Trietley: Chryst the right choice for Pitt

By Greg Trietley

Paul Chryst is the right man to run Pitt football.

The Panthers introduced Chryst, the… Paul Chryst is the right man to run Pitt football.

The Panthers introduced Chryst, the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin since 2005, as Pitt’s head coach on Dec. 22 — nine days after one-year ruler Todd Graham absconded to Arizona State in a maroon-and-gold jet.

Chryst, Florida International head coach Mario Cristobal and Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads all drew interest from Pitt, but the Badger won the job.

As he should have.

Cristobal is a rising star. In 2006, the burden of building a young Florida International program that finished the year 0-12 fell on him. Now coming off back-to-back bowl appearances, a more prestigious job awaits him if he wants it.

He could very well become a great head coach at a major school (Miami?) someday, but he isn’t what Pitt needs right now. In Graham and Michael Haywood, the Panthers struck out twice with a small-school head coach moving up in the world. The school needs stability at the position — it’s no time to gamble.

Graham at Tulsa and Cristobal at Florida International — unfortunately the two must be grouped together here — succeeded with one group of players, but they have yet to sustain that success beyond a single wave of recruits.

Chryst, meanwhile, won games with the mobile Russell Wilson at quarterback. He won games with pocket passer Scott Tolzien at quarterback. More than anything, the 46-year-old coach has shown in his seven years at Wisconsin a willingness to adapt his playbook to the players on the field — something Graham stubbornly refused to do with his.

Any sane coach watches Tino Sunseri throw on the run one time and says, “OK, that’s enough of that.” He then fixes the divot the ball made when it skipped off the turf.

Graham forced Sunseri to adapt to his system, but successful coaches instead bend to the strengths of their players. Think John Fox with Tim Tebow. He saw the weak-armed quarterback as an opportunity to implement football’s great equalizer: the option.

Chryst, who also served as the quarterbacks coach at Wisconsin while he was offensive coordinator, has brought Badgers offensive line coach Bob Bostad with him to Pitt to serve as offensive coordinator. What Chryst is to Wisconsin’s passing game, Bostad is to the run game. Pitt has them both — now the Panthers just need the talent on the field.

The knock on Chryst is that he lacks pizzazz. He’s an introvert in a profession filled with self-aggrandizing loudmouths. Some believe that he won’t recruit well because of this.

Star players like Wilson, though, came to Wisconsin in part because of Chryst’s offense. Madison isn’t exactly a hot travel destination.

The quiet Chryst lets his results do the talking. Who hailed Graham as an offensive wizard? It was mostly Graham. Meanwhile, named Chryst the top offensive coach in the country in 2011, and his Badgers have put up gaudy stats across seasons, although he’d be the last to brag about them.

Those stats: a 1,000-yard rusher every season since 2005 and the most points per game in the Big Ten every season since 2009. Wisconsin attempted 11 field goals this year because drives rarely stagnated.

St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson, with Chryst at Oregon State in 2003, endorsed him. Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez did as well, and he reportedly spoke with Pitt officials to alleviate their reservations about him. Badgers basketball coach Bo Ryan reportedly talked to Jamie Dixon to recommend him — because apparently Dixon handles everything on campus.

The praise adds up to mean something. Graham came to Pitt as a gimmick in a time when the school wanted to inject some life into its football program. But now the Panthers need stability — not just personality  and Chryst gives them that.