PITTSBURGH (AP) - Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt was given a three-year contract extension Saturday, despite not producing a winning record in three seasons in a program that went to bowl games five consecutive years before he arrived.
Wannstedt was already under contract through the 2009 season and is now signed through 2012. The announcement was made on the day of the Backyard Brawl game against No. 2 West Virginia, which now dominates a rivalry Pitt once controlled.
Pitt apparently chose to give Wannstedt the extension now to end any immediate speculation about his status as Pitt winds up a second losing season under the former Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins coach.
``It is good, though, that the papers have been signed, so the contract issues do not loom even as a potential distraction and coach Wannstedt is even better positioned to continue building even a stronger program,'' chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg said in a statement issued by the school.
The Panthers were 5-6 in 2005, 6-6 in 2006 and are 4-7 this season under Wannstedt - a combined record of 15-19 - after going 39-23 and playing in one BCS bowl and four other bowl games in predecessor Walt Harris' final five seasons. Harris took Pitt to six bowl games in eight years.
Counting his 1-8 record in his not-finished final season as the Dolphins' coach in 2004, Wannstedt has a 16-27 record in his last four seasons.
The extension came a day after Steve Pederson returned as Pitt's athletic director. He had previously been the Panthers' AD from 1996-2002.
Pederson was fired at Nebraska 1 1/2 months ago, not long after he gave failed coach Bill Callahan - another former NFL coach - a three-year extension.
Nebraska must pay more than $5 million to buy out the Callahan and Pederson contracts, though it's uncertain whether Pederson's rehiring by Pitt affects his buyout. Callahan was fired last week by interim AD and former coach Tom Osborne after Nebraska went 5-7 this season and allowed 40 or more points six times.
``Though everyone who cares about Pitt football wishes that this season had produced more victories on the field, clear signs of progress can be seen in this young, talented and clearly committed team,'' Nordenberg said.
Wannstedt has upgraded Pitt's recruiting in western Pennsylvania and is already playing three promising freshmen: running back LeSean McCoy, who has rushed for 1,180 yards and 14 touchdowns; quarterback Pat Bostick, who has started the last seven games; and defensive end Greg Romeus.
Pitt's depth chart for the West Virginia game includes 33 freshmen or sophomores, though three players rather than two are listed at some positions.
However, Wannstedt has been criticized for some curious play-calling, for not expanding and improving on Pitt's recruiting beyond the Pittsburgh area - the school cut back in Florida this year - and for falling far behind longtime rival West Virginia, now a national power.
Rutgers and Louisville have beaten Wannstedt in all three of his Pitt seasons, and West Virginia would do the same with a win Saturday night.
``The day I accepted the head coaching position at the University of Pittsburgh (in 2004), I said our goal was to firmly place Pitt among the very best programs in the country,'' Wannstedt said. ``That goal has not changed and I believe now more than ever that we are doing all the necessary things to reach that level.''
Nordenberg said the extension ``never was an urgent matter'' but that he, interim athletic director Donna Sanft and Wannstedt agreed it should happen. Sanft was briefly in charge after former AD Jeff Long left for Arkansas this fall.
Pederson said he is ready ``to help Dave Wannstedt in any way I can,'' though it was Pederson who hired Harris in late 1996. Harris was pushed out by Long after taking Pitt to the Fiesta Bowl in the 2004 season and Harris was quickly hired by Stanford, but was let go after two seasons.
``We are going to work very hard and do everything we can to help him (Wannstedt) and our program achieve at the highest levels,'' Pederson said. ``I couldn't be more exited about our future.''

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