There is no documented evidence to suggest that Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson tried to find the anti-Todd Graham when he started looking for a new football coach two months ago.
He uncovered one, anyway.
Pitt fans, meet Paul Chryst.
Unassuming. Sure of himself and his methods, but without hitting his listener over the head with what he knows.
Chryst sat down with several members of the sporting press Tuesday afternoon for an informal question-and-answer session that was short on hard news, but long on insight — if you were paying attention.
He was cooperative, chatty and quick with a quip. A lot like Graham, in that sense, but without the clichés.
Asked if he will be calling the plays this season — a question he is not yet prepared to answer — Chryst said, “Only the good ones.”
When talk got around to his offensive philosophy and how he plans to implement it, he offered this gem that should be on the wall in the office of every coach in America:
“You never want the system to be the thing that prevents you from playing well.”
Graham was stubborn and unwilling to change his system, even when it was clear the players didn’t get it. Chryst said he will fit his system around his players.
Most coaches will tell you that’s the essence of what they do.
More important, Chryst has a plan for everything from hiring coaches to recruiting to calling plays to keeping order in his program.
Take the potential crisis that erupted when he lost a coach who had been on the job for only a few weeks.
Chryst said he knew Bob Bostad had NFL aspirations when he hired him to be offensive coordinator and line coach. So, when Bostad resigned last week to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chryst seamlessly applied the contingency plan that had been in place for just such an occurrence.
He promoted Joe Rudolph from quarterbacks coach to coordinator and moved Jim Hueber from tight ends coach to line coach where he had previous success at Wisconsin and with the Minnesota Vikings.
In fact, Chryst had his coaching realignment in place at Pitt before the Tampa, Fla., media knew Bostad had been hired by the Bucs.
Bostad was the second coach to leave Pitt under Chryst. Eddie Faulkner, a former Wisconsin running back, left to go back to his alma mater and coach tight ends. As a result, Chryst has two vacancies on his staff (quarterback and running backs coaches), and he plans to fill both by the end of this week.
Chryst said he is pleased with his first recruiting efforts, the inroads he forged and the acquaintances he formed with area high school coaches.
Yet, it hasn’t been perfect.
The loss of Upper St. Clair linebacker Dakota Conwell is a blemish that could haunt Chryst. Conwell is a good player of high character who comes from one of the quality Class AAAA programs in the WPIAL. It’s never good to let a local player get away, especially when he had originally committed to Pitt.
Overall, however, the Class of 2012 looks good on paper, with a quarterback (Chad Voytik), running back (Rushel Shell), tight end (J.P. Holtz), offensive lineman (Adam Bisnowaty) and linebacker (Deaysean Rippy) who were among the top high school players at their positions in this part of the country. Getting Columbus, Ohio, defensive lineman Terrell Jackson, who had considered Michigan State, was another victory.
Chryst had a lot of help from the recruits themselves. Despite the miles and states that separated them, Voytik, Shell, Bisnowaty and Chris and Demitrious Davis – all of whom committed to Pitt under Graham — formed a brotherhood and vowed to keep the class together.
But give Chryst credit for luring Holtz and Rippy to Pitt after they appeared headed elsewhere during the football season.
Chyrst’s recruiting pitch is a bit different. He doesn’t make promises he can’t keep.
The truth. What a concept.
“The less you can say and the more they can see is better,” he said.
Chryst and Graham do share one common trait – both like building relationships with players.
“These last couple of weeks I have enjoyed a lot,” Chryst said. “You are getting to be with the players and being around them. That’s a lot of the reason we do what we do.”
Graham often made similar remarks, but in the end, he was less than honest, one day pulling wide receiver Devin Street into his office to assure him all the coaches had five-year contracts – and then resigning a week later.
Chryst said it’s too early to know if he’s earned the players’ trust.
“Your actions have to match your words,” he said.
But Pitt appears to have hired a keeper this time, a coach who will impress you with what he knows and what he does, without trying to do so.
REBUILDING THE LINE
Chryst and Hueber have a big job ahead of them in rebuilding an offensive line that lost three seniors.
Getting guard Chris Jacobson back is a start. A good player and a leader on and off the field, Jacobson was awarded a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after suffering his second season-ending knee injury last season.
Jacobson has all the characteristics Chryst is seeking in his linemen — size, mobility and toughness.
Of the others, he said: “You can see the size, you are starting to get a feel on how they move and in the spring we will find out on their toughness.”
RAY GRAHAM UPDATE
Chryst said running back Ray Graham’s rehab from knee surgery is on schedule, but he doesn’t know when he will be able to practice. He will miss the entire spring.
“Everything they tell you, it’s going well,” Chryst said. “But for me to say something in February, I don’t know what I would gain. I wouldn’t be giving anybody any knowledge because no one really knows.
“But reports are good. There have been no setbacks.”
LOTS OF QUARTERBACKS
Tino Sunseri will enter spring practice March 15 atop the depth chart, but there will be four others taking snaps and throwing passes, including returning quarterbacks Mark Myers and Trey Anderson.
Meanwhile, Anthony Gonzalez will move from H-back, where he played last season in Graham’s system, and return to quarterback. Montour graduate E.J. Banks will shift from the defensive secondary. Chances are, only three of those five will be on the quarterback depth chart in the fall.