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

something else.

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”

thing.

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

wrong.

”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

country.

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

on football.

”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.”