MORGANTOWN - When searching for an offensive coordinator during the past off-season, Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt looked high and low before finally offering the job to a person whose family is well known in western Pennsylvania football circles.
Frank Cignetti Jr., whose father Frank Sr. coached at West Virginia University in the seasons leading up to the opening of the new football stadium and whose brother Curt lettered in 1982 as a backup quarterback, came home after serving in a similar position at the University of California. Cignetti directed a Cal offense that averaged 33 points per game en route to a 9-4 season and an Emerald Bowl victory over Miami (Fla.).
That success has followed him to Pittsburgh, as the No. 9 Panthers are second in the Big East Conference in both total offense (410 yards per game) and scoring (34 points per game). Pittsburgh, 9-1, also leads the conference in rushing, thanks to freshman Dion Lewis, and has the top-rated passer in Bill Stull.
"It was a good fit," said Wannstedt. "I felt real comfortable with Frank. He has come here, and everything to this point has gone smoothly."
Cignetti brought an impressive resume to Pittsburgh, having served as an offensive coordinator and assistant coach at several Division I schools and as an assistant coach in the NFL with stops at Kansas City, New Orleans and San Francisco. He returned to the same school where he started down the coaching path as a graduate assistant back in 1989, carrying on a family tradition as his father served as an assistant there from 1966-68 and brother from 1983-84 and 1993-99.
"I knew Frank's father from when he was recruiting me out of high school while he was at West Virginia," Wannstedt said. "We had a conversation, and the fit was, No. 1, we were going to run a pro-style offense and No. 2, we were committed to running the ball."
Under Cignetti's watchful eye, Stull has matured as a college quarterback, which Wannstedt said was the result of hard work during the summer months.
"We're doing things now that give Billy a chance to be successful," Wannstedt said. "We have a great supporting cast, so Billy has a lot of weapons he can go to."
Lewis leads the conference in rushing and is already a semi-finalist for the Maxwell Award, as is WVU counterpart Noel Devine. Stull is a semi-finalist for the Davey O'Brien Award, which is given to the country's top quarterback, and tight end Dorin Dickerson is a semi-finalist for the John Mackey Award. Dickerson's 10 touchdown catches are tops among the nation's tight ends.
Pittsburgh, second in the conference standings with a 5-0 mark, travels to Morgantown Nov. 27 for the annual Backyard Brawl with West Virginia, 7-3 overall and 3-2 in the conference. Kickoff for the rivalry game is set for 7 p.m., and it will be televised on ESPN2.