Athletic director Steve Pederson, who helped Pitt move from the turbulence of the Big East to the solidarity of the ACC, has received a five-year contract extension that will keep him in his present position through the 2017-2018 academic year, chancellor Mark Nordenberg said Tuesday.
Pederson, 55, has been hired twice to serve as Pitt's athletic director, in 1996 and 2007. In between, he spent five years as athletic director at Nebraska, his alma mater. He is entering his 13th year at Pitt.
“With the University of Pittsburgh set to officially join the Atlantic Coast Conference on July 1, our athletic programs never have been better positioned for future success,” Nordenberg said. “That is a real tribute to the hard work and effective leadership provided by Steve Pederson as Pitt's athletic director.”
Nordenberg did not release financial terms of Pederson's new contract, but USA Today reported earlier this year that Pederson's annual salary was $596,595.
Pitt athletics has undergone many sweeping changes in personnel and infrastructure under Pederson, who razed Pitt Stadium in a bold and controversial move after the 1999 season, moved the football team into Heinz Field where it shares space with the Steelers and helped raise the necessary funding to build the $119 million Peterson Events Center, which boosted the basketball team among the elite programs in the Big East.
But it's football that has undergone the most change.
When Pederson arrived at Pitt on Oct. 28, 1996, football was at one of its lowest points in school history, winning a total of only 12 games during coach Johnny Majors' second four-year term. Pederson hired Walt Harris to replace Majors in 1997 and the Panthers earned a bowl bid — their first in eight seasons — at the end of that season.
Along with Harris, Pederson has hired five others — basketball coaches Ben Howland and Traci Waites, baseball coach Joe Jordano, track and field coach Alonzo Webb and volleyball coach Chris Beerman — who were named Big East coaches of the year. Three months ago, Pederson signed basketball coach Jamie Dixon to a 10-year contract extension.
“This is an exciting time to be at the University of Pittsburgh,” Pederson said. “I am fortunate to work with this great staff and together we are helping to guide each of our student-athletes as they aspire to excellence academically, athletically and personally. I appreciate the confidence the chancellor has in our ability to keep Pitt athletics moving forward.”
Pederson left Pitt in 2002 to become athletic director at Nebraska, but he was dismissed from that job in October 2007. Six weeks later, Pederson returned to Pitt on Nov. 30 to replace his successor, Jeff Long.
Recent years at Pitt have been marked by instability in its football program, beginning with the firing of head coach Dave Wannstedt at the end of the 2010 season. Pederson replaced Wannstedt with Michael Haywood, who was fired two weeks later after he was arrested on a domestic assault charge Dec. 31 in South Bend, Ind.
At the time, some influential Pitt graduates and boosters criticized Pederson and threatened to withhold donations. The storm intensified 11 months later when Haywood's replacement, Todd Graham, left without warning for Arizona State.
Yet Pitt athletics, which includes 19 programs, appears to have reached solid ground with the impending move to the ACC. Pederson was at the forefront of the decision to leave the unstable Big East, which has since broken apart, and join the ACC where Pitt can quadruple its television revenue and increase the visibility of its football program under coach Paul Chryst, who replaced Graham in December 2011. Pitt will officially join the ACC on July 1.
“Just two years ago, during a period of significant conference instability, Steve was a driving force in helping us to find the best possible conference home,” Nordenberg said. “When we received an invitation to join the ACC, Pitt not only had the chance to move to an outstanding athletic conference but also became aligned with some of the nation's most prestigious academic institutions.
“The ACC is a perfect fit for the University of Pittsburgh, and our receipt of their invitation reflects well on both our overall institutional strength and on the tremendous progress made in Pitt athletics under Steve's guidance.”
ACC commissioner John Swofford said Pederson's presence already has been felt throughout the conference and especially in league meetings.
“(Pederson) is one of the most experienced and respected athletics directors in the country and he's already made a positive and prominent impact around the ACC table,” Swofford said.
Pederson also has been instrumental in raising funds for the Panthers Club that subsidizes scholarships for student-athletes. The university reported a record total of $14 million in donations from 2010-2012.
In addition, the $29 million Petersen Sports Complex, which houses baseball, softball and soccer fields on the upper reaches of the campus in Oakland, opened March 16, 2011.
Pederson came to Pitt after serving the previous 2 1/2 years as associate athletic director at Nebraska. A native of North Platte, Neb., Pederson graduated from Nebraska in 1980 with a degree in business administration and has been recruiting coordinator at Ohio State, Tennessee and his alma mater.
This article was written by Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE.