I've never made this blog or anything I have written about me or my family as reporters are never the story, but allow me to for just one day make it about me and once you read on, you will see why it has to be....
Tuesday was one of the happiest days of my life and one of my proudest moments as a father.
That was the day my son, Elijah, and I walked into Paul Chryst's office and Chryst offered Elijah a scholarship to play football at Pitt.
Elijah is a junior at North Allegheny high school - affectionately known as "The U" by many -- and he plays corner and receiver, though at 6-foot-2 and growing I suspect he will be something different by the time he gets to college.
He's an excellent student and a good player, a lot of people are very high on him, they like his athleticism, his work ethic, his size, the fact that he is also an excellent basketball player and that speaks to his athletic ability (though he will never be able to beat his old man in a game of one-on-one). He earned the opportunity to be a starter as a sophomore - which isn't easy to do at a huge school with a great program like NA - and was honorable mention all conference in a strong conference, so his football career got off to a good start.
But as many of you probably could figure out his toughest critic is his dad and I know Elijah often loathes our talks after games because I always make sure to tell him everything he needed to do better and the plays he missed his assignments on, what he needs to work on.
One day after a 7-on-7 competition, he dropped a pass I thought he should of caught and he was met with the phrase "Catch the Ball" on the dry erase board on his door - courtesy of me. It is still there.
I'll let his stepmom, his mom and his grandparents and friends tell him how good he played, but what can I say, I'm his dad - I was also his first coach -- and it is my job to keep his feet to the fire and keep him grounded, humble and hungry.
That's just what dads do.
But I'm also a football writer and it has been my job to critique players for the past 14 years and so I'm not easily impressed as I've had the opportunity to cover and watch some of the best players in the country year in and year out and I've seen what they've done to get there, seen what it takes and seen what a true star looks like both on the field and on the practice field when nobody is watching.
And that brings me to my next point about Tuesday - while it was a day of great jubilation for me it was also bittersweet because I knew it meant I would have to move away from the Pitt football beat during Elijah's recruiting process.
There are far too many reasons why I can't stay on this beat to go into and smart people understand the potential for conflicts of interest, the appearance of impropriety and the fact that it is a tough spot to put anyone in to cover a team that is actively recruiting his son.
I don't need to go into detail but in a nutshell, for me to stay on this beat, at least for now, would not be fair to Paul Chryst and his staff, it would not be fair to the Post-Gazette, it would not be fair to other coaches who may want to recruit him, it would not be fair to me and most importantly in all of this, it would not be fair to Elijah.
This is his time, and that means it is my time to step aside.
Every word I'd write would be scrutinized by someone "he's just taking care of Chryst" or "he's not giving this kid enough credit cause he plays the same position as his son" or "being soft on Pitt cause they are recruiting his son" and that just isn't a good situation for anyone involved. It wouldn't be easy, it could be awkward and then it becomes personal and we're not in the business of personal.
We are a newspaper, we cover news, we want to be objective observers and shy away from conflicts of interest for our credibility's sake.
Plus, other teams are interested in him -- who knows what will happen but I would think, based on conversations I've had with coaches that other teams will offer him opportunities -- and it is important for him that any coach who is interested in him knows that the process of recruiting him is a fair one, that I'm not in Pitt's football offices every day writing stories about the team and talking to their coaches.
I want him to have as many opportunities as possible and that's probably only going to happen if (a) I'm just a dad and not a beat reporter for a major college program, especially one that is recruiting him and (b) I'm free on Saturday's in the fall to take him to other campuses to watch games and meet with coaches and get a chance to make an informed decision.
So Sept. 1st when Pitt plays Youngstown State at Heinz Field for the opener, I won't be in the press box, instead I will be at my cousins wedding and spending time with my family.
It will be the first time since Pitt beat UAB, 24-6, on Dec. 1st, 2001 that Pitt will play a game at Heinz Field and I won't be in the press box to cover it. That's a span of 66 home games, which is a lot of games and a long streak by any measure.
In 2002, I took over the beat from Shelly Anderson but she handled the road games that year so the Insight Bowl - the 38-13 destruction of Oregon State -- the one where Larry Fitzgerald made that ridiculous diving catch into the endzone and Shawn Robinson sealed with a 66-yard punt return for a touchdown-- that was the last time Pitt played a football game anywhere without me sitting in the press box to cover it.
That's a streak of 112 games - and I think only director of football operations Chris LaSala, sports information director E.J. Borghetti and equipment manager Tim Enright - affectionately known as Ox around here - can claim longer streaks than that.
Over those years I've seen it all - some great football (Larry Fitzgerald, LeSean McCoy, Gerald Hayes, Darrelle Revis, Tyler Palko and the list goes on) some bad football (at Toledo and at Ohio, 3-0 in El Paso, the Virginia game in 2007 which began with a very bad play by Pitt and went way downhill from there, that abysmal Birmingham Bowl against SMU earlier this year) and some weird football (high octane, the swinging gate, the slide play, some poorly timed trick plays, six head coachs in 13 months).
