Starkey: Tough calls for Chryst
You've probably heard the wise cracks by now:
Hail to Quit.
The Quit Panthers.
Quit Is It.
They derive, of course, from the fact student-athletes have been fleeing Paul Chryst's football program like ants from a can of Raid. Some of them voluntarily, some not so much.
Deaysean Rippy was a four-star recruit (depending on which recruiting service you subscribe to). Rushel Shell you know about. Demitrious and Chris Davis were well thought of when they arrived. Those are just some examples. Even the start of training camp failed to stop the bleeding, as linebacker Todd Thomas informed Chryst he wanted out before quickly deciding he wanted back in.
But does any of this reflect poorly on Chryst?
I don't think so, although he should absolutely allow Thomas to rejoin the program. Preferably today.
Not unlike Ben Howland, when he was charged with rebuilding Pitt basketball, Chryst has walked into a hot mess of a program. Howland had to jettison the bad seeds and poor fits and replace them with committed, tough-minded athletes. He didn't need elite recruits. He needed players who would suit his system and believe in it.
Chryst needs the same, and that will take time. He's still in the messy weeding-out period. Every week, it seems, brings another tough decision. Chryst should ditch his whistle and bring a gavel to work each day; he's been as much a judge as a football coach.
Among the cases that have passed his desk:
• Shell shuts it down during spring practice, looks to join Todd Graham, of all people, and finally decides he will take his talents to UCLA. He scraps the idea at the last instant and asks Chryst if he can return.
Chryst wouldn't consider it. I don't blame him. Shell didn't exactly come off as the type to build a program around. The future face of Pitt football was suspended for his very first college game.
Chryst owed Shell nothing.
• Thomas, irate at being listed second-team on the initial depth chart, tells Chryst (according to Chryst) that he will leave the program but quickly changes his mind. He wants back in.
This is different from Shell's situation. This is a kid who had a bad moment, not a fully hatched plan to head west. Thomas deserves another chance.
• Khaynin Mosley-Smith, Drew Carswell and Eric Williams are suspended after police make a drug raid on their house. Chryst decides to keep Mosley-Smith and cut the other two.
Without more information, it's hard to analyze this move. I have to assume Chryst was considering the players' complete histories here and made his decision accordingly.
• Highly rated quarterback recruit Tra'von Chapman is sentenced to 90 days in jail after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of assaulting a former girlfriend April 26. With a reduced sentence, he spends three days in jail.
This is the toughest call of all — and of course it will not be Chryst's alone. Pitt's higher-ups are involved. For now, Chapman is suspended indefinitely.
What do you do here?
This is the first sticky situation involving a prominent Chryst recruit, one who happens to play the most important position on the field. Pitt's problem is that it has cast Chryst's mission, in part, as cleaning up the program.
Chryst's mission is to win games. And if Dave Wannstedt had beaten Cincinnati in 2009 — instead of losing by a point — and gone to the Sugar Bowl, he'd still be here no matter his team's arrest record.
Chryst's mandate is to find players of high football character who fit his system. Chapman might be one of those players. I'll give Chryst the benefit of the doubt if he deems Chapman deserving of a second chance and gets the backing of Pitt's administration.
Just don't tell me this is about “cleaning up” the program. Chryst ultimately will be judged on wins and losses. Clearly, he is doing the rebuild his way. He deserves that chance.
Time will tell if he's the right man for the job.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.