Exclusive interview: Paul Chryst 48

DEJAN KOVACEVIC, DK ON PITTSBURGH SPORTS

Paul Chryst will enter his third year as head coach of Pitt football when his players open training camp Monday on the South Side. Chryst, 48, has overseen seasons of 6-7 and 7-6, qualifying for bowl appearances in each.

Expectations are low for 2014, at least in some circles, with the ACC’s preseason media poll placing Pitt sixth in the seven-team Coastal Division, and that no doubt has plenty to do with the graduation loss of all-universe nose tackle Aaron Donald, a first-round draft pick of the Rams, and quarterback Tom Savage (drafted by Texans) and wide receiver Devin Street (Cowboys).

On the sunnier side, wide receiver Tyler Boyd was named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list, and running back James Conner was named a Doak Walker Award preseason candidate. Those two, plus mobile QB Chad Voytik, offer hope for an offense that could be both tough and dynamic.

On Tuesday afternoon, I interviewed Chryst on an array of topics:

DK: How can I not start by asking about the defense, especially without Aaron and Jason Hendricks? Even with those guys, this was a group that gave up too much.

Chryst: Well, yeah, I guess you had to, and we understand that’s going to be the area of focus. I can’t explain it any better than to say this is one of those years where everybody’s got to come up big. We’ll need players to get better as the season goes on, to improve above and beyond.

DK: Kind of like Ray Vinopal did last season.

Chryst: Exactly. Everybody was beating up on Ray early on, but he ended up becoming a real performer for us.

DK: And nobody, of course, replaces Aaron.

Chryst: No, of course not. But you know what’s interesting? In our meetings after the season, I heard from some of our players who told me they felt like they weren’t always as aggressive as they could have been because they knew Aaron would make the play. Which he did. And I think as a result of that, they feel like maybe they can do a little more this season because they’ll have to. And more than that, they’ll have to make the big play. That’s what Aaron would give us. Game after game, he was the one who made the big play. Now, we’re going to need a lot of guys doing that.

DK: Maybe the rest of us didn’t really appreciate how much Savage meant to your offense until all the NFL scouts started raving about him, but that’s a loss, too, obviously. And with a very different QB taking his place.

Chryst: No question, Tommy’s more the pro-style, and Chad is … I’m not trying to say he’s Russell Wilson, but his ability to make plays on the run, to scramble, he has components to his game that will allow him to play that style. (Before Wilson led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, Chryst was his offensive coordinator at Wisconsin.) And because of that, we’ll have to adjust to Chad’s strengths. It’ll definitely be different.

DK: And the first thing I think when I envision that is whether or not Tyler will have to get the ball a different way.

Chryst: Well, that’s part of it. Tyler’s going to have to make that adjustment, work with Chad. And that won’t be his only challenge. He benefited a lot from having Devin on the other side. Teams had to cover Devin. Now, people are going to know about Tyler. They’re going to be on him. That’s why I’ll keep stressing that it’s up to the rest of our guys to step up. Who will take the pressure off Tyler? Someone’s going to have to take that heat off him. Maybe the running game. Maybe another receiver.

DK: Why not Manasseh Garner? I see Garner as a guy who, at times, has looked like he’s got a good bit more in him.

Chryst: I’m excited about Manasseh. I am. He’s been with us as a tight end, but he also had to help at wide receiver when Devin was hurt last season. I’d be lying right here if I didn’t say we’re counting on him. And we feel he’s capable and ready to be that guy.

hi-res-185145933-james-conner-of-the-pittsburgh-panthers-during-their_crop_exactDK: And then there’s Conner, who might be that guy for you on both sides of the ball if I’m reading this correctly. Or has that been a lot of noise?

Chryst: Ha! Well said! That’s probably what a lot of it’s been, noise. How we used James in that bowl game, where he got in as kind of a pass-rushing specialist, I think he maybe got eight snaps on defense. And that’s the way we’re looking at it. Vinopal plays on defense and on special teams. Other players do that. This would be James playing on offense and special teams in a way. He won’t be gassed at the end of the game. He’ll be a running back who spends a little time on defense.

DK: But you’re excited about it?

Chryst: No question. The kid can do a lot of things.

DK: It’s your third year coming up. The program hasn’t had 10 wins since 2009. How important is it for this Pitt to demonstrate meaningful progress?

Chryst: There’s no question we have to make significant steps forward. That’s the bottom line. And we have to do that together, as a team. Aaron was so dominant he could get recognition even on a .500 team. This team will earn that recognition collectively. And we’ll have to work hard and stay tough to do that.

I don’t want to put that pressure on the kids. That’s on all of us. We all have to keep it together. It’s funny, but coaches will tell their team before a game, ‘Get off to a great start, and don’t turn the ball over.’ Well, it sounds great, but what if it doesn’t happen? What do you do then? We’ve got to be prepared to work our way through everything. We’ve got to make those strides.

