Pitt coach Paul Chryst downplays Wisconsin buzz
Pittsburgh football coach Paul Chryst understands why his name
popped up as a candidate for the open job at Wisconsin.
He’s also through discussing the prospects of him returning to
his hometown and alma mater to replace Bret Bielema, who bolted
suddenly last week for Arkansas.
”I’m not going to talk too much about stuff that really,”
Chryst said Friday as the Panthers began preparations for next
month’s BBVA Compass Bowl against Ole Miss.
Chryst is from Madison, Wis., and both played and coached for
the Badgers before taking over at Pitt last December. Wisconsin
athletic director Barry Alvarez, who put in a few calls to help
Chryst land his first head coaching job, said it wouldn’t be right
for Chryst to leave after just one year.
That’s just fine with Chryst, who endured an up-and-down season
this fall as Pitt went 6-6 and earned its third straight trip to
Birmingham, Ala., for the Compass Bowl. Chryst called the job
speculation ”a natural part of the profession” but downplayed the
notion there was ever any real chance he would force the Panthers
to search for their fifth head coach in two years.
”I think there’s a lot more buzz surrounding (the Wisconsin
job) than there was (with) myself and with the guys that we know,”
Still, Alvarez appears to be in no rush to make a hire. He’s
already announced he’ll coach the Badgers in the Rose Bowl, buying
him time to find the right candidate. On paper, Chryst would appear
to be a natural fit.
Then again, so was Bielema, who was Alvarez’s hand-picked
successor. While the move to leave a program he led to three
straight Rose Bowls stunned many – particularly Wisconsin alums –
it didn’t shock Chryst.
”I think that Bret’s a smart guy and made an informed decision
and I don’t think stunned would be the right word,” Chryst said.
”I think it’s good for him. He’s probably very happy and that’s
good. There are opportunities. There’s a new challenge.”
And Chryst is content about the challenge that lies ahead at
Pitt, which will move to the Atlantic Coast Conference next fall.
The Panthers were an enigma this fall, beating Virginia Tech and
Rutgers while nearly upsetting undefeated and top-ranked Notre
Dame. Yet they also lost to Youngstown State and Connecticut and
failed to build any real sense of momentum.
Still, the fact he is apparently out of the mix at Wisconsin
drew a sigh of relief from a fan base and a roster that’s going
through a bit of coaching fatigue. Chryst received a standing
ovation from the student section at a Pitt men’s basketball game
last week. He appreciated the gesture. He was just a little stunned
”That was a little cheesy,” Chryst said with a laugh before
adding, ”I haven’t earned it.”
Chryst isn’t one to get comfortable in the spotlight anyway.
He’d prefer to let that shine on his players, who remain the main
reason he’s sticking around.
”I feel fortunate to be here and I like what we’re doing and I
love doing it with the guys that we’re doing it with,” Chryst
said. ”That’s a pretty good feeling.”
That sense of loyalty is one of the reasons he’s become so
popular with his players. It’s also why redshirt sophomore
defensive end T.J. Clemmings – who is experimenting at offensive
tackle heading into the bowl game – felt a little bit of angst when
Wisconsin suddenly opened up.
”I was a little bit worried,” Clemmings said. ”This is my
third year. I can’t do the whole coaching thing again. I think
Coach Chryst will hang around.”
Clemmings just isn’t certain. When asked if he’s convinced
Chryst will be on campus when spring drills begin, Clemmings just
”I hope so,” Clemmings said. ”I don’t know what the man is
going to do. I can’t say, but I hope he’s around.”
Chryst would rather stop talking about a job he doesn’t have and
start talking about the one he does. Though this will be Pitt’s
third year spending New Year’s Day in Alabama, he doesn’t expect
there to be a motivation issue considering the Panthers are playing
a quickly improving team in Ole Miss (6-6).
Besides, if the Panthers are frustrated, they have no one to
blame but themselves. A few more wins and their postseason
prospects would have offered a different destination.
”This is where you should be,” Chryst said. ”This is what we
earned. I think we’ve earned the right to go to a bowl. This is
where it’s slotted and we’ve got a chance to play a really good
opponent I believe.”
Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP