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Pitt's problems start at the top

| Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Pitt coach Paul Chryst talks with T.J. Clemmings after he is called for a personal foul against Cincinnati on Thursday. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
Pitt linebacker Todd Thomas watches during practice on the South Side Aug. 11, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

When you try to identify where the Pitt football program has failed, you need to go back five years.

A total of 102 players since 2008 have been fed onto the roster from their high schools, coached by three separate staffs led by three different men. From those five recruiting classes, just six players (less than 6 percent) have earned All-Big East honors, including first and second teams.

By comparison, Cincinnati, which defeated Pitt, 34-10, this past Thursday night on national television, had eight such players – just last year.

Joe Butler, who has tracked high school and college players for 36 years for Metro Index Scouting Service, said the problem is apparent and not beyond repair.

“I attribute it to the multiple head coaches in a short period of time,” he said. “That's hurt them, the inconsistency there.”

The coaching upheaval sent several recruits elsewhere and resulted last year in Pitt's first losing record since 2007. Former coach Todd Graham wasn't even around at the end of a 6-7 season.

Graham wasn't hired until Jan. 11, 2011, after Dave Wannstedt and Michael Haywood were fired during the previous month, giving him a late start in recruiting.

Under the circumstances, Graham's 22-man class isn't bad, producing two redshirt freshman starters this year, Nicholas Grigsby and Lafayette Pitts at linebacker and cornerback. They are athletically gifted players, but on-the-job trainees on a defense that has only four returning starters and has been hurt by injuries to linebackers Todd Thomas and Ejuan Price and cornerback K'Waun Williams.

After two losses, Pitt is ranked 80th in the NCAA in total defense (422.5 yards per game) and 106th against the run (231.5).

What's worse is five players from the 2011 recruiting class have left the program and nine are gone from Wannstedt's 24-man class in 2010.

Butler said the anticipated attrition rate is about 50 percent over a four-year period. Pitt's '10 and '11 classes are on faster than normal departure paces.

Plus, Pitt needs more potential stars, not just starters of average ability. “When you bring in 24 (recruits), you need 8 to 10 to be productive,” Butler said.

Recruiting has become especially difficult for Pitt because of competition from neighboring schools.

“When you are in Pennsylvania, you are up against Penn State, West Virginia, Ohio State and Michigan,” Butler said. “This area gets hammered by the Big Ten and the Big East and even the ACC schools.”

Several recent Pennsylvania high school stars have left or are planning to leave the state, including Harrisburg Bishop McDevitt's Noah Spence, Jeannette's Jordan Hall and Terrelle Pryor (Ohio State) and Demetrius Cox (Michigan State), Monessen's Chavis Rawlins (West Virginia) and North Allegheny's Patrick Kugler (Michigan).

Reversing that trend won't be easy, but Butler said it can happen.

“Like anything it's going to take time,” he said. “(Chryst) is going to get settled in here and start getting his own guys in here, and they will build it up to where it needs to be. It's not complicated.”

Butler said local high school coaches have been receptive to Chryst and his staff.

“They are going to take their lumps here and there, but give them some time,” he said. “They are great people, they are hard workers, and they are going to win.”

Joining the ACC next year will open doors for Pitt that might have remained closed otherwise.

“Put a pin in Point State Park and draw a line 1,000 miles out,” Butler said. “They are getting some good players, but you also have to expand your recruiting horizons. I think they need to say, 'Hey, we are in an eastern seaboard league. We have to recruit the entire country,' and they will do that.”

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