DK: Last thing I’ve got, and I’d be crazy if I didn’t ask this but … James Franklin caused a bit of a stir at his introductory press conference at Penn State by stating bluntly that he and his staff will dominate Pennsylvania recruiting. I was up there that day and asked if that was a gauntlet thrown down at Pitt, the only other major Division I school in Pennsylvania, and he didn’t exactly deny it.

What’s your view? Has Pitt been impacted by Franklin and his staff? Has their recruiting hurt?

Chryst: We’re always impacted by all the schools around us, and even some far away, when it comes to recruiting inside the state or Western Pennsylvania. We’ll see Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State … everyone will come through, not just Penn State. That didn’t just change. Bill O’Brien and his staff were recruiting here also. It’s perceived now that things are a whole lot different, but Bill worked hard just like James and his staff are working hard just like our staff is working hard. In the end, I’m really confident in the classes we’ve put together and our methods. But that other stuff, no, nothing’s changed.

48 thoughts on “Exclusive interview: Paul Chryst”

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  1. Paul Adomshick says:

    He can claim that James Franklin is doing what Bill O’Brien did in western PA, recruiting-wise, but the reality is that Franklin raised the recruiting bar. Penn State is getting more of their scholarships back. It’s going to be tough for Pitt to recruit head-to-head w/ PSU.

    1. Pitt Critic says:
      -4

      Fact of the matter is Franklin is “Dominating the State”. Just look at PSU recruits from PA vs Pitt.

      Bottom line, Chryst can’t recruit. The main problem is House the DC.

      Note: Chryst didn’t answer the question.

  2. Rufus says:

    Great interview. In other words, JF doing what everyone else does, but draws attention and pats self on back. Really hope a receiver steps up. Chicken-egg situation between run/pass. A good start for Voytik and receivers means a great running game.

    1. Paul Adomshick says:

      JF is definitely a self-promoter, but it’s hard to argue with his results as far as verbal commitments. His first recruiting class is ranked alongside the elite programs. I haven’t seen anyone saying PSU has less than a top 10 recruiting class.

    2. James Weible says:

      When you have the two best recruits out of Pittsburgh and pretty much the state verbally to your team, you can pat your back all you want…

      1. Rufus says:

        Well said. Can’t argue that.

        For my money, there is something about sports that makes me still care about being able to root for a guy. Chryst? Heck yes. JF? Heck no.

  3. Oshie says:

    This is good stuff. Interesting info on Donald affecting other players play. Chryst handled Wilson at Wisconsin very effectively. Maybe, that will translate to the new QB.

    1. Dejan Kovacevic says:

      That’s why I brought up Garner. Was a bit surprised to see Chryst as emphatic as he was in agreeing.

  4. bobo says:

    I have been reserving judgment, but I think I like this guy as a coach. Do you think it is safe to like a Pitt coach again?

    1. Jasonfromshaler says:

      I’m with you. I’m willing to give him a wide berth. I don’t recall him making Mr. ASU type promises at his first presser. I recall him talking about foundations and consistency. This year will be interesting to watch.

  5. Stashy says:

    It’s easy to praise Penn State based on stars but there is a lot more that goes into creating a winner than stars. I’d say Wisconsin has been every bit as successful the past 5-7 years as schools like Texas, Miami, and USC . Go ahead and compare the stars on those classes.

    1. Pitt Critic says:
      -1

      LOL. Stars matter my friend.
      It has been statistically proven.
      Ur in denial.
      http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/eye-on-college-football/21641769

      1. PXM says:
        -1

        Then explain Michigan State, who is rarely in the top echelon of B1G recruiting, and yet they won the Rose Bowl last year. They outworked and beat a team of 5 star recruits (OSU) in the B1G championship. The season is Aug-Jan, which someone should remind JF about.

      2. Pitt Critic says:
        -2

        PXM,
        May I suggest you ACTUALLY read the article and statistics.
        It’s statistically significant if you know what that means.

  6. Josh Newark says:

    What the penn state crowd will never admit is that psu is closer to pitt in terms of wins/losses than the the Ohio states of the big 10. And that assessment remains the same before and after the sanctions. Franklin can flat out recruit, and flat out give great sound bites.

    1. James Weible says:
      -1

      Pitt went 70-55 last ten years, Penn State went 86-39 which put them third in the B1G behind OSU and Wisconsin. Use the numbers as you please…

      1. Josh Newark says:

        You nailed it. In a ten year period, psu averages 1.6 more wins than pitt. Psu brags about their 8-4 season being better than pitt’s 7-5 season. Using facts you made my point. Thank you

    2. Paul Adomshick says:
      -1

      There are certainly some fans who delude themselves into believing that PSU is in the OSU tier rather than the Pitt tier of teams, but that is a minority. Most of the PSU fans I know lament that the team, pre and post sanctions, has not been in that elite class for a long time.

