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Graham hoping to rejuvenate Pitt

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PITTSBURGH (AP)

New Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham's favorite word is ''speed.'' He peppers every practice, workout and team meeting with it, unless of course he's using words like ''explosive'' or ''quick'' instead.

The fast-talking, fast-walking 47-year-old coach is always in a hurry. It's just Graham's way, and he has no plans on slowing down now that he's finally landed a head coaching job in a BCS conference.

During his first meeting with the players after accepting the job in January, Graham promised the seniors he would do everything he could to help the Panthers win right away. His players plan to hold him to it.

''He's big on trust,'' defensive lineman Miles Caragein said on Monday during the team's media day. ''He doesn't think we need to wait to learn about his system. He thinks we can do it now.''

Trust is the word the Panthers wanted to hear following a bizarre stretch last winter when they had four coaches in a month.

The school forced Dave Wannstedt out in December following six uneven years. The Panthers hired Miami (Ohio) coach Mike Haywood as Wannstedt's replacement, only to have Haywood resign on New Year's Eve after he was arrested on a domestic violence charge. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett filled in during Pitt's win over Kentucky in the BBVA Compass Bowl before Graham was hired away from Tulsa on Jan. 10 to give Pitt some stability.

Caragein did his best to keep the team unified, though he acknowledges the program was nearly ''in shambles.'' Running back Ray Graham called the period ''chaotic,'' with players calling each other to try to track down the latest rumor.

''It was very unstable,'' Ray Graham said. ''But we kept telling each other we were going to stick together.''

Todd Graham said when he took over that it was not the way he envisioned getting his first job in the big-time. It also didn't matter. He's here, and he's here to do one thing.

''When we looked at the opportunity to come to Pittsburgh, city of champions, it's pretty obvious they want us to win championships,'' Graham said. ''Anything less than winning championships is unacceptable.''

And that starts now. Though Graham knows it's impossible for the offense to fully grasp the intricacies of an attack that helped make Tulsa a perennial Conference USA contender, it doesn't mean he thinks his players should get a pass just because they're learning the system.

Quarterback Tino Sunseri spent most of last season under center. This year, he'll line up in the shotgun on practically every snap.

Graham said Sunseri will have to work two or three times as fast to make Pitt's offense go. He knows it won't always look pretty.

''There will be times this year when Tino snaps the ball and it's not going to look right ... (and) there's going to be some confusion,'' Graham said. ''Being the quarterback in this system is very difficult.''

All Graham asks in those situations is that Sunseri take care of the ball. The way he figures it, if Pitt gets 80 offensive snaps a game, it should have no trouble scoring 35 points, a number the team only occasionally hit under Wannstedt.

It's a style of play that's a marked departure from the pro-style offense the Panthers used with effectiveness under Wannstedt. It will require Sunseri to make good decisions, and Ray Graham to follow in the footsteps of predecessors like Dion Lewis and LeSean McCoy.

''We've got to play fast,'' Ray Graham said. ''That's what he wants. He wants us to play fast, fast, fast. Those are his three things.''

That means all the time.

''We run everywhere,'' he said. ''There's no walking. We run to every drill. No breaks.''

It's part of a relentless ethos the coach is preaching. Caragein points out it's not just the offense that will be no-huddle this fall, but the defense, too.

''We want to attack, we want to put pressure, we want to force people to make mistakes,'' he said. ''The whole thing here now is to just go nonstop.''

The quicker the better. The bumpy offseason finally in the rearview mirror, Todd Graham is eager to get going. So are his players.

''I feel good about (our) buy-in,'' Graham said. ''Our guys have a toughness about them. It's not starting from point A. We've got a lot of things coming in that we've been able to build upon.''

And, Graham hopes, build it with speed.

Tagged: Pittsburgh, Ray Graham, Tino Sunseri

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