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Pitt Searches Goes On _ For Winner And Coach

December 1, 1996

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ The search continues.

Four years after Johnny Majors returned as coach, Pitt still is looking for its first winning football season since 1991.

Now, it is looking for a coach, too.

Steve Pederson, Pitt’s new athletic director, takes over Monday, and he must hit the ground running. Awaiting is his first major decision _ and, one of the most important he’ll make at the school.

Is there a coach _ an eager, enthusiastic coordinator, maybe, or a one-time winning coach looking to rehabilitate his career _ who can make a winner out of Pitt?

Pederson is about to find out. And it’s likely his tenure at Pitt will be judged by the coach he chooses, just as predecessor Oval Jaynes’ stay was cut short by the losing records of Majors and basketball coach Ralph Willard.

``This is a business where you’re measured by your record,″ said Pederson, who left Nebraska’s athletic department to accept one of the most challenging jobs in Division I sports. ``I’ll have as much at stake as the coaches do.″

Majors went out a winner in the final game of his 29-year coaching career Saturday as Pitt (4-7, 3-4 Big East) rode Matt Lytle’s passing to a 24-9 victory over Rutgers (2-9, 1-6).

But while Pitt won Majors’ first game in his return to Pitt in 1993, and his last game, it won only 10 games in between. His 12-32 record was a turnaround of his 33-13-1 record during his first four-year stay from 1973-76, which ended with Pitt’s last national championship.

``It’s always good to win,″ said Majors, who seemed oblivious to the cold and driving rain that held the crowd to a few thousand. ``I had a tremendous amount of emotion this week.″

Majors was carried off the field after a win that improved his career record at Iowa State, Tennessee and Pitt to 185-137-10. It was not an unexpected gesture, but it touched Majors.

``I’m not very emotional, but being carried off the field moved me,″ he said.

The Panthers did not win more than four games in any season after Majors returned in 1993, and their dearth of talent was exposed this season in discouraging losses to Ohio State (72-0), Notre Dame (60-6), Syracuse (55-7), Miami (45-0) and West Virginia (34-0).

But Majors insisted there is talent _ such as Lytle, running backs Dewayne Schulters and Billy West, and freshmen defensive starters Demond Gibson and Seth Hornack _ to build around.

His successor’s biggest challenge will be to restore Pitt’s ability to recruit in western Pennsylvania. Majors built his 1976 national championship team around local talent such as Tony Dorsett, but Penn State now lands nearly every top player from the Pittsburgh area.

Majors also led the effort to rebuild Pitt Stadium’s aging locker rooms and weight rooms.

``This team is more forward than it was when I started my second tenure,″ Majors said. ``We began the building of the new facilities. ... I believe that after leaving the program that it is better than when I came in.″

In tribute to Majors’ three bowl game appearances and national championship, his locker at Pitt Stadium will be enclosed in glass. The honor had been reserved for players such as Dorsett and Dan Marino.

``I appreciate the honor, but it wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for people like the Dorsetts,″ Majors said.

Now, his successor must find the next Dorsett or Marino if Pitt is to reach the Top 10 again.