It is well documented that coaches leave the Big East -- in less than graceful ways.
But I contend that nobody left their program more in the lurch than Todd Graham at Pitt.
What he did was cold and callous, resigning after he was not given permission to interview at Arizona State last December. Refusing to open the door when Pitt officials came knocking. Sending out a goodbye text to his players, the very ones he sold on honor, loyalty, trust and commitment. Now, this does not make him different than many other head coaches, who say one thing today and are gone tomorrow.
What makes his situation different are the circumstances surrounding his departure. Yes, Greg Schiano left Rutgers in the lurch for the Tampa Bay Bucs, less than a week before signing day. But he had been at Rutgers for 11 seasons and built a successful program on his own. Maybe you overlook some of the more unsavory details about the way he left because you can appreciate what he did while in New Jersey.
Graham? He stuck around for one miserable 6-6 season. He did nothing but hurt Pitt. Because his one-year tenure left the Panthers looking for their fourth head coach in a two-year span. No other program has had to deal with that type of coaching turnover. Most importantly, no player has had to deal with that type of coaching turnover.
If college football is supposed to be about the student-athlete experience, then I cannot imagine anybody at Pitt can say they have had an unbelievable time when you consider the drama.
Dave Wannstedt recruited this group of seniors. Then he got fired after delivering a share of the Big East title. New coach Mike Haywood came along from Miami (Ohio). He was then fired after less than three weeks on the job after an arrest on domestic violence charges. In came Graham, who arrived selling high-octane football in a blue-collar Pennsylvania town. Was he all about the Pitt student-athletes?
Not if you consider billboards around the city with his face on it. Not when you consider the way he criticized his players for failing to pick up his prized system. Not when you consider the way he treated quarterback Tino Sunseri. It was always about Graham, which is why he ultimately left. The job was a mistake, he says now. His kids did not like Pittsburgh, he says now. Yet during the season, his wife proudly posted photos of herself and her kids in Pitt jerseys before games and practices.
He failed Pitt, and he failed his players, who came out on Twitter to blast him publicly for the way he left. Not one player ripped into Schiano. That shows you the big difference between the two.
Now, the Panthers players have to start over again. Sunseri has to learn his third offensive system in three years. Who can blame him for being slow to pick it up this spring? Changing playbooks once in four years is hard enough. Doing it three times in three years is almost too much to ask. Credit the Pitt players for not complaining about the lot they have been given.
They are happier to have new coach Paul Chryst, a man who at least seems to want to put roots down in Pittsburgh. He is going back to the way Pitt likes to play offense, another positive step. If hindsight is 20/20, Pitt should have just hired Chryst instead of Haywood when it had the chance. Instead, the Panthers went through an unnecessary and overly straining rigmarole.
Pitt is hoping all that is in the past. It cannot afford to have another coach leave it in the lurch yet again.