PITTSBURGH — First-year Pittsburgh head coach Todd Graham wants people to know he’s as much old-school as he is innovative. While at Tulsa the past four years, Graham’s offenses were regularly some of the most potent in the nation. But he stresses physicality as much as he does the spread-the-field approach that is his reputation.
He’s worked to modernize the program, too. Televisions at the team’s practice facility have been upgraded — flatscreens only — and he’s made sure coaches are seen with iPads when they go into homes on recruiting visits. And once those kids get to Pitt, ear rings, bandanas and “filthy” language? Not allowed.
Laid-back enough to allow former players into the postgame locker room, but enough of a disciplinarian to insist on tucked-in shirts and 6 a.m. “tour of duty” team workouts, Graham is out to play both sides of the coaching fence as he attempts to lead the Panthers back to being Big East conference champions and beyond.
“Someone said to me the other day, ‘Hey coach, you gonna win the Big East?’ I said, ‘I’m gonna bet my job on it,’ ” Graham relayed Tuesday while speaking to a small group of reporters.
“I’m going to get hired and fired based on winning football games. But I’m going to do it my way, period. I don’t believe the most talented, best team always wins. More times than not, they don’t — it’s the best football team that plays together, the team that loves each other and the team with standards.”
Graham was hired five weeks ago as the ultimate replacement for Dave Wannstedt, but only after a disastrous two-week tenure for Mike Haywood, who spoke more of discipline than he did of winning at his introductory press conference in December, only to be fired New Year’s Day following his arrest on a domestic violence charge.
Graham’s only reference to the Haywood situation came when he said, “The timing of all this, a lot of people look at things differently than I did, but I think when you’re facing great adversity, I thought it made it a better job, made it a better situation for me and for what we’re about.”
Direct references to Haywood might or might not be taboo, but Graham is making other players’ transgressions front and center among his team. Articles of college football players from across the country who ran into trouble with the law, or some other disciplinary issue, are continuously printed out and hung in the weight room.
Last season, Pitt was embarrassed by a series of off-the-field issues. Graham will strive to avoid that. “The key is not to be reactive, but proactive,” Graham said. “When we have those situations that happen, I can tell you there’s going to be accountability, period.”
Graham pledged the Panthers will “look sharp” on and off the field — from their uniforms and shoes, to what they wear on the road, and how the team’s decade-old headquarters are being “modernized.”
He spoke of the his lack of a personal relationship with his absentee father, and he later read off the team goals, which tellingly listed “develop championship fathers and husbands” as No. 1, with winning the Big East at No. 3. “Half our kids are going to come from families that don’t have a father presence,” Graham said. “I believe that one of the greatest challenges that we face today — I believe this — is a lack of respect for authority and a lack of understanding and respect for family.”
Graham’s continued emphasis on character veered slightly from the messages he most tried to get across at the more public news conferences following his hiring and on signing day earlier this month. At those, Graham accentuated the on-field qualities of speed, explosiveness and innovation, promising a “high-octane” product that fans and players alike would enjoy being part of.
Graham still did talk of instilling into the Panthers a more high-tempo style for spring practice, which will begin March 15 and run each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday up through the spring game at Heinz Field on April 16. “We want to line up and snap the ball more than any other team in the country,” Graham said. “We’re not a no-huddle offense. We’re a no-huddle team.”
As for who would be taking all those snaps, Graham did not commit to incumbent Tino Sunseri starting at quarterback, but did speak complimentarily about him.
• Pitt divulged that former starting quarterback Pat Bostick informed the staff that, in a decision that was not unexpected, he is forgoing his final year of eligibility. A ballyhooed recruit out of eastern Pennsylvania, Bostick started eight games as a true freshman in 2007, but was beat out by Bill Stull the following season, redshirted in 2009 and played sparingly this past season.
• Pitt also announced that redshirt sophomore Kolby Gray has moved back to quarterback. after spending the past year at safety.
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