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,”

he said.

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

by it.

”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

smiled.

”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