Wisconsin coach emerging as Pitt's choice
The search for Pitt's next football coach took a turn Wednesday when Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst emerged as the leading candidate.
Chryst, a Wisconsin native and University of Wisconsin graduate, is viewed as a surer long-term fit than other candidates because of his Midwest ties and credentials directing a Badgers offense that set team scoring records each of the past two seasons, sources told the Tribune-Review.
Many prominent Pitt boosters support hiring Chryst.
Chryst, who interviewed with Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson on Saturday, could not be reached for comment.
Pederson, who also has spoken with Florida International's Mario Cristobal and Ohio State interim coach Luke Fickell, is not commenting while conducting a search for former Pitt coach Todd Graham's replacement. Graham resigned Dec. 13 to take the same position at Arizona State.
The Panthers are looking for their fourth head coach in 13 months. Pitt would like to wrap its search before the weekend, sources said.
Chryst began his coaching career in 1989 as a graduate assistant at West Virginia under College Football Hall of Fame coach Don Nehlen.
"I don't know if he has the job or not," Nehlen said Wednesday night, "but if he has, Pitt has done something really, really right."
Nehlen said he has kept an eye on Chryst's career and is impressed by his play-calling, especially in the running game. Wisconsin finished the regular season 10th nationally — first in the Big Ten — in rushing with 237.4 yards per game.
"He never panics, sticks to what he can do and is well-schemed," Nehlen said. "At a place like Pitt, which has traditionally been able to recruit offensive linemen, he will do well."
Chryst's interview with Pitt went well, better than one he had last year when the Panthers were looking for Dave Wannstedt's replacement, sources said.
Cristobal, whose Florida International squad lost to Marshall, 20-10, in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl on Tuesday, met yesterday with FIU officials.
Cristobal, who in August signed a contract extension through 2016, was identified as an early favorite for the Pitt job, but over the past two days Pitt officials have not felt comfortable with his ties to the state of Florida and worried that he would leave the university after only a few years, sources said. The Miami Herald reported last night that Cristobal and FIU officials are negotiating an additional extension.
Chryst was a three-time, letter-winning quarterback for Wisconsin from 1986-88. He spent the next two seasons at West Virginia, then he had positions with 10 universities or pro teams. He joined Oregon State as offensive coordinator in 2003 and took the same job at Wisconsin in '05.
At Oregon State, he helped the Beavers become the first team in Division I history with a 4,000-yard passer, 1,500-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers.
The No. 10 Badgers (11-2) play No. 5 Oregon in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2. They set a school record for the second consecutive season by averaging 44.6 points, fourth nationally.
Chryst has been a head coaching candidate at various schools during the past few years. He turned down the Purdue job in 2008, a year after declining three offers from Jerry Jones to become the Dallas Cowboys' quarterbacks coach. After a 2010 season during which Wisconsin averaged a school-record 41.5 points per game, he interviewed for openings at Pitt and Minnesota.
Pitt's football program has been in flux since last December, when Wannstedt was forced to resign. Pitt hired Mike Haywood from Miami (Ohio), then fired him two weeks later after he was charged with domestic battery. Pitt then turned to Graham, who at the time was Tulsa's head coach.