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February 9, 2011

That’s right spring practice begins in mid-March. March 17 to be exact, and culminates with the Blue-Gold Scrimmage on April 16. As usual, I will bitch about how I wish they would be like some of the other schools and not start the practices until the end of March, and have the Spring game late in April. I really will bitch, if the weather is anything approaching the misery of last spring’s scrimmage.

More in a moment, the bigger news is that Coach Todd Graham (I may not get used to typing that until the end of spring, at the earliest) has made his final hire on the staff.

His name: Randall McCray. He will handle the safeties and special teams.

University of Pittsburgh head football coach Todd Graham announced the final appointment on his coaching staff today with the hiring of Randall McCray as safeties coach and special teams coordinator.

Entering his 21st year in the collegiate coaching ranks, McCray spent the 2010 season at Middle Tennessee State, where he was the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Prior to MTSU, he spent four years at Wisconsin (2006-09) and helped the Badgers to bowl berths each season.

In his lone season at Middle Tennessee State, McCray helped the Blue Raiders earn a berth in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. His defense ranked 10th nationally in tackles for loss (7.38 TFLs/game) and 17th in quarterback sacks (2.62 sacks/game) while featuring the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year in end Jamari Lattimore. Among Sun Belt teams, MTSU yielded the lowest yards per rush and ranked second in pass efficiency defense.

At Wisconsin, McCray coached the defensive line (2006-07), outside linebackers (2008) and safeties (2009). He was the Badgers’ recruiting coordinator his final two seasons in Madison.

Wisconsin went 38-14 during McCray’s tenure, advancing to four consecutive bowl games. The 2006 Badgers featured one of the country’s elite defenses en route to a 12-1 record and No. 5 ranking in the final USA Today coaches poll. Wisconsin limited opponents to just 12.1 points (second best nationally) and 253.1 yards (fifth best) per game that year. In 2009 the Badgers held every Big Ten opponent to less than 100 yards rushing, an unprecedented achievement in Wisconsin history.

Five of McCray’s Wisconsin players were on NFL rosters this past season, including All-Big Ten defensive lineman Matt Shaughnessy, a member of the Oakland Raiders and 2009 Pro Football Writers’ All-Rookie selection. Additionally, linebacker DeAndre Levy (Detroit Lions), defensive tackle Nick Hayden (Carolina Panthers), linebacker Jonathan Casillas (New Orleans Saints) and safety Chris Maragos (San Francisco 49ers) were in the professional ranks.

Prior to Wisconsin, McCray coached the defensive line and linebackers at Toledo from 2003-05.

That’s right. McCray was on the Toledo coaching staff that beat Pitt in 2003. Other than that, McCray looks like a solid hire.  The fact that he was also recruiting coordinator at Wisconsin in 2008 and 09 is a very good sign. Especially when you look at Andy Staples at SI.com’s piece on re-ranking the recruiting classes of 2008, that puts Wisconsin at #7.

2008 Rivals.com rank: 41
2008 Scout.com rank: 26
Record since 2008: 28-11
Conference titles: 1 (shared)

2010 starters/major contributors: TE Jake Byrne, LB Kevin Claxton, CB Antonio Fenelus, C Peter Konz, P Brad Nortman, CB Devin Smith, LB Mike Taylor, OG Kevin Zeitler

Analysis: The Badgers signed a solid group of future starters in this class. The list includes Konz, the 300-pound potential NFL center who earned even more respect from me by dropping a reference to the Articles of Confederation in an interview. But the guy who puts this class over the top isn’t a signee. It’s a transfer from Central Michigan who came to Madison as a walk-on. His name? J.J. Watt. We’ll now pause and let Big Ten offensive tackles recover from the traumatic memories of all their unsuccessful attempts to block Watt, the 6-foot-6, 292-pounder who will terrorize NFL quarterbacks next season.

McCray has experience coaching all over the defense and somewhat surprisingly was lured away from a DC position (albeit in the Sun Belt conference) to be a position coach.

In other good football news, Pitt had 17 players earn all-academic Big East honors.

