Paul Chryst gets well-earned chance at Pitt

December, 22, 2011
12/22/11
11:30
AM ET
Paul Chryst has been a hot head-coaching candidate for a couple of years, and he finally got his well-deserved chance at Pittsburgh. It's a good job but not the easiest of situations in which to prove himself.

Any school that was looking for a successful coordinator couldn't have done much better than Chryst. His Wisconsin offenses have been some of the most productive in the nation during his six years calling plays for the Badgers. Chryst oversaw an attack that has averaged 39.3 points per game the past three years. He might have done his finest work this season, incorporating quarterback Russell Wilson into the fold this past summer and blending Wilson's talents perfectly with the running game, as Wisconsin averaged nearly 45 points per game and made its second straight Rose Bowl.

[+] EnlargePaul Chryst
AP Photo/Nick UtWisconsin's Paul Chryst will become Pitt's fourth head coach in just more than a year.
Chryst has been a candidate at several schools the past two years and probably would have gotten a head-coaching job earlier if not for his low-key personality. He interviewed at Pitt in January but did not impress the selection committee, who instead went with the more energetic -- and, it turns out, completely phony -- personality of Todd Graham.

Chryst obviously learned from those experiences and did better this time in the interview process. He's still not a guy who loves the limelight, and the public demands of the job, from meeting the media to glad-handing boosters and speaking on the rubber-chicken circuit, will be things he'll have to work on and develop over time. How his personality will work in recruits' homes as the man representing the university also remains to be seen.

But from a pure X's and O's standpoint, few coaches are better. Chryst's offense isn't a gimmicky spread, either. It's based on the power running game with the ability to adapt to defensive game plans. I think his philosophy will go over big in blue-collar Steel City, which knows a little something about smashmouth football.

I covered Pitt as the Big East blogger and know it can be a great job with the right leadership. Although fans there can be a bit fickle, they also haven't been given a consistent winner in decades. The facilities, which the team shares with the Pittsburgh Steelers, are top-notch, and there is plenty of high school talent to be mined in western Pennsylvania. Dave Wannstedt had the program on the verge of doing some great things, getting the Panthers to within a last-minute touchdown of winning the Big East in 2009, but he could never quite push the ball across the goal line.

Pitt would have been better off keeping Wannstedt than entering into a disastrous chain of events that started last December when it replaced Wannstedt with Mike Haywood, only to fire him a couple of weeks later after Haywood was charged in a domestic assault issue. Then Graham came in preaching loyalty before showing he was loyal only to himself. Chryst will have to win over a team that probably isn't too eager to trust any head coach, and Pitt's head-coaching foibles and changing styles have badly damaged recruiting.

In time, though, Chryst should be a good fit for that program and doesn't seem like someone who'll jump to the next job at his first chance. It will be interesting to see whether Chryst brings any Wisconsin assistants along with him. Surely, Bret Bielema will want to hold on to offensive line coach Bob Bostad, who simply keeps churning out All-Americans up front. Where will Bielema turn for his next offensive coordinator, and will the Badgers be able to keep up their impressive performance on that side of the ball?

We know this: Wisconsin is becoming a place where assistants turn into head coaches. Bielema did it himself while succeeding Barry Alvarez. Defensive coordinator Dave Doeren got the Northern Illinois job last year and led the Huskies to a bowl game. And now Chryst.

Chryst will stay on to coach in the Rose Bowl, just as Doeren did a year ago. Wisconsin fans ought to appreciate him for one last game.

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