New Pitt coach Paul Chryst doesn’t view himself one of those football nerds who takes pleasure in designing elaborately detailed offenses that take years to learn. His job is to get his players to go out on the field and do their thing.
Not prove how smart he is.
”I never want the system to be the thing that keeps you from playing well,” Chryst said.
Which may explain why he’s winning over the Panthers so quickly.
Nearly two months after taking over for Todd Graham – he of the ”high octane offense” and 338-day stay in Pittsburgh before bolting for Arizona State- Chryst’s refreshing bluntness has caught on quickly. There have been zero transfer requests, proof players burned by Graham’s stunning and graceless departure are eager to give the new guy a chance.
Then again, Chryst is quick to note he hasn’t talked much football with the Panthers. Instead, the individual sessions he’s had with players have focused more on the personal side. He is well aware he’s the program’s fourth coach in barely over a year, and knows he’ll need more than a quick chat to earn his players’ trust.
”Your actions have to match your words and they have to do it consistently over time,” he said. ”It’s not like in five minutes, you can build trust with kids.”
Still, Chryst appears to be heading in the right direction. While the 46-year-old acknowledges he’s learning something each day, he also doesn’t try to overthink things. While Pitt’s immediate future is cloudy as the school tries to navigate a move from the Big East to the ACC sometime between now and 2014, Chryst doesn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on it.
”It’s just easier for us to take it day by day than go into the big picture,” Chryst said.
The conference situation is out of his hands. Besides, there are more pressing needs at the moment, like filling out his staff. Offensive coordinator Bob Bostad left the Panthers over the weekend to become offensive line coach with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Chryst promoted Joe Rudolph to offensive coordinator and moved Jim Hueber from tight ends coach to offensive line coach, and expects to fill the vacant coaching spot left by Bostad’s departure soon. Though he’ll miss having Bostad around, it likely will have little effect on the team.
Though Chryst insists there will be plenty of input from the offensive staff on the weekly gameplan, ultimately, Chryst plans on calling the plays much as he did during his wildly successful tenure as offensive coordinator at Wisconsin.
He did joke, however, that he’d only take responsibility for ”the good ones.”
It’s that kind of self-deprecating nature that’s made Chryst a hit locally. He’s been highly visible on campus and has made a point to reach out to local high school coaches in hopes of re-establishing connections that took a hit during Graham’s brief stint. He called the initial response ”positive.”
But he knows there’s a long way to go.
There are other issues, as well. The 2012 schedule is still a work in progress, though it’s a certainty the Panthers won’t play West Virginia in the ”Backyard Brawl” for the first time since 1942 after the Mountaineers moved from the Big East to the Big 12. Chryst sounds less than optimistic about the series resuming anytime in the near future, pointing out the possibility of the ACC moving to nine conference games when Pitt and Syracuse join.
Though Chryst has respect for the series, he also knows it’s not Pitt’s rivalry with some historical significance, pointing out he remembers watching the Panthers play Penn State as a kid. That rivalry will start anew with a home-and-home series beginning in 2016.
The Panthers begin spring practice on March 15, with the annual spring game on April 14. There is plenty to work on until then. Chryst, in fact, has studied film but not obsessively, and prefers to make his own judgments once he sees his players in action.
Chryst considers every position ”open,” and called the depth chart adorning a wall in one of the team’s offices a mere starting point. He’s met with quarterback Tino Sunseri and likes his attitude following a difficult 2011 in which Sunseri served as the scapegoat when the Panthers struggled.
Sunseri will get a chance to earn the job during the spring, though Pitt will be without several would-be starters during drills. Running back Ray Graham is out as he continues to rehabilitate a torn ACL in his right knee.
Chryst, however, is optimistic Graham will be ready to play in the fall.
Also, defensive back Jarred Holley (knee), wide receiver Mike Shanahan (back) and linebacker Todd Thomas (knee) will all be limited in the spring.