Name Class Pos. Hometown Major
Pat Bostick ^ JR* QB Lancaster, Pa. Communications
Myles Caragein # JR* DL Pittsburgh, Pa. Mathematics
Pat Costello ^ SO* DB Greensburg, Pa. Civil Engineering
Dom DeCicco SR DB Jefferson Hills, Pa. Communications
Kolby Gray FR* DB Houston, Texas School of Arts & Sciences
Max Gruder ^ JR* LB Charlotte, N.C. Business Marketing
Kevin Harper SO* PK Mentor, Ohio Business Finance
Henry Hynoski # JR* FB Elysburg, Pa. Marketing
Andrew Janocko # JR* QB Clearfield, Pa. History
Chris Mike SO* FB West Haven, Conn. Media Communications
Marco Pecora SO* DB Johnstown, Pa. History
Mike Shanahan ^ SO* WR North Huntingdon, Pa. History
Tino Sunseri SO* QB Pittsburgh, Pa. Communications
Andrew Taglianetti SO* DB Bridgeville, Pa. Business Marketing
Tyler Tkach ^ SR* DL Statington, Pa. Business Marketing
Joe Trebitz SO* LB Boca Raton, Fla. Business
Matt Yoklic FR* P Gibsonia, Pa. School of Arts & Sciences

# after name denotes three-time Big East All-Academic selection
^ after name denotes two-time Big East All-Academic selection
* after class denotes redshirt season

As for a Spring Practice preview, this is from Rivals.com.

The buzz: New coach Todd Graham was known for his high-flying spread offenses at Rice and Tulsa. He inherits a group used to playing in Dave Wannstedt’s run-first, pro-style scheme. With RB Dion Lewis, WR Jon Baldwin and LT Jason Pinkston gone, the centerpiece of the offense is Ray Graham, who rushed for 922 yards and eight touchdowns as a backup last season. The secondary will have two new starters and could be troublesome.

“Could be troublesome?” Considering how “troublesome” the secondary was last year, it will be hard to imagine it being noticeably worse.





What about the operations staff — LaSala, Dudek, Junko — who by the way did alot of hard work on the recruits and never received any credit — are they still employed?

Comment by Bubby 02.09.11 @ 2:20 pm

Yes, they are all still part of the Pitt football family

Comment by Chas 02.09.11 @ 2:36 pm

He had already left MTSU. Not clear what happened, but from all accounts he is a quality hire.

link to tennessean.com

Comment by Jesse 02.09.11 @ 3:06 pm

McCray didn’t LEAVE MTSU he was FIRED after only 1 year of a 2 year contract.

Comment by Bubby 02.09.11 @ 3:54 pm

O.K. please don’t shoot the messenger because I know that this is not politically correct.
17 players make the Big East academic honor list and NOT one of them is African American. There is no way to get around this in this day and age.
Something is wrong….VERY WRONG at Pitt in terms of recruiting qualified “Student” athletes. I am willing to bet that behind the scenes Chancellor Nordenberg has probably pulled Graham aside to warn him to be careful. SP is running a program that hopefully will not get Pitt in to trouble with the NCAA.

Comment by isnore 02.09.11 @ 4:17 pm

The secondary at times seemed very poorly coached regarding just the fundamentals of positioning technique and locating the ball in flight.

So maybe the secondary might not be the terrible mess but you never know.

Hafley was a wonderful recruiter but a poor positional coach, has he been given any type of coaching title at Rutgers other than assistant?

Comment by Reggie Dunlop 02.09.11 @ 4:22 pm

The number of players on this list sits about in the middle of the Big East. Not bad given Pitt’s academics. I would think its far easier to make the list at WVU or Louisville. But, I do agree that something isn’t right when not one of the 17 is an African American. That’s downright disgraceful.

Comment by TX Panther 02.09.11 @ 4:25 pm

Don’t bitch too much, last day of classes is 4/23 final 4/25-30, Most start summer jobs 1st week of May. I’d rather see them on “the list” than “on the warmer field”

Comment by CompLit 02.09.11 @ 4:34 pm

When you’re talking about who does and who doesn’t make the “all academic team” it is not necessarily a problem of the university. It’s more of a family, and educational background issue. I went to a city school and had to catch up in college. The kids who come from families who make more money tend to live in better areas and go to better schools.