  7. Josh Newark says:

    Paul Chyrst will win over hearts in Pittsburgh if he can right the rocky ship at pitt. Instability has really hurt the program and PC needs to improve himself as well. As an alum, I really hope he can do it as pitt would have two of the really good guys in Chyrst and Dixon.

  8. -1

    Nice interview. Upon hiring, we heard that one of his strengths as a coach was to adjust the plan to the players natural ability. I’ll be interested to see how that translates at QB as he alluded to. I’m cautiously excited about the season.

  9. Rufus says:

    I think Pitt will have their equivalent of the 1989 Pirates. Disappointing calm before the storm – 2015 look out.

  10. OK, why can’t I get the whole thing ?

    1. As a matter of fact I’m getting the same thing on every post. Same thing Lucky was saying earlier.

      1. Art McKennan says:

        I am as well, Milo and Lucky… didn’t have any of this problem until now (and I did do the e-mail sign-in routine, but still ran into the barrier just before the interview).

    2. aglebagel says:

      Yup, I’m getting the login screen now, too.

      1. Dejan Kovacevic says:

        Hm. Not sure what to say. Working perfectly fine on this screen. What if you click the headline instead of the More button?

      2. Art McKennan says:

        Nope, checking the headline didn’t work either. … checking out for tonight… excellent outcome from The City! Go Bucs, Go!

  11. Ghost says:

    I can see the full interview at this late hour, for what it’s worth. And yes, to Art above. The Bucs are rawking! (Helps catching the Giants in a tailspin, too.)

  12. I’m also having the same issue.

  13. Jacob says:

    Same Problem. Login screen only. Can see everything except for the Mark Madden podcast from yesterday and the Chryst Interview?

  14. I had to go to a different browser and then this and the Chat worked. I normally use Internet Explorer, but had to switch to Google.

  15. Radio wave says:

    Sorry DK, I’m confused. Trying to finish this article and it says log in. I assume I am logged in because I can send this. And I am paid up. So what do I do now?

    1. ManDarino says:

      same problem. I even did the email login razzmatazz and still asking me to subscribe.

  16. Day Short, Dollar Late says:

    Long time Pitt sufferer/Alum. I’ll let PC run his 5 year plan as its only fair. But I am concerned that PC is just an understated WannStache. The Stache could recruit, but he never finished. Too conservative and I see PC doing the same thing.

    1. Day Short, Dollar Late says:

      The talent gets you 80% of the way, the coaches have to make up the last 20. Fighting PSU for talent has always been the case and they will continue to do it, but I just feel the coaching staff needs to be more aggressive on the field. The talent is coming…

  17. Bob L says:

    Try clearing your browser’s cache:

    https://kb.wisc.edu/page.php?id=15141

    https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/how-clear-firefox-cache

    1. Radio wave says:

      Trying to read this on my iphone.

      1. Dejan Kovacevic says:

        Everyone: If you’re being asked to login again, just clear your browser’s cache and make sure cookies are enabled. Start over with the login, and the problem is solved. That’s it.

  18. Jim S. says:

    Voytik’s the key for me. The running game can help take some heat off him, but Chad’s play will determine how good this season will be for Pitt. Voytik needs to produce to keep a suspect defense off the field as much as possible. And, I think he will. Go Pitt!

  19. Do you trust Voytik, Jim?

    1. Pitt Critic says:
      -2

      The issue probably won’t be Voytik or the offense.
      The problem will be the defense and the lack of playmakers and inability to make stops.
      Couple that with a terrible DC House.

      1. Jim S. says:

        The defense frightens me, Critic. The offense will need to produce points after long, sustained drives on a regular basis most weeks to stay in the tougher games.

    2. Jim S. says:

      Obviously, I need to see more DK. But, I liked what I saw when he was thrown in the bowl game, and he has a good pedigree. I trust Chryst with QBs. So, yeah, I think Voytik can be trusted.

  20. ManDarino says:

    Do I trust Voytik? Better question might be, do I have a choice? He’s got to pan out because there is no plan B.

  21. Jersey WingDing says:
    -1

    I’ll take a coach like Chryst over a self-promoter like Franklin anytime. Franklin is one level of slick below Fraud Graham in my opinion…..

    H2P!!!!!

    1. Pitt Critic says:
      -1

      I’ll take a coach who can recruit as well as win.
      Chryst hasn’t demonstrated either.
      Franklin can recruit and look what he did at Vandy in the SEC!!
      #DominateTheState

  22. Rock says:

    I can’t wait until Pitt starts to play PSU again. It should once again be an annual event, but I’ll take it any way we can get it in the interim.

  23. Bob says:

    I’m not sure if you realize that Chad Voytik has local ties. His Dad graduated from Sharon High School. His Uncle, also from Sharon, was a star National Champion QB at Westminster College and his first cousin, Matt, is a Freshman FB player at Duquesne U.

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