Will Pittsburgh Need Another Head Coach?

Reports from various media outlets surfaced last week that linked Pittsburgh head coach Paul Chryst to the suddenly vacant head-coaching position at his alma mater Wisconsin.

Chryst served as the Badgers’ offensive coordinator from 2005 to 2011 and in a strange coincidence, has also been an assistant coach at Oregon State where former Wisconsin coach Gary Anderson just left for. Chryst has also been an assistant in both the CFL and NFL.

His time at Pittsburgh has been a mixed bag, posting a 19-19 record in three seasons with a 10-13 record in ACC play. There is plenty of chatter that Chryst might well be on the hot seat next season if he stays which only serves to further complicate matters. For their part, Pittsburgh’s athletic department was quiet on the public front while likely scrambling behind the scenes.

This process has become strangely familiar as this would make the seventh head coach (including interims) to have coached a game at Pittsburgh since Dave Wannstedt resigned in 2010.

The above tweet may seem a bit hyperbolic, but it’s difficult to argue that there have been some curious choices by the Panthers’ AD and clearly none of them worked out.

The first head-scratcher was getting rid of Wannstedt in the first place. He was 42-31 at Pitt including a 24-18 mark in Big East play with an average of nine wins per season his last three at the helm. Technically Wannstedt resigned after a 7-5 mark in 2010, but he was under significant pressure for failing to live up to a preseason ranking that year. The Panthers have won seven games only once since he left.

Miami (OH) head coach Mike Haywood was brought in after just two seasons as a head man, but an 8-4 mark in 2010 earned him MAC Coach of the Year honors. Haywood was hailed by Steve Pederson as a man of integrity and character, but just over two weeks later Haywood was arrested on charges of domestic violence in South Bend, IN. While Haywood was cleared of the charges in 2012 after meeting pre-trial diversion requirements, he hasn’t coached anywhere since.

After winning the BBVA Compass Bowl under interim coach Phil Bennett, Pederson tapped Tulsa head coach Todd Graham to lead the Panthers. Graham spoke glowingly of the program in his intrductory press conference even going so far as to call the Pitt job a, “dream come true.”

After one season of 6-6 football, Graham bolted for Arizona State leaving interim coach Keith Patterson to coach the team in yet another BBVA Compass Bowl. That brought in Paul Chryst whose biggest accomplishment at this point may simply be remaining in the job for three seasons.

That’s an interesting tweet that hints at the challenges of the Pittsburgh job. It’s always tough to be a college program in a pro sports town and Pittsburgh is decidedly a Steelers city with the Penguins and Pirates not far behind. It’s also difficult to be a football program in the shadow of basketball excellence and Jamie Dixon’s Panthers certainly are the top dog at Pitt.

That doesn’t even include the fact that Penn State is just a few hours up the road, making recruiting the traditionally talent-rich Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that much more difficult. The Panthers play at Heinz Field which is about 10 minutes away from campus. It’s a first rate facility, but it’s a major hurdle to get people to games and create any kind of home field advantage, just ask the Miami Hurricanes how that can be. The Panthers also have access to the UPMC Sports Performnce Complex, another great facility that is shared with the Steelers. Some recruits are no doubt interested by being so closely affiliated with an NFL team, but there are other schools that have a facility this size all to themselves.

These are just a number of the difficulties facing Pitt football going forward whether it’s Chryst or someone else leading the way.  

If a change does come, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez has said the soonest an announcement could happen is Wednesday the 17th due to university hiring practices. He’s alluded to always having a short list for coaching candidates, and there’s little question that Chryst is on it, it’s just a matter of who else is.

No matter how this shakes out, it will be interesting to see if Pittsburgh chooses to help its football program forward with additional support for Chryst or if they make a splash and hire a big name with the promise of an increased financial commitment the program.

Keep an eye on Inside The ACC as this story continues to develop and follow me on Twitter @BestCates.

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