New Castle News


December 23, 2011

Pitt Football: New coach lets high-octane success speak for itself

PITTSBURGH — No proclamations. No promises of Big East titles, or ACC ones for that matter. No preaching about commitment or the virtues of a gimmicky if effective offense.

Paul Chryst doesn't do self-promotion. All he does is coach football.

Good thing, because after a year of turmoil, Pittsburgh needs that more than ever.

The Panthers hired the successful and plainspoken Wisconsin offensive coordinator on Thursday and charged him with providing the once-proud program with a much-needed dose of stability.

Judging by his first day at his new gig, Chryst provided it in bulk.

Calling Pitt a "destination job," Chryst promised only to get to work, a mantra that should resonate with both his players and a fractured fan base tired of a 13-month coaching carousel.

"I do believe it's about what you do and not about what you say," Chryst said. "I'm not going to sit up and talk here about who I am. But I am really excited to roll up our sleeves and go about it with this group of players."

Chryst replaces Todd Graham, who left for Arizona State last week after spending less than a year on campus.

Graham's graceless departure — he resigned when the Panthers wouldn't allow him to talk to the Sun Devils and notified players he was leaving via forwarded text message — was an embarrassing turn for a program that thought it had seen it all over the last year.

Instead, his abrupt move out west left the Panthers searching for their fourth coach in just over a year. It also opened the door for Chryst, who was in the mix when Pitt was looking for someone to replace Dave Wannstedt and Mike Haywood a year ago.

Pitt opted for the flashy Graham, who came in talking about his "high octane" offense and left following a disappointing 6-6 season.

This time around, they went with the candidate who was so committed to getting the job he volunteered to put a hefty buyout clause in the contract to assure athletic director Steve Pederson he was in it for the long haul.

That sense of commitment helped put him over the top. Chryst beat out Florida International coach Mario Cristobal and interim Ohio State coach Luke Fickell for the right to return Pitt to prominence.

Would he have loved to get the position a year ago? Of course. He's not complaining that it took a little longer than he anticipated.

"I wanted to be a head coach if the situation was right, if it was a place you could believe in, if it was a place that you felt fit who you are," Chryst said. "You didn't have to compromise who you are and what you believe in (here). That's what got me excited. When this opportunity presented itself, I wanted to be a part of this."

Chryst met with his players on Thursday morning before returning to Wisconsin to help lead the ninth-ranked Badgers (11-2) into the Rose Bowl.

Staying at Wisconsin through the bowl game was a "no brainer" for Chryst.

"You want to finish out with your guys," Chryst said.

It's that kind of attitude that made Chryst a hit in Madison, where the former Wisconsin quarterback molded the Badgers into an offensive powerhouse.

Wisconsin ranked fourth in the nation in scoring this year, averaging 44.6 points while winning the Big Ten championship.

Quarterback Russell Wilson finished second in the country in pass efficiency, throwing for 31 touchdowns against three interceptions while running back Montee Ball rushed for 32 touchdowns and was a Heisman Trophy finalist.

"We're going to run the football, which I think won't be met with boos here," Chryst said with a laugh.

Not after a year spent watching Graham's offense sputter.

Graham came in preaching the virtues of his uptempo attack only to struggle through significant growing pains that included blowing double-digit second-half leads to Cincinnati, Iowa and West Virginia.

The Panthers struggled to switch from Wannstedt's pro-style approach to Graham's modified spread attack. Pitt allowed 57 sacks this season, easily the most in the FBS, and Graham drew the ire of the fan base for shifting blame from himself to quarterback Tino Sunseri.

That's unlikely to happen under Chryst, whom former Wisconsin running back John Clay called a player's coach.

"He lets you be a man," said Clay, now a reserve running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. "He holds you accountable but you also know he's got your back."

Something not to be overlooked given the way the Panthers reacted after Graham bailed. Wide receiver Devin Street called his former coach a "liar" on his Twitter feed, though his tone changed considerably while talking about Chryst.

"Just met the new head man! Ready to rock," Street tweeted on Tuesday.

Not quite yet.

Interim coach Keith Patterson will coach Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Jan. 7 against SMU, though Chryst plans on traveling with the team to Birmingham.

"I hope they let me in the game," he joked.

That's unlikely to be a problem, particularly for a program eager to see if Chryst can replicate the bruising offense he used to turn Wisconsin into a perennial Big Ten title contender.

Pitt is moving from the Big East to the ACC by 2014. Chryst hopes to have his no-nonsense system fully in place by then, though he's optimistic it won't take that long.

Graham, for all his issues, didn't leave the cupboard completely bare.

Running back Ray Graham was among the nation's leaders in rushing yards before tearing the ACL in his right knee in October, ending his season. He is expected to return next fall, and if he's healthy he will give Chryst the kind of dynamic threat out of the backfield that was a fixture during Chryst's days at Wisconsin.

Chryst's first job, however, will be selling the Panthers that he's here to stay. He sensed a little trepidation during his introductory meeting, but can understand the skepticism considering it was the third time in the last 13 months the Panthers have been forced to meet the new guy.

He believes he will eventually win them over. He knows he has to if he wants to keep the program out of the coach market for a while.

"Once you get going and work side by side . you can talk a lot about a lot of stuff," he said. "When you can go do it and roll up your sleeves, that's when it's pretty fun."

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