Late Tuesday afternoon, while I was immersed in another assignment, calls, texts and tweets came flying at me like locusts.
Everyone wanted to know: “Do you really think he’s leaving?”
Another tweet wanted to know: “so um how big is Chryst’s buyout.”
All of this because Bret Bielema vacated the head-coaching position at Wisconsin to accept the same job at Arkansas. Suddenly and understandably (given events of a year ago), Pitt fans launched into panic mode, thinking Pitt coach Paul Chryst — a Wisconsin graduate and Madison native — was the logical successor to Bielema. Not just Pitt fans, but many people within and without college football assumed Chryst would be Wisconsin’s first chioce.
I heard such things as “seven coaches in two years” and “who will be the third interim coach at the Compass Bowl?”
Never mind that Chryst — to my knowledge — never was offered the job in the immediate hours after the Bielema story went viral.
Nonetheless, while Pitt assistants quickly started calling recruits to assure them Chryst was staying, the coach and Pitt officials wisely issued a statement, affirming his commitment to the University of Pittsburgh. Here it is, word-for-word:
“I understand the speculation surrounding my name given today’s developments. I am committed to the Pitt football program and the University of Pittsburgh. I am focusing all my time and energy on our team’s bowl game preparation and recruiting a great group of young men to join our program and this outstanding university. We are working hard every day to re-establish this program and I am excited about the future of Pitt football.”
Chryst never mentioned the Wisconsin vacancy specifically, so he didn’t tell us whether or not he would be interested, if it was offered.
But I think that was a calculated response, offered out of respect to the university he served for 12 years as student-athlete and later assistant coach. He tiptoed around the elephant in the room, largely because he didn’t feel the need or benefit in expressing disinterest in a job that wasn’t offered. Yet.
Of course, situations can change. Nothing would surprise me. That’s why it might be a smart idea for the university to turn up the volume on Chryst’s Pitt contract. Just my opinion. I know, it’s not my money.
As I told another caller Tuesday night, Todd Graham was not Arizona State’s first choice. ASU didn’t turn to Graham until the school had been turned down by others. Who knows where Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez will turn if he still needs a coach by the weekend?
The first name (other than Chryst) I heard connected to Wisconsin was that of Miami’s Al Golden. But isn’t his name brought up every time someone leaves a head-coaching job? Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco also is a hot name.
To answer those people who want to know if I think Chryst will leave, here’s the answer:
I believe Chryst is among the most honorable of men. A good guy, with good intentions. I believe he will respect his commitments to Pitt, the one he made last December when he was hired and the one he re-affirmed Tuesday night. Chryst realizes the job of rebuilding the program is too big to finish in 12 games.
If this was 2014 and Chryst had won nine or 10 games in consecutive seasons, Pitt fans might have reason to worry. Today, Chryst believes he has a job to do here.
I believe he wants to finish it.
That doesn’t mean Pitt fans have nothing to worry about. That doesn’t mean Alvarez will throw away Chryst’s phone number. And that doesn’t mean Chryst will ignore the phone when/if it rings.
Sadly, I think many Pitt fans will lose plenty of sleep until Wisconsin hires someone not named Paul Chryst.