Comment by Justinian 02.09.11 @ 4:50 pm

from ESPN.com’s Brian Bennett’s blog talking about the QB situation for each BE team:

Pittsburgh — Chance of competition: medium to high. Sunseri started every game last year and improved during the season, but new coach Todd Graham brings an entirely new offensive system. Don’t be surprised if redshirt freshmen Mark Myers and Anthony Gonzalez get a serious look this spring.

there is also another story saying that D DeCicco is a possible 6th round pick

Comment by wbb 02.09.11 @ 6:47 pm

isnore, your allegations are completely baseless. What are you trying to say, that the African-Americans on Pitt’s football team aren’t really smart enough to be a Pitt?

If you did any sort of research, then you would have found out that Pitt’s graduation rate is 67%, which is the national average.

Comment by XBlackMagicX 02.09.11 @ 7:34 pm

how come everytime someone mentions something remotely negative on this site, the person is villified?

Like it or not, isnore brought up a fact and not speculation … and yes, while Pitt does a good job about graduating payers, it does seem odd that considering the large number of blacks on the team, that none of them qualified as All-Academic BE.

And hiding your head in the sand or shooting the messaenger does not change the facts.

So go ahead, pick on me now — I can take it

Comment by wbb 02.09.11 @ 7:58 pm

I know there are exceptions, but for the most part I think members of both the football team and the baseketball team leave Pitt much better prepared to be productive members of society than they were when then entered. Most show improvement in the classroom…in their community…and on their field (floor) of play.

Comment by Jim 02.09.11 @ 8:33 pm

The qualifications for the All-Academic Big East honor are completing 2 semesters of work with a GPA of 3.0 or greater, so it is totally on the players as to whether they make it or not.

Comment by maguro 02.09.11 @ 8:43 pm

Aaron Grey tonight,10 pts 10 rebounds, welcome back Aaron.

Comment by alcofan 02.09.11 @ 9:34 pm

DaJuan Blair, 28 pts 11 bounds.

Comment by alcofan 02.09.11 @ 9:37 pm

Touche’, Dejuan..well played

Comment by Aaron Gray 02.09.11 @ 9:44 pm

True story, I was in Baltimore buying a pizza tonight near BelAir and up on the wall is a huge picture of the owner with his arm around Dave Wannstedt!

Comment by Dan 72 02.09.11 @ 9:46 pm

Short and to the point>Pitt is not Duke, Stanford, Northwestern, Rice or Vanderbilt. Pitt,however, has come up to a much higher academic level and once that happens expectations for the classroom performance of athletes rises.
My concern is simply based on the fact that a 3.0 was all that was required to make the Big East Honors roster….surely our African American athletes must have at least 2 or 3 who care enough about academics to reah a B average. I would like to know how strong the performance of minority athletes(football) is at Penn State, Maryland, Syracuse or Wisconsin (schools on the same basic academic level as Pitt). I do not want to see a scandal regarding our athletes.

Comment by isnore 02.09.11 @ 10:58 pm

[...] Randall McCray to Pittsburgh. Who’s Randall McCray, you ask? He’s the final hire on Todd Graham’s coaching staff and will serve as safeties coach and special teams coordinator. [Pitt [...]


I was thinking the other day, could you imagine if Dejuan Blair had stuck around where this would be his senior year season??? wow, Pitt would not only be a serious final four candidate but a serious contender for a national title.

Comment by Coach Ditka 02.10.11 @ 7:34 am

This late post on the subject will probably never be looked at but here’s my opinion anyhow. The academic issue at question above is all about social economic problems and demographics. The black community as a stereotype has less access to quality elementary and secondary education resources, especially if you look at many inner city institutions. Add to that the general lack of positive influences for young people in that communtiy to excel in education and the multiple negative influences that many black youth have to deal with daily in their lives and the problem becomes self evident with no clear cut solutions. Not to discount high aspirations or to have a double standard for black atheletes but having a high graduation rate alone for those held to college acedemic standards is an accomplishment for many when they have such previous educational deficits as these to overcome in the 1st place. Huge problem for a large segment of our population that needs to be addressed. I sure don’t have an easy solution to offer however, no one does. Now on to football. I’m lovin this coaching staff! Thought pulling in a high school coach for the quarterbacks was a major weak link considering Graham’s offensive philosophy, but when I reviewed Todd Dodge’s resume at the high school level I was impressed. The last 5 years, 4 state championships and a 79-1 record. That is a winner anyway that you cut it. I am really excited about this turn in Pitt football! I hope that Graham can pull it off and put up some early success because on paper Pitt’s football future is very promising.

