Pitt coach Todd Graham talks repeatedly about meeting boosters at dinners and other such functions. I wonder how he finds the time, but I guess there is something to be said for getting to work by 5 a.m.
Nonetheless, he loves speaking to crowds or merely chatting with people one-on-one, and his message is the same:
Pitt won’t run away from expectations.
One booster told him, “Coach, you may have to win 11 or 12 games to satisfy the fans.”
His response: “Good.”
Another said, “Coach, you are really putting yourself out there.”
His response, “So what? I knew that when I took the job
I think that’s what college athletes want to hear from their head coach.
Graham gives more respect and credit to his players for being insightful and observant than most coaches I have known.
“The kids know if you believe or not,” he said.
Graham’s theory (and I happen to agree with it): Set the bar high and kids will try to surpass it. Set it low and they will work only hard enough to please you. That’s why he continually and openly talks about winning championships.
“I would rather dare to be great and I want our kids to play that way,” he said.
“I don’t want our kids to play cautious and I don’t want our coaches to coach cautious. I walked in there (to a meeting) the other day and I told our offensive staff I want them to score every time they have the ball. And I told the defensive staff, I want to stop them every time they have the ball.”
— Pitt has many tougher tests ahead than what the team will face the next two Saturdays against Buffalo and Maine, but Graham said he won’t hold anything back at the start of the season.
“This game is about us,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if we are playing Buffalo or we are playing USC, game one.”
— Graham said he made a point to his players by asking them to visualize driving a car near a cliff.
“There are people who want to drive way over here (away from the cliff) and be safe,” he said. “You are never going to accomplish anything great (that way).
“You have to get right on the edge of that cliff and put it down full speed. To do that, you have to be very disciplined. If not, you are going to crash. You are going to go right off the cliff.”
Graham wants it all – he wants a fast, risk-taking team with minimal mistakes.
“It needs to be high octane discipline, high octane fundamentals. No stupid penalties. Own the ball. Tempo. That’s it.”
Sounds easy enough.
Actually, it’s exceedingly difficult and Graham knows he will take some lumps this season. But he believes his team will improve through adversity.
But if you are expecting 10 victories, you might be disappointed. The non-conference schedule is too tough.
— You could see this one coming a few weeks ago.
Backup quarterback Trey Anderson is no longer a walkon.
Graham said Anderson, a freshman quarterback from Pearland, Texas, was given a scholarship, and he may reward another walkon player before the game Saturday.
Anderson has done exceptionally well in camp and will be the first quarterback off the bench in the Buffalo game. It wouldn’t make much sense to have a walkon quarterback who is one snap from playing meaningful snaps.
Anderson was planning to go to Tyler (Texas) Junior College before quarterbacks coach Todd Dodge lured him to Pitt three weeks before the start of training camp.
Graham said he considers walkons an important part of his program.
“One of the big things we want to do is build our walk-on program,” Graham said. “At Tulsa, every year, we gave two scholarships to walkons.”
— If I were asked to name the No. 1 NFL prospect on the team, I believe it would be right guard Lucas Nix.
“Nix is off-the-charts talent-wise,” Graham said. “And he’s tough, he’s physical.”
Nix and offensive linemen Chris Jacobson and Jordan Gibbs are among Graham’s favorite players. He said they have bought into his program that is so different from the past and encouraged teammates to do the same. They also worked as hard as anyone, even though they were assured of starting jobs, Graham said.
Nix, 6-6, 310 pounds, learned at the knee of Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak, a former Pitt offensive lineman.
That explains a lot about his character and work ethic.
Graham said of Jacobson: “I have never had an offensive lineman get as many votes as he got for captain. That says a lot for him.”
— The only player on the two-deep depth chart who may not play due to injury is wide receiver Ed Tinker.
Graham said linebacker Dan Mason (knee) is several weeks from even thinking about playing.
— Pitt has a chance to have an exceptional crowd Saturday. Season-ticket sales are ahead of last year’s total of 49,000. A crowd far in excess of 50,000 looks like a good guess.