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Wannstedt, Weis now going in opposite directions

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

There's little room for patience in college football, where coaches and programs are declared to be booms or busts from week to week. But sometimes patience pays off, as in the case of Dave Wannstedt vs. Charlie Weis.

The two men had a lot in common when they made their college head coaching debuts against one another on Sept. 3, 2005. Both had been Super Bowl-winning coordinators in the NFL -- Weis calling the offense for the New England Patriots and Wannstedt running the Dallas Cowboys' defense. Both left the pro ranks to come back and lead their alma maters.

Now, some five seasons later as the two meet again this week, one coach is feeling severe heat while the other has his program on fire. Tortoise has broken the tape, while hare has stopped to ask directions to the finish line.

Wannstedt took over a Pittsburgh team that had 18 returning starters from a Fiesta Bowl appearance. Weis inherited a Notre Dame team that had gone 6-6, leading to the ouster of Tyrone Willingham.

The first meeting between the two was no contest, as the Irish rolled to a 35-13 halftime lead and eventual 42-21 win at Heinz Field. Weis lived up to his reputation as an offensive mastermind, while Wannstedt looked lost. Weis would go on to make BCS bowl appearances his first two seasons; Wannstedt failed to record a winning record or reach a bowl in his first three seasons as fans grew restless.

Now fast forward to today. Wannstedt's Panthers are 8-1, ranked 12th in the BCS standings and in the Top 10 of the human polls for the first time in November since 1982. Pitt has won 18 of its last 23 games and is closing in on a potential Big East title.

Weis's Irish, meanwhile, are unranked and unloved after last week's loss to Navy, the second time in three years they fell to the service academy at home. Since 2007, Weis is just 16-18, and he could well be out of a job by the end of the month.

It took Wannstedt a lot longer to establish his program, but his steady climb has put the Panthers in great position going forward. Wannstedt -- who, unlike Weis had head coaching experience in the NFL with Chicago and Miami -- did not look for quick fixes when he arrived at Pitt.

"We took it a little bit slower than the majority of head coaches that take over a program," Wannstedt said. "We gradually made the changes that we felt we needed to make. I think the worst thing that you can do is make bad decisions. We have a lot of kids right now that four years ago it would have been really easy to give up on, or not give an opportunity to change, and we did."

Both Weis and Wannstedt have had highly-rated recruiting classes during their tenures. Weis had the flashy, pass-heavy offensive scheme, while Wannstedt has always preferred a ground-oriented, defensive-minded conservative style.

The difference is that Wannstedt has filled out his roster with a complete team, one that's strong defensively and can score with anybody. The Panthers led the Big East in scoring in the regular season in 2008 and are averaging 34.6 points per game this year. Notre Dame, with stars like Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate, is averaging 30.1 points. And Weis's defenses have continually been overmatched by the better teams on the Irish schedule and even Navy.

Wannstedt received a contract extension the week before the final game of the 2007 season despite having a 15-18 record and plenty of fan dissatisfaction. Pitt went on to upset No. 2 West Virginia in the finale and has been on a roll ever since.

Notre Dame gave Weis a 10-year extension just seven games into his first season of 2005. That contract has been an albatross almost ever since.

One program overreacted, while the other practiced patience. And though it wasn't easy to see in 2005 or 2006, today it's clear which strategy was better.