I didn’t expect much of a response from the University of Pittsburgh on Wednesday when reporters asked for reaction to Todd Graham’s claim that problems within the administration led to his departure for Arizona State.
But I have to give Pitt senior associate athletic director E.J. Borghetti credit for his answer. He defended his school with dignity, truth and even a bit of whimsy.
Here’s my story on the subject as it appears in the Tribune-Review:
Former Pitt coach Todd Graham criticized the university Wednesday, claiming issues with people “unhappy with things in the administration” helped lead to his departure to Arizona State.
Graham, who said coaching the team was “a struggle,” made the remarks in a seven-part series entitled, “In My Own Words — Todd Graham.” The program appears on FOXsportsArizona.com and will air on television in Arizona, beginning Aug. 25.
“There are a lot more problems there than just me,” he said. “I wasn’t comfortable in the area recruiting. I made a bad decision. When I got there I didn’t realize the issues that were there.”
He did not elaborate.
Asked to respond, Pitt senior associate athletic director/media relations E.J. Borghetti said: “Todd Graham’s credibility problems are well documented. Further comment on that subject would be simply piling on.”
Graham had a lot more to say about Pitt in the interview.
To his credit, he said he deserves criticism for leaving a place after one season (he did the same thing at Rice), but he said the situation gave him no choice.
“I made the decision (to come to Pitt) based on football,” he said. “I didn’t know the working relationship there. There were some dynamics that were not good.”
Of course, he didn’t offer any specifics.
“I don’t think I did the right thing by leaving there and only being there a year, but I can’t change the circumstances. If I had it to do over again, I would not have went.”
He also said he was confused by all the job offers he had to turn down.
“You win (at Tulsa) and so many people are coming to you for jobs and that confuses you a little bit.”
Of course, he referenced his wife Penni, who during her time here was very visible and outwardly loyal to the city (or so it appeared). Penni, a former high school administrator in Texas, tried to paint herself as a Penguins and Pirates fan (heck, she even went to a Pittsburgh Power game when Tulsa’s team came to town), tossing around Tweet after Tweet after Tweet to her many followers.
Todd said she was unhappy in Pittsburgh, however.
“My wife did not want to go there,” he said in the interview. “I had three kids attending the University of Tulsa and none of them went (to Pittsburgh). Mom wasn’t happy about that.”
Todd, himself, said he wasn’t comfortable with the area or the recruiting opportunities.
Eventually, he figured out that there aren’t enough of the right kind of athletes in these parts to properly run his speed-based offense.
“I made a bad decision,” he said of coming here. “I didn’t think it all the way through.”
He claimed to be “very, very focused” on coaching the Pitt team during the season, and I don’t think anyone can accuse him of not giving everything he had toward trying to win games.
But he said the atmosphere at Pitt wasn’t ideal.
Of course, he is right about Pitt sailing through rough waters in recent years, but Graham was hired — and paid handsomely — to help fix that problem.
“There were some issues of some people who were unhappy with the things in the administration and there was a lot of struggle,” he said. “Everything about it was just different. I never felt comfortable. I kind of felt like a fish out of water a little bit.”
He alluded to the coaching changes at Pitt and the aborted hire of Michael Haywood, and that’s when he said: “There are a lot more problems there than just me.”
He said he wanted to meet with his players before leaving for Arizona State, but the search firm hired by the school insisted he fly to Arizona immediately.
“If I had to do it all over again, I would have tried to call a 6:30 (a.m.) meeting and try to go in that morning,” he said.
Actually, he could have done that — if he really felt the need — because players were at the South Side facility at the time.
Several Pitt players criticized Graham for leaving the way he did, sending a text message through his assistants. But he claimed that some members of the team called him after he left, apparently to wish him well.
“You don’t hear the comments from the guys who called me, that were on that team that I know were the guys who believed (in me),” he said.
If any players did that, I would love to hear from you guys. If you care to share, I can be reached at @JDiPaola_Trib or firstname.lastname@example.org.
— OK. Enough about the past.
New Pitt coach Paul Chryst strapped the shoulder pads on his team today for the first time, and he wasn’t happy with all the results.
Several times, players had to be reprimanded and sentenced to repeated up-downs for hitting too hard. There’s nothing wrong with physical contact, but it can be counter-productive if players aren’t wearing the proper equipment. The team will wear full gear Friday and scrimmage Saturday.
“We have to learn how to practice with each other,” Chryst said. “I think it’s so important. We have to get better at that, to be honest with you. I thought it was sloppy.”
— Pitt lost another offensive lineman Wednesday when Chryst announced that redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Tom Ricketts, who transferred from Penn State last year, will have season-ending surgery on his right shoulder. He hurt the shoulder Monday in practice.
That left freshman Adam Bisnowaty of Fox Chapel as the No. 1 backup at left tackle almost from the minute he first stepped on the practice field.
Other freshmen who look like they will be getting a lot of reps this month include running back Rushel Shell, quarterback Chad Voytik, tight end J.P. Holtz (if a guy ever looked the part of a tight end, it’s the big and sturdy Holtz), guards Gabe Roberts and John Guy, nose tackle Terrell Jackson and cornerback Ryan Lewis.
— One of the top performers from the first three days of practice has been wide receiver Devin Street. He looks bigger and stronger, and he catches almost everything that hits his hands.
— Quote of the week from offensive line coach Jim Hueber: “It’s not hard to do it right,” he said to his linemen at the end of a long rant Tuesday. “It’s a lot harder not to listen.”
I’m getting that one framed.
— Quote of the week II from defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable: “Everything we do is fast. Everything we do is sudden. Everything we do is violent.”
— Chryst is already getting tired of the Ray Graham/knee questions, and I don’t blame him.
Graham took Wednesday off, a previously scheduled day off, to rest his surgically repaired right knee. Reporters wanted to know what was up, but there was no setback in his recovery. It was just the coach — a smart coach — looking out for his best player.
— Another guy who looks the part, quarterback Tom Savage, 6-5, 230 pounds. After transferring from Arizona, he is not eligible until next season.