ShareThis Page

Starkey: Sadly, 7 wins the bar for Pitt

| Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Pitt head football coach Paul Chryst during practice on the South Side March 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

When the powers-that-be at Pitt embarked on their third coaching search in 13 months, they probably didn't set out to find the one person in the universe most unlike Fraud Graham.

They did, however, find that person.

Paul Chryst is to Graham what Rod Barajas is to Usain Bolt. Graham could host a live auction through a muzzle. Chryst seemingly would prefer to avoid talking altogether.

Chryst's season-kickoff news conference Monday was the stuff of legend. His opening remarks lasted all of 67 seconds. Graham needed five times as long just to get warmed up.

It should come as no surprise that while Graham made himself available to reporters four days a week during the season, Chryst will speak only on Mondays and Thursdays.

During his entire question-and-answer session, Chryst's tone did not change. His face did not change. I'm certain his pulse rate did not change.

He is the calmest man on earth.

I asked him if he'd broached with his players the topic of a Big East title.

“No,” he said, politely.

Does he ever mention overriding goals such as winning a conference or national championship?

“No,” he said, politely.

There is nothing wrong with that. There was some irony, in that Chryst spoke those words while standing in front of a sign that reads:


9-time National Champions

Expect 10

It's early yet, but this man is a serious threat to establish himself as the lowest-key coach in Pittsburgh's recent sports history. His public demeanor evokes some combination of Jamie Dixon (early years), John Russell and Rick Kehoe with a sprinkling of Gene Lamont.

That is not to say Chryst lacks personality. I've spoken with him informally. He is engaging and funny, armed with a sharp, understated sense of humor. He seems genuine. He isn't Russell, who once memorably said, “I don't do small talk.”

Chryst, for better or worse, represents a striking contrast from what we've seen at Pitt. Go back 20 years, and you'll find folksy Johnny Majors followed by wordy Walt Harris followed by schmoozing Dave Wannstedt followed by the Fraud himself, with a couple of days of Michael Haywood mixed in for tragicomic relief.

Chryst probably won't regale us with fabulous football fables (Majors), obstinately defend his play-calling brilliance (Harris) or question why you're questioning him (Wannstedt). I guarantee you he will never utter the terms “high octane,” “hammer down” or “left lane.”

I'm kind of hoping he doesn't pooch punt, either.

All of which means nothing when it comes to winning football games. If Chryst flourishes, people will romanticize his monotone delivery. He will be Pitt's version of Bill Belichick.

If he is unable to extricate the Panthers from their quarter-century run of mediocrity, he will be Wannstedt without the mustache. That's just the way it works.

And that brings us back to a question I asked Chryst: What is the bar for Pitt football this season?

Chryst (politely) said the goal is to “stay focused on the process” and keep improving. A cynic might say retaining a coach past New Year's and avoiding a third straight BBVA Compass Bowl would constitute a smashing success.

I won't set the bar that low, but considering what Pitt has been through — put itself through, rather — I won't set it too high, either.

Sadly, 7-5 sounds about right. That's hardly asking too much. The schedule includes not one but two FCS schools, including Youngstown State on Saturday. The Big East is a bad joke again, worse than ever now that Temple has replaced West Virginia.

More than seven wins would be pleasantly surprising. Fewer would be mildly disappointing.

I cannot remember a time when Pitt football was this far off the radar entering a season. Given the program's disarray the past few years, that might not be a bad thing.

There's no telling whether Chryst will be a savior or another in a growing line of men who couldn't get Pitt to the “next level.” But he deserves a chance — and if you bet on one thing this football season, bet on this:

Nobody, but nobody, will get bulletin-board material from Paul Chryst.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.