The familiar story line will be trotted out again, one that has trailed Pitt for four years now through a series of botched coaching moves.
People will take one glance and declare, “Oh, would you look at that? Pitt is hiring another coach again!”
It is unavoidable to look at the messy track record since Dave Wannstedt was fired at the end of the 2010 season. Athletic director Steve Pederson fell victim to that, losing his job Wednesday night in a clear indication the administration had lost faith in his ability to hire a head coach.
But losing Paul Chryst does not fit the narrative hoisted onto the Panthers since they made the mistake of hiring Mike Haywood, then Todd Graham, over a one-month span bridging 2010 and 2011.
Truthfully, Chryst leaving for Wisconsin should just be chalked up to bad luck.
Just two weeks ago, Chryst stood in a ballroom in Charlotte, North Carolina, to celebrate running back James Conner, the ACC Offensive and Overall Player of the Year. He was happy and looking forward not only to the bowl game but also to a 2015 season that he believed would finally show the results of all the hard work he, his coaches and his players have put in since he arrived three years ago.
He was not a coach looking to take the next train out.
Then the Wisconsin job unexpectedly came open when Gary Andersen bolted for Oregon State after two years with the Badgers. And well, you got the feeling Chryst would be the only call athletic director Barry Alvarez would make. When Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas in 2012, Chryst -- a Madison, Wisconsin, native and former Badgers quarterback -- looked like the top candidate, too. But the timing was bad.
Chryst was not about to pull a Graham and leave Pitt after one season.
Now, the timing is just about perfect. While Pitt has not been much better than average in the three seasons he has coached the Panthers, perspective is in order -- and a big reason why his overall record should be ignored.
Pitt was an absolute disaster when Chryst was hired to replace Graham, who left for Arizona State after one year on the job. There was an absence of leadership and loyalty, not to mention a hodge-podge locker room filled with players who had committed to various coaches no longer there.
Players needed somebody they could trust. Chryst, with his guy-next-door demeanor and low-key attitude, proved to be the right man to steady the program. He knew Pitt was not going to be an easy fix. So did athletic director Steve Pederson.
So Chryst got to work, slowly reshaping the program in his image. He took no shortcuts, making tough decisions when they were needed, like parting ways with talented players like Rushel Shell, Tra'Von Chapman and Drew Carswell.
It has taken three years to get the locker room in order and get the players to believe and get everybody pulling in the same direction. Had any other program come calling, Chryst may have very well said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
But Wisconsin has a pull nobody else does. Simply put, Wisconsin is home.
So his decision to leave is understandable and should not be seen as a reflection on the Pitt job itself. Chryst is not a career opportunist like Graham, who trotted out one excuse after another when he hightailed it to Tempe.
If there is one silver lining here, it is that Pitt is no longer a toxic mess. Chryst has left the program in much better shape than he found it. In back-to-back years, Pitt has had the ACC Defensive Player of the Year (Aaron Donald) and ACC Player of the Year (Conner). Pitt fans will tell you there are actually two silver linings: getting rid of Pederson means somebody who has not swung and missed multiple times will have the opportunity to hire a coach who should be able to win immediately.
After racking up 1,675 yards rushing, Conner returns. So does All-ACC receiver Tyler Boyd, who has posted consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Quarterback Chad Voytik also will be back, having shown growth in the latter half of the season. In all, 15 starters are expected to return to a team that will be older and much more experienced.
After all, Pitt went through training camp with 81 underclassmen (53 freshmen and 28 sophomores), the highest total of any FBS team in the country.
It is undeniable that losing Chryst is a blow to the players and the program. It is hard to find a more likeable guy. Though his time at Pitt was brief, he made this a much more attractive job.
For that, he deserves a hearty pat on the back. Chryst may not have finished the job, but it was a job well done nonetheless.