OK, not quite that dramatic but....I am in Birmingham and eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Panthers.
They will get into the airport here shortly and go to the hotel then practice this afternoon and that will be the first time we get to talk to what is left of the coaching staff and the players, pretty much since before Christmas when Keith Patterson was named interim coach.
Since then, Paul Chryst has been hired and he has appointed two coaches - his offensive coordinator/line coach perhaps Bob Bostad and linebacker coach Chris Haering, who was the high school coach at Mt. Lebanon.
Neither hiring was a surprise, even a little bit, as he talked about bringing some guys with him and Bostad is apparently his closest friend on the Wisconsin staff and was the one guy everyone close to the situation knew would come. And he also talked about bringing a local high school guy in and there were two obvious possibilities - Haering or Bethel Park coach Jeff Metheny, as both are very close with Chryst and both worked as graduate assistants with him back in the day at West Virginia under Don Nehlen.
So those two obvious hires are out of the way, the next is the defensive coordinator and from there it will be filling in the blank. Don't be surprised if one or two of the current assistants hang around, as Chryst also made it clear that he is going to give them real interviews and consider them if they want to stay.
That is much different approach than Michael Haywood and even Todd Graham, who both made it clear they were cleaning house and there was a new sheriff in town and a new era of Pitt football. Haywood actually did spend time "interviewing" the old assistants, including one he spent ten minutes with, never looked up from his sandwich and didn't ask him one question.
But Chryst said "I've been fired before, I know what it is like and those guys deserve more than a courtesy interview" and I think he also recognizes that a few guys could help with the transition, even though most of them just arrived a few months ago it seems.
After practice later, obviously, I will have a lot more to update on the team and everything and who is going to play and who is out for the game and I'll update a few times each day while I am down here and as we start to figure some things out about the new staff coming in and whatnot.
Here are some other observations:
** This is the third time in Pitt's last five bowl games that the Panthers have had a coaching transition going on.
In 2004-05 Fiesta Bowl, the outgoing coach had already been hired somewhere else (Walt Harris at Stanford) and the new coach (Dave Wannstedt) had already been hired and it was a disaster. The players spent the whole week partying, the practices were a joke as nobody wanted to be there and the game reflected it. They came out, played flat and got smashed. It was pretty clear to me that this team wasn't focused when, well, never mind......Let's just say this - the team tuned Walt out and decided to make it a week of fun in the sun.
Last year, Phil Bennett was the interim coach when Wannstedt, who had been fired, decided not to coach the bowl game and the committee was searching for a coach because the new coach, Michael Haywood, was fired two days before the team left after a domestic dispute gone bad. That team had a completely different attitude than the 2004 team - Bennett made it a referendum on Dave Wannstedt, got the guys to buy in, they rallied around their old coach. They had good practices, the coaches were loose and made it an enjoyable experience for the kids and they went out and played well, especially on defense, and won the game.
So that brings us to this year - Chryst has been hired, Todd Graham took his high octane stuff to Arizona State, and Patterson is the interim coach and it will be interesting to see how he runs things. Will he use it as an audition for another job down the road? Will he treat it as a nuisance as he looks forward to his next job and how will the players, who at this point from what I can tell just want to move forward, treat it?
This will be an interesting group to observe this week and watch how things unfold.
** The "Tom Bradley to Pitt" stuff has once again popped up, mostly in the Twitter world, but also in at least on news outlet. I'm not sure what the fascination with his guy is and why so many people in so many media circles seem so hell bent on getting him a job somewhere, but could we please put this to rest right now. It is not going to happen at Pitt. Period. Not going to happen.
I've been told this numerous times by the right people. The only way I can make anyone believe me is, well, I can't because so many people insist on making him a candidate for every job at Pitt. Here is one thing I never understood - how come in the last coaching search more Pitt people seemed to be pissed off that Bradley - a Penn State guy - did not get a job than Teryl Austin and Sal Sunseri - two Pitt guys who were equally, if not more, qualified - not getting the job? I've never understood that Pitt fans more upset that a Penn State guy got passed for a job than two Pitt guys.....
With regards to Bradley, however, I'll just say this - I've been told emphatically it is not going to happen, period. Among a number of other reasons that I won't go into unless you really want to be bored, here is the biggest one -- Paul Chryst has his own guys that he has worked with before and he is going to choose from one of them. So let's move on, it is not going to happen, it is time to close that book.
** One interesting note - every bowl game I've been involved covering has had the "We're Leaving Town Tomorrow" news conference, the one where TV stations and local media who don't travel get their last chance to get quotes and/or sound from the team and the coach before they go to the bowl city to finish preparing. That did not happen this year and it basically told me a lot about the approach to this game. Basically, I was told that a decision was made it would be best to start the media stuff today in Birmingham instead of yesterday in Pittsburgh. In other words - the school is also weary and ready to move forward quickly.
** Patterson is the guy I feel the worst for and hope he has an opportunity to stay, to be honest. You want to talk about a no-win situation - he was brought here by Graham, his college roommate and good friend, and then Graham blows out the door and leaves him a mess to clean up. And here is the kicker - Patterson was just as surprised as everyone to find out Graham was leaving and he now must move his family again. That's the one thing - a lot of these guys followed Graham here thinking they'd be here for a long time and now must scramble to move again. Some people look at Patterson, because of his relationship with Graham, as not being genuine, but I can tell you he is.
I know I am in the minority when I say, I had no issues with Todd Graham, he was always very good and very gracious to me and so I wish him no ill will. I don't like how he left and don't think he was particularly honest about a number of things since he left, but all I can go by is how he treated me and he always treated me good. That being said, Patterson is one of the best guys I've met in this business. I really do hope he, along with all the guys - even the ones I don't particularly like - land on their feet. But Patterson has always been a very down to earth, humble guy and for his sake, I hope the Panthers play well and he's able to get another job somewhere, if not here. Obviously, Arizona State is probably a place for him to land but I get the sense he will look into some other things as well.
** If you watch the Rose Bowl you got a chance to see what an offense run by Paul Chryst will look like and you had to be impressed. Obviously, having Russell Wilson, Montee Ball and that offensive line makes play calling easier but the key to me is, how is the offense structured. I think what we learned this year is this - the spread offense is only good if you have the players - particularly at quarterback - to run it. If you don't, the offense stinks and has no chance of being successful.
I remember a few years ago I asked Frank Cignetti why he runs the "pro-style" offense when the spread seems to what everyone is turning to and he said it was simple - the pro-style offense is structured in a way that it protects every player's flaws and doesn't leave any one player - be it a lineman, a receiver or quarterback - hanging out to dry. I didn't know what he meant then - I do now.
Watching the spread up close this year - when it didn't work because the players couldn't execute it, there really was no remedy. The adjustments were "Tino, go play better" as opposed to, let's do some things different to hide his flaws and emphasize some other things. If you look at Rutgers - last year the offense was a spread and it was disaster. This year, it had the same bad quarterbacks to try and work with but it was able to be efficient in the pro-style offense because the quarterbacks weren't asked to carry the load, there were ways to hide the quarterback deficiencies.
I like the spread offense but it is clear to me that offense is so dependent on having players that unless you can recruit the best of the best every year, you probably are better off with a pro-style guy like Chryst, who will adapt what he does to his players. That means, we will see tight ends and fullbacks helping out the tackles and we will see the run game emphasized again - and that should help Tino Sunseri because he will be able to use some of the play-action stuff to make some easier throws.