I've covered seven different head coaches (Walt Harris, Dave Wannstedt, Phil Bennett, Michael Haywood, Todd Graham, Keith Patterson and now Paul Chryst) and all seven of them, including Todd Graham, by the way as I had a very good relationship with him, were nothing but good to me, though my dealings with Haywood were obviously very brief as he, well, no reason to go through all that....
I covered the story when athletic director Steve Pederson left for Nebraska in 2002 - as well as the story when he returned as the athletic director the day before Pitt upset West Virginia, 13-9, in 2007.
I've watched the Big East crumble, rebuild itself and crumble again and Pitt move from Madison Square Garden (Big East) to whatever-the-heck-it-is-called-arena in Greensboro, North Carolina (ACC).
I've also covered hundreds of players and watched as many of them have matured and some I still keep in contact with and outside of a few - and I'd say count them on less than one hand, OK, maybe two - they have all been very gracious and good to deal with as well.
So while this chapter of my professional life is coming to an end, at least for now (though, I am quite sure Chryst and company are hoping it is coming to an end permanently because that would mean Elijah picked Pitt......), I have nothing but fond memories of my 11 years on the beat, even in all of the bad and tough times - and believe me, covering Pitt there have been plenty - I still had one of the best jobs in the country as a college football beat reporter and I never took that for granted nor did I ever not give it my best effort and for that I can be proud.
As for what is next for me....
Well again, I don't know because this is a temporary situation and a unique situation that won't be resolved until Elijah picks his school and then we can see what makes the most sense.
I will help out with our Pirates coverage as there is a pennant race going on games are starting to get really important, I'm sure there will be some times I'll need to help with some Steelers stuff and some college basketball stuff and maybe have some projects to work on. And who knows, maybe since it is an election year I'll have a conversation with the big boss, David Shribman, about me helping out in some way with our political coverage for a month as I some day, after my kids are grown and out of the house, would love to move into that world of covering politics.
One project I'll tease you with that I will definitely work on is a story (or perhaps series) that one of my sports editors, Donna Eyring, has encouraged me to write is about the day that I met my mother and father - you see I'm adopted and for the first 39 years of my life had no idea who my birth mother or birth father were but through the hard work of my wife, LeeAnn, and, of all things, Facebook,we found them a few years ago and since then it has been one of the most wonderful times of my life.
This is a story -adopted kids finding their families - that doesn't always have a happy ending as there are so many issues that come into play, but mine does and it has been a beautiful time in my life.
In fact, the best present I got on my 40th birthday was a visit from both my birth mom, Mary Jo, and dad, Ed, at the same time and we spent the entire day together and talked and they reminisced - after nearly 40 years - about how they met and how long they dated -- cool stuff for me as it helped me fill in a lot of blanks.
I've never had time to sit and write it the right way, but now that I have whet your appetite with it you will have to just stay tuned and watch for the whole story some day as now I'll have time to actually sit and write the story the way it needs to be written - with the hope that it will encourage other adoptive parents to and adopted children to reunite and know that it can work.
In short, I'm not going anywhere, I'll be around and nothing is really changing -- you'll still hear me on the 93.7 The Fan and see me on KDKA-TV and the CW and I'll probably be yelling at someone cause that's what I do -- and there are plenty of possibilities and opportunities for me to help out around here for a while but I just need to take a step back and focus on trying to help Elijah make an informed decision.
As for the Pitt beat, I have baby sat it here for a few days since Tuesday until we came up with a plan since this was so sudden and that plan is that my colleague Sam Werner will take over the beat for this year and he will be assisted by Ray Fittipaldo, who many of you know from his fine coverage of Pitt's basketball team. You can and should follow Sam on Twitter at @swernerPG and Ray at @rayfitt1 for your Pitt news for this year and I'll of course also help them both in the background in any way I can.
Sam will get the Pitt football blog back up and running Monday after the Panthers next practice and he and Ray will continue to update it as the season goes on.
Oh yeah, there was a scrimmage today but frankly, this being my last day, it wasn't really primary on my mind as I reflected mostly on the hours I've invested over the years on these sidelines at the SouthSide Facility.
I'll just say this and Sam can pick this up on Monday and tell you much more about the team as he observes it - the best tailback on the team right now is Isaac Bennett, the defense is shaping into form, especially up front, you are gonna love freshman Bam Bradley who is one of the biggest hitters I've seen come through in a while and LaFayette Pitts is really, really good.
This team has a chance to be OK, they can't get injured as there are depth concerns every where and the quarterback has to play better than he did last year but the pieces are there and this is a good coaching staff who is trying to adapt to the player's strengths almost daily so they will be in a position to succeed.
I would be remiss if I didn't say thanks to all of you - the Pitt fans and Post-Gazette readers (who, aren't rid of me yet) - who have made this so enjoyable through the years for all of the support and all of the kind words and words of encouragement.
And on some select Saturdays (or Thursdays or Wednesdays....) you'll see me at Heinz Field, though I won't be in the press box other than to say hello EJ and give him a hard time, rather, I'll be in the stands with Elijah watching the game and just being a dad because that, at the end of the day, is the most important job I have to do.