Wisconsin’s Chryst to coach at Pitt
Former coordinator is Panthers’ fourth head coach in 13 months
PITTSBURGH -- Paul Chryst turned Wisconsin's historically ho-hum offense into a high-powered attack that lit up scoreboards across the Big Ten.
Pittsburgh would love to see him do the same with the Panthers, but only after he provides the beleaguered program with some much-needed stability.
The school hired Chryst on Thursday to replace Todd Graham, who bolted for Arizona State last week after less than a year on the job.
Chryst, 46, is Pitt's fourth head coach in the last 13 months, following Dave Wannstedt, Mike Haywood and Graham, who left for the Sun Devils following a disappointing 6-6 season.
Pitt is hoping Chryst, who spent seven seasons as offensive coordinator at his alma mater, sticks around much longer. In addition to the seemingly endless coaching chaos, the Panthers are leaving the Big East for the ACC by 2014.
"We believed it was important to find a leader who gets the very best from his players while also developing the kind of culture that fits the University of Pittsburgh," Pittsburgh athletic director Steve Pederson said. "Paul Chryst is that leader."
Chryst molded No. 9 Wisconsin (11-2) into an offensive powerhouse since joining the program in 2005, and may have done his best job this season. The Badgers ranked fourth in the nation in scoring, averaging 44.6 points while winning the Big Ten championship and earning a Rose Bowl berth.
It's uncertain whether Chryst will stay on at Wisconsin through the bowl game or join his new team immediately. Pitt plays SMU in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Jan. 7, with Keith Patterson serving as interim coach.
When he starts hardly mattered to Chryst on Thursday as he met with his new players and toured the team's practice facility with his family.
"Pitt and Pittsburgh are absolutely the right fit for us, and we're looking forward to getting immersed in our new hometown," Chryst said. "We are committed to building a program on and off the field that will make people proud."
Words of comfort to a fan base still reeling from Graham's graceless departure after 338 days at the helm. Graham resigned suddenly a week ago when Pitt denied him permission to talk to Arizona State, alerting his players via forwarded text message of his decision to leave.
The Panthers lashed out at Graham in the aftermath, with wide receiver Devin Street calling his former coach a "liar" through his Twitter feed.
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There appear to be no such issues with Chryst, with Street tweeting he'd be "very" happy if Chryst brought his offensive fireworks to Pitt.
Chryst will be introduced on Thursday afternoon, ending an eight-day search for Graham's replacement. Contract terms were not immediately available, but he beat out Florida International coach Mario Cristobal and interim Ohio State coach Luke Fickell for the job.
It's one the Panthers hope Chryst will hold onto as the school prepares to join Syracuse in leaving the Big East for the ACC sometime in the next three seasons.
Graham said repeatedly over the last 11 months he was looking forward to the challenge, constantly preaching character, commitment and a "high octane" offense designed to take the Big East by storm.
It never happened as the Panthers struggled adapting from Wannstedt's pro-style approach to Graham's modified spread attack. Pitt allowed 57 sacks this season, easily the most in the FBS, and Graham drew the ire of the fan base for shifting blame from himself to quarterback Tino Sunseri.
The growing pains led to a wildly uneven season in which the Panthers let winnable games slip away. Pitt held double-digit second-half leads over Iowa, Cincinnati and rival West Virginia only to collapse in the final minutes.
There have been so such issues for the Badgers with Chryst calling the plays.
Chryst anchored the offense around massive offensive line that churned out 1,000-yard rushers with regularity, but also showed an ability to adapt.
When former NC State quarterback Russell Wilson transferred in this fall, Chryst didn't hesitate to let Wilson go to work. The senior finished second in the country in pass efficiency while throwing for 31 touchdowns and just three interceptions. The running game was its usual self as Montee Ball rushed for 1,759 yards and 32 touchdowns while becoming a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Graham didn't leave the cupboard completely bare. Running back Ray Graham was among the nation's leaders in rushing yards before tearing the ACL in his right knee in October, ending his season. He is expected to return for his senior season, and if he's healthy he will give Chryst the kind of dynamic threat out of the backfield that was a fixture during Chryst's days at Wisconsin.
Chryst's first job, however, will be selling the Panthers that he's in it for the long haul.
"The bar is set high in the 'City of Champions' and that is incredibly exciting and inspiring," Chryst said. "I can't wait to meet our players and get to work."