were winning so much that everybody liked them."

Pitt is embracing some other history this week. The school is bringing close to 350 former players back to participate in various events. The Panthers hope to make the atmosphere at Heinz Field special and gain a homefield advantage at a place that's not known for being particularly hostile.

Most importantly, Pittsburgh hopes to make a statement on national TV and to make up for its opening overtime loss at Utah.

"It's like a redemption game for us," Lindsey said.

Redemption, mixed with a healthy dose of history.