Panthers ready to reboot – again – under Chryst
Forget about the coaching change. Disregard all the talk about
moving to the ACC next summer.
Paul Chryst doesn’t really want to hear it.
The new Pitt coach – the program’s fourth in the last two years
– understands why his arrival and the school’s looming departure
from the Big East are hot topics. He’d just rather talk about
Like say, the team he’s trying to build.
”Anything but focusing on this year and this game, this week,
this practice, anything less than that would be cheating
everyone,” Chryst said.
Something Chryst has vowed will not happen. The way he figures
it, the future will take care of itself. Pitt’s move to the ACC
will be official next July. After finally landing a head coaching
job, the 46-year-old has no plans on going anywhere anytime soon,
unlike his predecessor.
Todd Graham lasted all of 338 days on the job before sprinting
west to Arizona State. Chryst doesn’t sprint anywhere. Besides,
he’s starting to get comfortable at the whole ”being in charge”
He’s also comfortable with deflecting any outside pressure on
his players. He doesn’t ascribe to the theory it takes a new coach
a few years to get his feet set and be successful.
”I never have been concerned with what type of team are we
gonna be, what do we have a chance for our record to be and I don’t
think that’s just because I wasn’t a head coach before,” he said.
”The whole year, there are opportunities for growth. Are we doing
everything? Are we doing the right things? Are we helping these
guys maximize their abilities, maximize their opportunities? That’s
what we’re aiming for.”
Chryst spent the first few months getting to know his players
and earning their trust. The no-nonsense approach he brings has
been a hit in the locker room, which tired quickly of Graham’s
catchphrases and was hurt by his tactless exit.
The straightforward Chryst would rather his players show him
what they can do rather than tell them what they’re doing
”His motto is `put it on tape,’ and I really like that motto,”
quarterback Tino Sunseri said. ”You can sit in the film room as
much as you want, and say that you understand most of everything
that’s going on, but unless you put it on tape it really doesn’t
matter. Guys have really embraced that role.”
Perhaps no one more than Sunseri. The senior was one of Graham’s
favorite targets last season, chastised for his indecisiveness and
hung out to dry when things went south. The lack of a confidence
boost from the coaching staff affected his decision-making, and he
passed for just 11 touchdowns against 10 interceptions while
playing behind an offensive line that allowed the most sacks in the
That shouldn’t be an issue this season. Chryst relied heavily on
the run while serving as offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, his
pro-style attack turning running backs John Clay and Montee Ball
into stars. Sunseri won’t lack for options to give someone the ball
to now that senior tailback Ray Graham has returned from a torn ACL
that cut short his junior season and freshman Rushel Shell decided
to stick with the Panthers even after the coaching change.
The explosive Shell set a Pennsylvania high school record for
career rushing yards. He has been slowed by injury during training
camp and when he returns he’ll be one of five players who could see
significant time lining up behind Sunseri.
Shell is more than ready to wait his turn and praised Graham and
the rest of the backfield for making him feel at home.
””Ray has been like an older brother to me on the team,” Shell
said. ”I listen to everything he tells me and he gives me great
advice. It’s not just him at times either -it’s the first guy to
the last guy. Everyone is just feeding off of one another and
trying to get better.”
For all the stability Chryst brings, he knows his job is to win
games. The Panthers have been an enigma for much of the last
decade, capable of brilliance one week and brainlock the next.
They’ve never won an outright Big East title, and with the
conference in flux – particularly with West Virginia already in the
Big 12 – they view themselves as a darkhorse.
”I think we have what it takes to do it and I think we have the
coaching staff in place that can get it done,” senior safety
Andrew Taglianetti said. ”That’s the ultimate thing.”
The schedule isn’t exactly the most user-friendly. Pitt, which
opens on Sept. 1 against Youngstown State, will host conference
games against Louisville, Temple and Rutgers and travel to
Syracuse, Connecticut and South Florida. That doesn’t include
nonconference dates with Virginia Tech and Notre Dame.
Getting through in good enough shape to emerge with a conference
title and just the second BCS berth will be difficult. It’s a
challenge Chryst and the Panthers accept. After all the
off-the-field stuff, they’re only too happy to put the focus back
”Football is back to being fun now,” wide receiver Devin
Street said. ”These guys make it fun but at the same time we know
what the goal is and know what we have to do.”