Share This Page

Starkey: Skies brighten for Pitt football

| Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, 10:30 p.m.
Pitt football coach Paul Chryst on the sideline against Rutgers at Heinz Field on November 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

You'd think a program that participates annually in something called the BBVA Compass Bowl would have a decent sense of direction.

Maybe, just maybe, Pitt finally does.

Kudos to Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez and Paul Chryst — assuming it was a joint decision — for reaching the conclusion that Chryst should stay at Pitt. They did the right thing, given the circumstances under which Chryst arrived just 353 days ago.

True, Chryst might someday wonder what might have been. How many times does a guy get a chance to go home again? But he can always take solace in having honored his commitment to a devastated football program in desperate need of a leader.

The challenge remains immense. It's still too early to tell whether Chryst can do what his predecessors could not. Namely, win outright conference titles and perhaps make his way into a national-title discussion now and again, the way Rich Rodriguez did at West Virginia and Brian Kelly did at Cincinnati.

But I like the way Chryst is trending.

I like the fact that Pitt finished 6-4 after a disastrous first two games.

I like the fact that it won three of its final four Big East games by a combined score of 101-26.

I like some of the talent already here (Rushel Shell, J.P. Holtz, Jason Hendricks, Devin Street, Todd Thomas, Lafayette Pitts, K'Waun Williams). Some of the verbal commits (quarterback Tra'von Chapman, offensive lineman Dorian Johnson) sound promising, and if Pitt can reel in one of two four-star receivers — Robert Foster or Tyler Boyd — Chryst will find a way to utilize him.

Viewed through a prism of the men who preceded him, this is what I see in Chryst:

• Dave Wannstedt with an offensive mind.

• Walt Harris with a balanced offense.

• Todd Graham with a conscience.

A player told me Friday that Chryst's personality mirrors that of Wannstedt's. Their overall philosophies are comparable — starting with a pro-style offense — but with the significant difference that Chryst can choreograph an offense.

In a related story, Chryst appears to possess a critical attribute that eluded Wannstedt throughout his coaching career: the ability to identify and develop talent at the most important position on the field.

Look at what Chryst did in one year's work with Tino Sunseri. The previous two seasons, Sunseri had combined for 26 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions.

This year, he has 19 TDs and two interceptions.

You saw what Chryst did in 2011 in one year's work with Russell Wilson. After transferring from N.C. State, Wilson completed 73 percent of his passes for 33 TDs and four picks at Wisconsin, then grabbed the starting job with the Seattle Seahawks and has flourished.

All of which bodes well for Rutgers transfer and likely Sunseri replacement Tom Savage, who has a one-and-done window in which to play for Chryst. Teammates have raved about Savage's accuracy in practice.

Meanwhile, and perhaps best of all, Pitt is headed to a place where it can win immediately.

Have you seen the pathetic Coastal Division of the ACC?

The best you can say for a football division that includes North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Miami (which declared itself bowl-ineligible this year and still faces NCAA sanctions), Duke, Virginia Tech and Virginia is that it's sure to play some decent basketball.

Pitt will have a chance to win that division next year.

As for Chryst's coaching ability, time will tell. His ability to get along with the players is nice, but, really, who cares? Jerks can be great coaches, too.

I'm more interested in Chryst's game-day abilities, where questions abound.

His team wasn't ready to compete at UConn. He was way overaggressive late in the loss to Syracuse. He made the unfathomable decision to retreat to the locker room with 29 seconds left in the first half at UConn, with Pitt in UConn territory, trailing by three touchdowns and harboring two timeouts.

Chryst also showed symptoms of the same disease that afflicted his predecessors: fourth-quarter-itis, described in some medical journals as the inability to finish games that should never, ever be lost.

On balance, though, I see hope — and I wonder if ol' Todd Graham did Pitt a gigantic favor by putting the hammer down when he did.

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 jraystarkey@gmail.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com 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.