Pitt offensive coordinator Rudolph still focused on Panthers
Pitt holds practice almost every day in preparation for its bowl game. There is a game plan to formulate, an opponent to dissect, travel plans to make.
Meanwhile, Pitt officials conduct a nationwide search for the football coach who will replace Paul Chryst. His former assistants, uncertain of their future, keep working.
In the midst of all that silent turmoil, Mike Gallagher was surprised to pick up his ringing phone and hear Joe Rudolph's voice.
Gallagher, a close family friend of Pitt running back James Conner, said Rudolph didn't call to talk football.
“He wanted to tell me how well things are going with James in school,” Gallagher said.
Rudolph hasn't publicly expressed a desire to become Chryst's successor. He was unavailable for comment Thursday, a day after he was named Pitt's interim coach for the Armed Forces Bowl on Jan. 2.
Plus, there is no indication Rudolph, who is being encouraged to pursue the job, will come under serious consideration by Pitt officials. Pitt might want a man with experience as a head coach. Rudolph has none.
But Gallagher plans to write a letter to Chancellor Patrick Gallagher (no relation), in support of Rudolph and with the blessing of Conner's parents.
“Joe Rudolph is the one who believed in James,” Gallagher said.
Rudolph, who might become Wisconsin's offensive coordinator if he isn't named Pitt's next coach, is responsible for recruiting Conner when few other schools were interested.
“You hear horror stories of how (recruiters) are just lying to you,” Mike Gallagher said. “He kept every promise, and then some.”
None of this surprises Lou Rood, who was Rudolph's offensive line coach at Belle Vernon.
He knew Rudolph as a senior in 1989 when he was part of a line that included players who ended up at Yale, Carnegie Mellon, Pitt and Wisconsin (Rudolph).
“Those kids were so smart,” Rood said. “They made up their own fake line calls. Four days into camp, we already had all the blocking schemes for all the defenses that existed.
“Joe was the leader of that line. He was the one who took charge.”He also knows Rudolph as a recruiter who returned to his alma mater to lure offensive lineman Dorian Johnson to Pitt. He said Rudolph has helped rebuild some of Pitt's bridges to area high school coaches that had toppled over the years.
“Joe and Paul Chryst re-established those,” Rood said.
Rudolph, 42, was a two-time All-Big Ten offensive lineman at Wisconsin while earning a degree in zoology. He later received a master's degree in business from CMU. He didn't go to Pitt after its coaches at the time said he wasn't good enough.
At the end of a two-year NFL career, Rudolph started helping the Belle Vernon coaching staff, bringing some of the Wisconsin blocking schemes with him.
“He's not one of those big-name brands,” Rood said. “Rather than bring some retread in, somebody who doesn't understand the culture and doesn't understand Western Pennsylvania, Joe is ready to go.
“I think somebody is going to take a chance on him, and he'll do very well.”