Comment by Dr. Tom 02.10.11 @ 8:06 am

Dr. Tom makes some good points. And some of these players may very well be doing their very best on their academics, but they are coming in with such an educational deficit — not all, but I would venture many — that a 3.0 in whatever major just isn’t feasible. I don’t think you can hang the lack of any African Americans on this academic all-American list on lack of effort. That may be the case with some players, both black and white, but to insinuate that it’s only the lack of “caring about academics” that’s at the root of the problem seems to me, at least, to be misguided.

Comment by Carmen 02.10.11 @ 12:10 pm

I’m not sure a lack of caring was insinuated. I’ll be kind and say that half of the (85) scholarship players are black. Thast means whites have 17 of 42.5 as all-academic (40%) and blacks 0 of 42.5.

Whether it’s cultural, administrative, racial or whatever … there is an issue here.

Comment by wbb 02.10.11 @ 12:52 pm

Just looking through the entire list of All Academic Big East football players, it seems to skew pretty heavily white. I’m not sure if any other school’s list was all white, but “white-sounding” names certainly seem to be predominant throughout the conference.

link to msnsportsnet.com

As to whether this constitutes an “issue”, I’m not sure it does, unless you’re suggesting that Pitt professors are discriminating against black students by awarding them lower grades for equal work. Each student earns (or doesn’t earn) his place on the All Academic team through his own efforts and abilities. It’s no more of an issue than the fact that Pitt’s basketball team is all black.

Comment by maguro 02.10.11 @ 4:10 pm

Last year 3 out of 10 were African-American. And most other schools have lower percentages too. isnore made it out to be a Pitt specific problem which is ridiculous. Obviously there are issues in regards to academics and football and admissions. But that is a completely different debate.

Comment by XBlackMagicX 02.10.11 @ 4:46 pm

Agreed, Maguro. Similar numbers are found at most D-1 schools and even many high schools.

At the high school level, socio-economic (not strictly ethnic) background is the scapegoat according the state and federal governments.

In college, that probably is at the root of the problem as well. The only way this is an institutional problem would be if Pitt faculty, administrators, coaches and support staff are denying the same opportunities and interventions between the races (such as less guidance, study tables, etc.) made available.

Having said that, it is a PR black eye if someone would choose to make it so and the NCAA does monitor such things although their focus is usually on graduation. I’ve never heard of an investigation about All-Academic status. I think most would recognize that as a reward to effort and ability.

Comment by Bowling Green Panther 02.10.11 @ 4:49 pm

note that I would expect the number to be skewed toward white players … and I don’tknow the reason but I’m just saying that 17 to 0 is extreme

Comment by wbb 02.10.11 @ 6:34 pm

Much ado about nothing!! Isnore must have a concern, but it is ill founded. The university on 5th Ave in “Da Burg” does not discriminate against African-Americans or any other race. Nor does it penalize because of gender or physically challenged persons. Pitt is a great university and efforts to cast aspersions on it are quite a reach. Congratulations on all the athletes who are academically proficient. May their achievements be emulated by more students. Rev. George in Columbus, Ohio

Comment by Rev. George Mehaffey 02.10.11 @ 9:09 pm

I’m thinking that they been smokin some primo stuff down at the Palm Beach Condos.

Comment by Dr. Tom 02.10.11 @ 10:08 pm

My previous reference was to a recent post that was so off the wall that it got pulled from the site by the administrator. If you got the chance to read it prior to it getting pulled, you understand my reference. LOL.

Comment by Dr. Tom 02.10.11 @ 10:15 pm

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