Pittsburgh denies Ohio State chance to talk with Harris
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Pitt denied Ohio State's request to talk to football coach Walt Harris on Friday, not long after Minnesota decided to let coach Glen Mason meet with the Buckeyes.
Harris, who in four seasons has coached Pitt to its only two bowl appearances in 11 years, was Ohio State's quarterbacks coach -- and was offered the offensive coordinator's job -- before being hired by Pitt in 1997.
Considered one of college football's best offensive coaches, Harris was long known to be interested in the Ohio State job. However, when coach John Cooper was fired earlier this week, Harris said he was happy at Pitt and wasn't looking to leave.
In March, Harris signed a long-term contract with Pitt worth about $600,000 per season through 2006 -- or about half the salary he probably could command in Columbus. It was this contract that Pitt used as leverage to deny Harris permission to talk to Ohio State.
"Late today, I was contacted by Ohio State, which requested permission to talk to Walt Harris," athletic director Steve Pederson said. "Consistently, coach Harris has said he's happy and excited to be at Pitt, and he is not looking to leave.
"In that vein, and in the best interest of our program, I have denied Ohio State permission to talk with him. I have talked with coach Harris in depth, and he is comfortable with the position we have taken."
Traditionally, schools allow their coaches permission to talk with other schools -- even those with long-term contracts -- if only to prevent possibly having a disgruntled employee.
However, with Pitt coming off its first winning season since 1991 -- the Panthers were 7-4 before losing to Iowa State in the Insight.com Bowl -- Pederson clearly did not want to change coaches.
"He and I, along with the entire university community, are excited moving this program forward, and complete a great recruiting year," Pederson said.
Although Harris almost certainly would have liked to have at least talked with Ohio State, he issued this statement Friday:
"There has been a lot of discussion in the past week about myself and the Ohio State head coaching vacancy. Ohio State is a great school and I enjoyed my time there, but Pitt is the right place for me. We are building something special here and I want to continue the progress we have made over the last four years.
"The Panthers have a great future ahead and I'm excited about what we can accomplish."
On Tuesday, Harris issued this statement: "I'm extremely happy at the University of Pittsburgh and I'm not looking to leave. We're excited about what we accomplished here and I believe we have an exciting future at Pittsburgh."
Harris made similar remarks at a news conference last month after being interviewed by Alabama, which subsequently hired former Texas Christian coach Dennis Franchione.
Harris is 20-26 at Pitt, including a 6-6 record and a Liberty Bowl appearance in 1997. The Panthers were 2-8 in 1998, but improved to 5-6 in 1999 and were 7-5 this season.