Leftovers from Thursday’s 42-minute, 40-second chat with Pitt coach Paul Chryst and an opinion (whether you like it or not):
Chryst did not consult with me before he decided not to schedule a spring game for the first time in anyone’s memory. Former Pitt administrator Alex Kramer, who was a team manager in 1948, said he never remembers a spring without a game.
But if Chryst had lost his mind and asked me what I thought, I would have told him to play the game.
Yes, you lose some practice time (an hour or two). Yes, it seemed like a waste of time, energy and gasoline to travel off campus to practice when Pitt and the Steelers spent millions to build their shared South Side facility.
But college and professional sports are all about perception. Pitt is one of only three FBS football programs that did not schedule a spring game, and Texas A&M had a good reason – stadium renovation. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy canceled his game, but replaced it with an open practice.
Pitt will not have open practices, but plans to reach out to fans in another way, officials said. And you can be sure the sideline will be lined with recruits and high school coaches on many of the 15 scheduled days of practice. Recruiting won’t be altered one bit by the absence of a spring game.
Nonetheless, taking away something that some fans (not that many) welcomed as a way to usher in a new season won’t sit well in this tradition-steeped region. Even with those who had no plans to attend. Most people around these parts do things for one, simple reason: They have done it before. Why change?
But here’s the main point:
It’s Chryst’s program and he has a right to run it the way he sees fit. When Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and athletic director Steve Pederson turned over the keys to the program to Chryst 26 months ago, they gave him the power to do as he pleases (within reason, of course, and there is nothing unreasonable about scuttling a poorly attended function).
Pitt is not going to pay Chryst millions of dollars per year and then turn around and second-guess every decision he makes (and I’m sure he did not make this decision without consulting with his superiors).
The man is running the program as he sees fit. He recruits the way he believes is right, he hunts for his type of player, he runs the offense and defense that he prefers, he hires the coaches whom he knows and believes in and he does not spend one second worrying about what people outside the program think of him or his program. He respects the fans and is grateful for them, but he does not let them change the way he thinks.
For that, I applaud him. Chryst’s strong will is the first clue that Pitt probably hired a good coach.
Business as usual
Further proof that outside forces don’t affect him, Chryst said he won’t change the way he recruits in the wake of Penn State and West Virginia hiring assistant coaches and recruiters (Terry Smith and Tom Bradley) with strong ties to Western Pennsylvania.
“We’re not going to all of a sudden recruit harder,” he said. “I don’t think any of that has anything to do with us recruiting here at Pitt. And I’m not trying to blow them off or not give them credit. There have been a lot of good recruiters in this area for a long time.”
He said recruiting this area “has been our intention the whole time.”
Here’s how you do it
After great success at the Senior Bowl and NFL scouting combine, Aaron Donald returned to the practice facility this week and met with Chryst.
No matter where Donald goes in the draft — and I would be shocked if he’s not a first-round choice — he always will be an example for present and future Pitt players.
“He attacked the Senior Bowl. He attacked the combine. He chose to be a great player,” Chryst said. “He was going to win at those things and he did.”