Pitt notebook: Harris will continue his coaching style
A season filled with trials and tribulations has not damaged the psyche of Pitt football coach Walt Harris.
He said Monday at his weekly news conference that he's maintained his self-belief, despite the fact that his team has endured a five-game losing streak, that he's been criticized for taking on too many coaching tasks and that his no-huddle offense failed.
"My confidence has not been rocked or shaken by what's happened," said Harris, whose Panthers (3-5) enter a game at Rutgers (2-6) on Saturday riding a two-game winning streak. "I think I have a better feel for why it (the five straight losses) happened and what needed to be done in order to get things right. Hopefully, this game coming up will prove we're still on the right track."
Although Pitt is on a roll after wins over Temple, 33-7, two weeks ago and Virginia Tech, 38-7, this past Saturday, Harris has not been able to avoid close scrutiny. He was asked yesterday if he planned to give up - or at least reduce - his role as the team's quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator. He essentially shares the coordinator role with J.D. Brookhart.
He balked at the notion.
"I wouldn't have taken this job if I had to be just a head football coach," Harris said. "I will not fire myself, so to speak, from coaching the quarterbacks or being involved with play calling."
Harris wasn't finished.
"I do not want to be riding around in a golf cart watching practice and not having any kind of hands-on," he said. "That's not the kind of guy I am. I don't think I got this job, either, for that reason."
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE?
When Harris gave his team an ultimatum after a 45-7 loss to Boston College three weeks ago - Pitt's fifth in a row - it had a positive effect. He told his players to come back with a renewed commitment or not to come back at all. They all returned and the result has been a two-game winning streak.
It was suggested yesterday that, perhaps, the ultimatum should have come sooner. Harris paused for several moments before responding.
"The timing was probably right," Harris said. "I don't think it would have been right after Miami (a 43-21 loss in Week 3). I think (the players) would have thought I was a jerk, you know, which I can be."
Pitt lost three more games after the setback to the No. 1 Hurricanes before Harris put his foot down. Was it too late?
"I don't think," he said. "I think our team was in the right frame of mind for that, and that's why it was somewhat successful. In the loss to Boston College, we played like a team I didn't recognize. That's why I changed. The rest of the games were competitive, but we found a way to doggone lose instead of win."
Give the guys around Pitt credit. Nobody even cracked a smile when the topic of Rutgers was brought up yesterday.
That is a task in itself, considering the Scarlet Knights have been, in a word, pathetic. They are coming off a humiliating, 80-7, loss at West Virginia and have suffered through defeats of 61-0 to Miami and 50-0 to Virginia Tech.
"We know better than to look past anyone," said junior defensive end Brian Guzek, who, along with his teammates, still is trying to digest an early-season loss to Division I-A newcomer South Florida. "Anything can happen."
Syracuse almost found that out against Rutgers last month. The Orangemen needed a late touchdown to secure a 24-17 victory. That same Syracuse team beat Pitt handily, 42-10, on Oct. 13.
"I keep reminding our coaches to remember what the score was in that game," Harris said. "Rutgers played a great game then, and surely can play another one."
Senior wide receiver R.J. English leads the Big East with averages of 4.0 catches and 74.0 yards per game. ... Cornerback William "Tutu" Ferguson (ankle) and defensive end Claude Harriott (ankle) are questionable for Rutgers. ... Kickoff for the Pitt-WVU game Nov. 24 is 1 p.m.