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Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Todd Graham promises excitement

Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- Once Todd Graham started talking, and he didn't stop for nearly a half-hour, he soon made it evident that Pitt football won't be the same as it was last month. Or even last week.

Graham, the former Tulsa coach who becomes Pittsburgh's third head coach in a month, guaranteed Tuesday he would field major college football's most productive offense. He all but said he will win soon and win big.

We're built around speed -- speed, speed, speed and explosive power. ... The fans at Heinz Field, they won't want to sit down with the type of football we play.

-- Todd Graham

Graham also predicted Pitt fans would be so excited by their new offense, they won't want to sit down in the Heinz Field seats that are normally filled only for Steelers games.

A lot of changes? For sure. A lot of offense? Apparently, that too.

As Pitt moved quickly to distance itself from former coach Mike Haywood's short but embarrassing two-week stay, Graham said the Panthers will move rapidly away from the conservative pro-style system that was in place the last six seasons under former coach Dave Wannstedt.

"We'll be the most explosive team in the country," he said.

Graham is promising a no-huddle, fast-tempo offense that will pile up yardage and points as quickly as his Tulsa teams did. The Hurricanes, 24th in the final AP poll, finished fifth in total offense this season, averaging 505.6 yards and 41.4 points. They led the nation in 2007 and 2008 with offenses that featured a 5,000-yard passer, three 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher.

"We're a no-huddle football team," Graham said. "We're going to operate extremely fast -- fast-tempo, high-octane, explosive. That's our goal. But we'll also be extremely efficient."

Graham modestly called the system "innovative" and "very unique" but said it won't require the widespread personnel changes necessary if he were implementing a spread offense. He said he successfully switched Rice from a wishbone to his offense in a single offseason.

Defensively, he will use a 3-4 front in which some defenders will stand up at the line of scrimmage instead of putting their hands down.

"We're built around speed -- speed, speed, speed and explosive power," the 46-year-old Graham said. "We'll be fast, efficient, explosive. The fans at Heinz Field, they won't want to sit down with the type of football we play. ... Not very many run what we run."

Graham's promises differed greatly from those made by Haywood, the former Miami (Ohio) coach who was hired Dec. 16 by athletic director Steve Pederson -- barely a week after Wannstedt was forced to resign following a 7-5 regular season.

Haywood never cracked a smile, or promised to field a winning team, while emphasizing his teams would be extremely disciplined. He also talked of mandatory 6 a.m. practices and jackets and ties for his players on road trips.

But, by Jan. 1, Haywood was out of a job after landing in an Indiana jail on a felony domestic abuse charge. His case has yet to be decided.

Graham, by contrast, was full of smiles after landing what he called the job he always wanted at a BCS school. While he was criticized for staying at Rice for only a season, and he left Tulsa after going 36-17 in four seasons, he hinted Pitt would be a longer-lasting stay.

"Wait and see," he said.

And, unlike Haywood, he talked a lot about winning.

"We want to be Big East champions," he said. "We want to be BCS champions. We want to be national champions."

Graham talked of admiring former Pitt coach Johnny Majors' locker and Tony Dorsett's replica Heisman Trophy in a Pitt practice complex display room, and of seeing the former jerseys of Dan Marino and Mike Ditka -- his own favorite ex-Panther. Such names, he said, provide the kind of tradition that can be used successfully in recruiting.

Graham also said Pitt's recruiting class can be salvaged, even though two-thirds of the 18 players recruited by Wannstedt already have defected.

"We're not in a panic," Graham said. "We're excited."

He also hopes running back Dion Lewis, wide receiver Jon Baldwin and fullback Henry Hynoski will reconsider their decision to declare for the NFL draft with eligibility remaining.

Graham is moving quickly to assemble a staff. He is bringing in associate head coach Paul Randolph, co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson and passing game coordinator Mike Norvell from Tulsa. He also signed up two of Rich Rodriguez's former top assistants at Michigan, offensive coordinator Curtis Magee and defensive backs and special teams coach Tony Gibson.

Graham once coached at West Virginia, where Magee and Gibson formerly worked.

While Haywood's hiring disappointed Pitt fans -- he had only one winning season as a major college coach -- and his rapid firing led some prominent alumni to call for Pederson's ouster, Graham hopes to quickly unite the university's students, fans, alumni and staff.

"It's time to come together," he said. "I'm one of those guys who's about looking forward. Through change you have conflict, you have adversity, and emotions run rampant. The bottom line is we've got to move past that. I'm going to work hard to earn your trust."

Graham will be, by far, the best-paid football coach in Pitt history at nearly $2 million per season, or close to double what Wannstedt made.