If the primary argument in retaining a coach is program stability, it’s not a ringing endorsement for the job being done.
And stability seems to be the main reason some Pitt football fans want to see head coach Paul Chryst remain stay for a fourth season. Chryst’s name emerged Wednesday as a potential replacement for Gary Andersen at Wisconsin, though it’s all speculation. Andersen departed Madison abruptly after two successful seasons for the football riches of Oregon State. Andersen’s move is a curious one, and an indictment of how the coaching world views the Wisconsin job.
Chryst heading to Wisconsin makes sense. He grew up in Madison, played quarterback for the Badgers and earned praise for his work as the Badgers’ offensive coordinator. His work as OC led Langeloth native and Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez to unabashedly endorse Chryst for the job at Pitt. And when Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas, Alvarez said at the time he wouldn’t feel right plucking Chryst after only one year at Pitt, and after Alvarez vouched for him.
But times change. Who would have thought a decade ago, when Alvarez ran one of the country’s best football programs, that Wisconsin would become a revolving door for head coaches. What Alvarez said about Chryst two years ago was … two years ago. It’s hard to imagine Alvarez not at least gauging Chryst’s interest, and it’s even tougher to imagine Chryst not being interested.
Not that Chryst did much to distinguish himself at Pitt, where the game-day atmosphere probably reminds him of coaching against Indiana or Purdue. And Chryst’s spotty record could be a determining factor at Wisconsin, which no doubt wants to quell the label of being a stepping stone to other jobs.
In three years at Pitt, Chryst owns a 19-19 record heading into the Armed Forces Bowl, which pits the Panthers (6-6) against Houston (7-5) in Fort Worth, Texas, Jan. 2.
Granted, Chryst didn’t unravel a program in desperate need of solid coaching when he was hired to replace Todd Graham, who was hired to replace Mike Haywood, who was hired to replace Dave Wannstedt. Chryst provided stability, and it’s difficult to say the Panthers don’t appear to be headed in a good direction. Pitt’s three best skill players – ACC Player of the Year James Conner, Tyler Boyd and Chad Voytik – are all sophomores. The offensive line displayed consistent improvement. Players responded to an awful stretch with two wins to end the regular season and become bowl-eligible.
But inconsistency elsewhere characterizes Pitt football during Chryst’s tenure. The defense struggles to make stops. There are head-scratching losses to the Akrons of the college football landscape. Pitt regularly snatches defeat from the jaws of victory, as recent results against Duke and North Carolina prove.
Pitt rarely lands top recruits, and for every two-star guy like Conner that succeed at Pitt, there are 10-15 four- and five-star guys within Pitt’s recruiting base excelling at other schools.
Should Chryst stay at Pitt, and the guess here is the Panthers will have an interim coach for that bowl game against Houston, he’ll enter a make-or-break year. Marked improvement will be expected in Year 4. If there’s another 6-6 season, or even a 7-5 one, Chryst will likely be looking for work.
So why take the chance? Chryst could land several years of job security at Wisconsin. Whether or not he can coach in Alvarez’s shadow will likely determine his answer if he’s offered. And judging by Chryst’s unspectacular demeanor displayed at Pitt, that won’t be a problem.
Then, Pitt’s revolving door will be moving again.