New Pitt coach Paul Chryst keeping it simple
New Pitt football coach Paul Chryst doesn't believe in catchphrases or gimmicky offenses.
Sorry, not his thing.
When asked what a ''Paul Chryst Team'' is going to look like, the man tasked with providing a meandering program with stability just lets out a small sigh.
''Number one, it's not my team,'' he said. ''I'm not the only coach, but our staff believes and I really respect and enjoy the game and playing it the right way. To me that's the thing you're shooting for, you know, all the cliches.''
It's not that Chryst is intentionally trying to sound boring. It's just that he's not a big talker or self-promoter. Maybe that's why the 46-year-old had to wait so long to get his first head coaching gig despite being considered one of the top offensive minds in college football for a decade.
Chryst hardly cares. He's here now, trying to provide a sense of calmness to a program that's spent two seasons in transition, from coach to coach to coach and conference to conference. Nearly eight months after he took over for the fast-talking, and even faster to leave Todd Graham, Chryst will finally get to start the fun part of his job on Monday when the Panthers open training camp.
How's it going to look? Chryst has no idea, and he's fine with it.
''I never have concerned with what type of team are we going to be, what do we have a chance for our record to be,'' Chryst said. ''I don't think that's just because I wasn't a head coach before ... The whole year there are opportunities for growth.''
Chryst was pleased with what he saw during spring practice. Not one to rush things, Chryst is more than OK with having his players slowly find their way. His biggest accomplishment during the offseason may have been establishing a trust level that calmed nerves fraying by the almost comical tumult in his spot.
When the Panthers open the season on Sept. 1 against Youngstown State, he'll be the fifth different head coach on the sideline in the program's last 16 games. That number doesn't include Mike Haywood, who held the job for less than a month in December, 2010 following a brush with the law.
Throw in the school's defection from the Big East to the ACC in 2013 and that's a lot for any program to handle.
It's why the door to Chryst's office hasn't closed since the day he got the job. Players are welcome to come whenever they want to talk football or life or both.
Where Graham - who left after 338 days to take the same position at Arizona State after a 6-6 season - peppered every conversation with repetitive talking points, Chryst is quiet and gracious.
Though he considered himself ready to take on a head coaching job for several years, the transition to being the guy with the final say took a little bit of getting used to.
''You're always learning,'' Chryst said. ''But I've got a lot of help so you don't feel like you're on an island. It's been energizing.''
Which is exactly the kind of boost Pitt needs heading into a new chapter. The Panthers helped jump start the conference realignment that shook college football last fall by announcing it was switching to the ACC by 2014 along with Syracuse.
The Panthers eventually were able to reach an agreement with the Big East that will allow the school to leave next summer. The decision was reached well before Chryst ever got to campus and he hardly sees it as a distraction and warns it's disrespectful to consider 2012 a lame duck season.
''We've got a lot to just focus on that's really immediate,'' he said. ''We've got a really good group of seniors. this is their last year and anything but focusing on this year and this game, this week, this practice, anything less than that would be cheating everyone.''
One of those seniors is running back Ray Graham, who sat out the last half of 2011 with a torn ACL in his right knee. Chryst is hopeful Graham will be ready before camp is over. Graham and freshman Rushel Shell - who holds the Pennsylvania high school record for career rushing yards - are expected to be the linchpin of a running game that Chryst used so effectively at Wisconsin.
Though Chryst had only been in town for a month on National Signing Day, Shell honored his commitment to the Panthers as a token of faith that Pitt made the right choice. Having a coach who seems intent on feeling at home among the hills didn't hurt.
Pitt held its football camp at a local high school and has made it a point to try and put Chryst's face out there with area coaches who felt their relationship with the school has been strained by so much turnover.
''We want to be a part of the football community of Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania and even for that matter the whole state,'' Chryst said. ''We want every player to come through Pitt. We don't want guys that want to leave. There's great history here. There's great tradition. It seems really natural that we want to take that talent and keep it here.''