I read a poll the other day which showed that the Green Bay Packers were now “America’s Team” beating out the Steelers in popularity across the U.S. I bah humbug that. However, I can say without hesitation that the University of Wisconsin’s football team just picked up thousands of new fans prior to their bowl game. As our AD said “On Wisconsin, baby”
The reason for that is our hiring of Paul Chryst, ex- Wisconsin Offensive Coordinator.
Pitt fans seem to have feelings ranging from “like but will withhold judgment” to being ecstatic that PITT hired him as the Panther’s new head coach. I haven’t read or heard one negative thought about him since his initial press conference when he was introduced as the HC. On paper it looks like a good hire and Paul Chryst himself looks to be the type of guy we want leading the football program. He’s got some real work ahead of him though.
First off, he must reassure his returning players that he is both sincere about his wanting to be their coach and secondly he must allay their worries about the effects of what has hit them like a runaway freight train over the last 12 months.
Any change in a coaching staff is tough to deal with but these players are experiencing a string of events which may be unprecedented in college football. The current roster members, less true freshman, have had, in essence, six head coaches in the last 384 days. Unfreakinbelivable!
Wannstedt, Bennett, Haywood, Graham, Patterson and now Chryst. I’d call in a Murder’s Row but the first five couldn’t shoot straight and the jury is out on the sixth.
Chryst has to be able to convince the players that things are going to be different going forward. He has to be honest with them and with himself in acknowledging that it isn’t going to be either smooth or easy. We PITT fans need to acknowledge that also else we set ourselves up for a big disappointment.
Secondly, he has to hire a competent and loyal staff.
In a large sense I feel that any program wanting to move from average to consistently successful is all about the things that happen off the field of play anyway.
It must hire the right HC then he has to pick a complementary staff that knows their business and can execute the HC’s orders; the staff being real educators and good coaches and having loyalty to the HC are what is needed.
It isn’t always best to hire old friends or people who he has worked with in the past to be your staff coaches. It is the safest course of action sometimes but in eliminating other candidates who don’t have those ties right off the bat severely limits your talent pool to choose from.
I remember watching an interview years ago, I believe it was with Vince Dooley, on this issue. He said that what he did sometimes was to call three of four established and successful HCs and ask them “if you were assembling a new staff today, who would it be? Then he looked for names that showed up twice.
Third, he and his staff must identify and convince prospective recruits who fit their overall philosophy to come play football for the University of Pittsburgh. I used the formal title for PITT because he has to get kids who are not only comfortable with him personally but who want to be PITT student athletes and represent the school in the best possible light. This is a real tightrope for PC as he will have to sometimes balance talent and character when offering a HS student a football scholarship.
It isn’t possible to bat 1.000 when doing this type of recruiting but it is possible to do your best, with no short cuts, in finding this balance. Believe me, there are those kids out there to be had. From what he said, convincingly I may add, at his press conference I believe that Paul Chryst takes his role of an educator and as a role model as seriously as he does the head coach of the football team.
His recruiting pitch to the HS players and their parents has got to have as a main point his wanting these young men to have “the best four years of their life” at the University of Pittsburgh as he stated in his conference. Notice that Chryst didn’t say the best four years of their football career. He said best four years of their life. That is a powerful promise to make to these kids and parents but it will sway a lot of quality athletes our way and they will be the type of person who others will want as a teammate.
Some problem children will slip through the cracks, that always happens but Chryst has to set getting ‘the best and the brightest’ as his goal. Remember, PITT has already stated that we will honor all the scholarships offered to committed recruits. However, the players who Graham targeted for the rest of the open scholarships may not be the same kids Chryst wants. He has to be ready to fire off the starting line when the NCAA mandated ‘Quiet Period’ ends.
Some have asked why Chryst isn’t skipping the Rose Bowl to be here as soon as possible to start getting his PITT career going. PITT would never ask him to do that for a variety of ethical reasons. But the biggest logical concern is, why set the new HC up for failure 11 days into his hire?
There is no upside doing that whatsoever. We absolutely do not want his first PITT game to be a defeat with a following eight month wait until he can get a win to offset it. Besides, it is way more important that he and whoever he has on staff by that time are doing other necessary work in preparation for the off season.
A fact that people have overlooked is that a team is only allowed so many assistant coaches; the HC plus eight others for a total of nine (I believe). We have five holdover coaches working from now until the bowl game is over. So Chryst can have only himself and three others doing actual football work while on salary until the Jan 8th, the day after own bowl game. Those four guys are going to be busy as hell from Jan 3rd to Jan 8th and it’s more important that gets done correctly then it is to thrust him into what is basically a no-win situation coaching our bowl game
So, all that said, where does our new head coach stand right now?
IMO Chryst has an uphill struggle is one sense in that he has the last 30 years of PITT history, where the valleys outweigh the peaks, to shake free of before he’s able to raise this program up to the standards we all want to him to meet. He has an administration that, contrary to some fan’s beliefs, are more than willing to support him in this. He has a group of alumni and donors who love PITT football and support it but who also do not demand a say in what goes on within the program, which is vitally necessary for the HC’s comfort. That’s a lot of help right there.
The winning recipe is to get a guy, keep him and his staff in place for a few years and give him the resources to get the job done. It may not be national championship quality in the first few years but it will be a team that competes for conference championships on a regular basis.
So, all in all it is a good thing that we hired Paul Chryst. Now we wait to see what he can do for us.