Favorites emerge for Pitt coaching position

Jerry DiPaola
| Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011

Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and Florida International coach Mario Cristobal have emerged as the leading candidates for the Pitt football coaching job, with a group of prominent boosters supporting Chryst, the Tribune-Review has learned.

Chryst, 46, is attractive for his potent offense at Wisconsin and his Big Ten pedigree. He is viewed as a safe choice, a coach who may commit to Pitt for the long-term. Cristobal, 41, played and coached at the University of Miami, and he would bring strong recruiting ties in Georgia and Florida — a possible advantage for Pitt when it eventually moves to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Ohio State interim coach Luke Fickell, 38, also remains a candidate. None of the candidates could be reached for comment Monday.

Multiple boosters have told the Tribune-Review that the university's four-person committee hopes to wrap up the search this week, the third coaching search since Dave Wannstedt was fired last December.

Boosters said the search committee is intrigued by Cristobal and Chryst.

The athletic committee of the University of Pittsburgh Board of Trustees, which has no approval or veto function, has a regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday. Florida International plays Marshall in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl tonight, and Chryst leaves for the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., next Monday with Big Ten champion Wisconsin.

Chryst, who has directed successful offenses at Oregon State and Wisconsin since 2003, has interviewed for the Pitt job twice within 12 months, meeting with athletic director Steve Pederson on Saturday after he was passed over in January in favor of Todd Graham.

Born and raised in Madison, Wis., he is a Wisconsin graduate and has been the Badgers' coordinator since 2005. In that time, the team averaged 31.9 points and 408.6 yards per game. Wisconsin was fifth in scoring in 2010 (a school-record 41.5) and is fourth this season (44.2) going into the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2 against Oregon.

Chryst has coached in college, the NFL, World League and Canadian Football League in a career that began in 1989 as a graduate assistant at West Virginia. He was considered this year for the Illinois and Kansas head-coaching vacancies, and he three times turned down Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who wanted to make Chryst his quarterbacks coach, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Cristobal has been the head coach at Florida International since 2007, compiling a 24-37 record after taking over a program that did not exist before 2002 and was 0-12 the season before he arrived.

Fickell, 38, was a college assistant since 2000 before he was named Ohio State interim coach this year.

No matter which coach is given the job, boosters believe Pitt would not need to match the nearly $10 million, five-year contract (including incentives) it gave Graham.

Chryst earned a base salary of $405,000 this year, with an additional $250,000 as part of a five-year annuity given to him in 2007 as a hedge against him joining the Cowboys, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Cristobal earned $497,183, and Fickell $1.172 million.

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