49ers' Chryst navigates QB conundrum
NEW ORLEANS — Pitt coach Paul Chryst thought it was a delicate situation raising senior quarterback Tino Sunseri's level of play without a strong backup pushing him.
Across the country, big brother Geep Chryst was dealing with the kind of controversy that, if mishandled, could ruin the superbly talented San Francisco 49ers' Super Bowl chances.
Geep Chryst's problem wasn't having one quarterback who needed to play better but two quarterbacks who couldn't play much better.
With the 49ers rolling with a 6-2 record and former No. 1 overall draft pick Alex Smith coming off a performance in which he nearly set the NFL single-game passing accuracy record, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh decided to switch quarterbacks after former backup Colin Kaepernick excelled as both a runner and passer in a supposed spot start for the injured Smith.
It was a decision that revolutionized an already good offense and cast Geep Chryst in a difficult role as being the man needed to keep focus — and keep egos intact — in a crowded, competitive quarterbacks room. He needed to make sure this grand experiment didn't implode.
“We've kept a great room. You're all competing for the same thing: You want to be No. 1 quarterback,” said Scott Tolzien, the 49ers' No. 3 quarterback. “But it hasn't changed the main goal, which is to win games and help the team out. We're extremely lucky ... to have (Chryst).”
Chryst deflects credit to Harbaugh, a former NFL quarterback, for maintaining the balance needed to make sure that the benched quarterback didn't become angry and unfocused — and helping the new, not-yet-polished quarterback stay grounded.
“He just has a real good feel for a guy who would fit our culture,” Chryst said. “As a result, we've got the right guys in the room to begin with — ultra competitive — and there's no scorch-the-earth policy where if things aren't going the right way or they're petulant or pouty. The team is still the most important thing, and they're allowed to compete within that and then go shoulder to shoulder.”
Tolzien has gone shoulder to shoulder with both Chryst brothers; while he learns from Geep —whose nickname is a shortened version of given names George Patrick — his offensive coordinator at Wisconsin was … Paul Chryst.
“Other than my parents, two of the most influential people in my life are Paul and Geep Chryst,” Tolzien said. “They're football coaches, but football isn't everything with those guys. There's a lot more out there; they have that perspective. And I appreciate having them — and they're tremendous coaches X's and O's wise, some of the best.”
While Geep Chryst is in pro football's ultimate game — he is likely to land a coordinator's job in the near future — he expects little brother Paul to quickly elevate Pitt's program.
“He thought it was great when he could go to a Steelers game when the Rooneys invited him and he could put on a Mike Webster jersey,” Geep said. “He absolutely loves the city of Pittsburgh because I think that's his personality. He doesn't have a whole lot of false airs about him. He doesn't want to try to impress people in any way, shape or form. But he is a really good guy and coach.”
Geep also expects Paul to stay at Pitt for the foreseeable future.
“That's the overriding feeling I get from him, that this has been a great fit,” Geep Chryst said. “I know he's excited about the recruiting, not just for this year but down the pike. The team will continue to improve, and I know that for a fact.”
Maybe to the point where Paul Chryst has some difficult personnel decisions to make. If he does, he'll know where to go for the playbook on how to do it.