Recent stories of CIA torture make it hard to criticize other countries for their own human rights violations. We are still better than places like Pakistan and Afghanistan ... but sometimes it feels a little too similar.
MADISON, Wis. — As I'm sure many of you know, there's more significant news in Pitt's athletic department tonight, with the removal of Steve Pederson from the post of athletic director. But here are a few Pitt-related notes from Paul Chryst's introductory press conference here in Madison this evening...
- Chryst said that, while he was excited to take the head coaching position at his alma mater, it was a bittersweet moment because of the relationships he had developed with Pitt's players. Chryst spoke often about the players being "why you coach" and he reiterated that point again tonight. He said that this afternoon he got a text from one Pitt player referencing how Chryst spoke often about seizing opportunity and what a great opportunity this was for him. "Couldn’t be happier for you," the player wrote.
In general, player reactions were pretty much uniformly positive, a stark contrast to three years ago when Todd Graham's sudden departure caused confusion and anger amongst the players.
"It was also hard because of the players at the University of Pittsburgh, and that's why we do this," Chryst said. "They will always be special and it was pretty neat how they understood. You knew you had the right kind of guys."
- Chryst laid out a more clear timeline for how this came about Wednesday night, too. He said he was first contacted by Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez Wednesday when he was out recruiting (as he put it, he thought he butt-dialed Alvarez at first). Alvarez told him Wisconsin was likely going to have to make a change and he was interested in meeting with Chryst about it. Chryst didn't have a firm offer until today, but it seemed pretty clear which direction it was going. Chryst flew back to Wisconsin Tuesday and formally accepted the job Wednesday.
While he didn't get a chance to tell the Pitt players in person that he was leaving for certain, he said he felt like they all knew what was going to happen when he met with them after practice to tell them he was going to Madison to discuss the job.
- The last week has been a bit of an awkward situation for Chryst, as he has gone about coaching Pitt practices and representing the team at an Armed Forces Bowl press conference. He said his philosophy in navigating the last few days was just to be as honest and transparent with his players as possible.
"I think it was helpful for me, looking back, that I was able to talk to coach Alvarez early in it, so I could tell the players exactly what was happening," Chryst said. "Then we had bowl practice, we had recruiting weekend. [It was the] same thing with recruits. [I told them,] "This is exactly what's happening."
- As far as assembling a staff goes, Chryst said he plans to meet with the current Badgers' staff tomorrow and begin the process then. Chryst is expected to bring Pitt defensive coordinator Matt House with him (though not in that capacity), according to multiple reports. The name that's of the most consequence to Pitt fans is offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph, who will also serve as the team's interim coach in the bowl game. Rudolph has also been reported to be following Chryst to Wisconsin, but he was also a candidate for the Pitt job, though it's unclear how Pederson's departure affects that search.
- I asked Chryst what kind of push Pitt made to try and keep him, and it sounds like, while the university did make an effort, it ultimately came down to the fact that he was going home.
"There are a ton of people that care a lot about that [Pitt] program," Chryst said. "Those players and people around it, there's some special people there."
- As for Pederson, Chryst said he did not know Pitt had made a change, and declined to comment on the situation.
- In general, it's worth noting how happy and at ease Chryst seemed tonight. He got to crack inside jokes about Madison, tell stories about his upbringing here and talk about re-connecting with his old friend Wisconsin basketball coach Bo Ryan. He got choked up when asked what his dad — a Madison native and longtime Wisconsin-Platteville coach who died in 1992 — would think about this day, noting "I think he’d be proud."
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The PIAA had appeal hearings today with two boys basketball players who had transferred to Lincoln Park in the past year.
The PIAA upheld the WPIAL on both cases. Nick Aloi was ruled ineligible to play at Lincoln Park until Jan. 21. Aloi transferred from Ellwood City to Lincoln Park on Jan. 21 of this year and the WPIAL ruled the move was at least partly for athletic reasons.
When Aloi first had a hearing with the WPIAL in April of this year, he and his parents claimed he switched to Lincoln Park, a charter school, to better himself academically to become a doctor, like his parents.
Lincoln Park had become a basketball power in Class A and moved up to Class AA this season. While Aloi will miss more than a dozen games, he will still be able to play the final six, as well as the playoffs. Aloi is a junior guard who averaged 15 points a game two years ago as a freshman at Ellwood City. Aloi missed his sophomore season because of a knee injury. Ellwood City was 7-37 the past two seasons.
The PIAA also ruled Jihad Cromer ineligible to play at Lincoln Park this season for allegedly transferring from Sto-Rox at least partly for athletic reasons. At a WPIAL hearing in November, Cromer's mother said her son transferred for academic reasons. But at the hearing, Sto-Rox officials said Cromer's mother never showed much interest in her son's academics while he attended Sto-Rox.
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With Paul Chryst set to be named Wisconsin's next head coach this evening, Pitt is about to undertake its fourth coaching search in the last five years. While the university officials were holding out hope over the past week that Chryst would reconsider, they have also been preparing what has been a poorly-kept secret basically since Gary Andersen left Wisconsin for Oregon State.
While Steve Pederson wasn't technically lying when he said last week that Pitt hadn't reached out to any potential candidates, Pitt has been using back channels to at least gauge the interest of a few possible replacements. Obviously, once Chryst is officially hired at Wisconsin, that contact will ramp up.
A source told the Post-Gazette that Pitt has reached out to at least three candidates over the last few days, including former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano and Marshall coach Doc Holliday.
I'm sure plenty of other names will pop up over the next few days, but it looks like this is at least where Pitt is starting the search.
I, for one, am pretty interested to see what direction Pitt goes this time around. It seems like, given the names they've reached out to so far, that the Panthers are starting with coaches that have head coaching experience. There are certainly coordinators out there ready to make the leap — Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is the first one that comes to mind — but Pitt spent the last three years with a first-time head coach learning on the job a little bit. Even for the best coordinators, there's a bit of a learning curve when it comes to things like game management and building a coaching staff.
Given the talent Pitt has coming back next year — as well as the fact that they can't necessarily count on Tyler Boyd and James Conner being there beyond 2015 — it seems like the Panthers would be best served going after a coach that's ready to win now.
The one exception to that general rule could be offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph, who I'm hearing is still a candidate for the job, and is being encouraged to apply by people within the program. If Rudolph takes over, he may not have the resume of some other candidates, but he would ensure a virtually seamless transition. It'll be interesting to see what Pitt values in this hire.
One other factor that I've seen thrown around is the idea that Pitt should go after a guy that's going to be here for the long haul. There's value to that idea (Wisconsin obviously thinks so) but I really think Pitt needs to focus on getting the best coach available, regardless of his background or roots. Pitt is a stepping-stone job for coaches right now, there's no getting around that, but being a stepping stone isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Look at Cincinnati, for instance, which has been the definition of a stepping stone job since 2004, and yet has still won 10 or more games five times over that stretch. That's because the Bearcats absolutely nailed their hires in Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly and Butch Jones.
The other side of the "stepping stone" argument is that all jobs are stepping stones...until they aren't. Think back five years ago. Michigan State was a stepping stone job then. TCU was a stepping stone job then. Baylor wasn't even a stepping stone job then. If Pitt gets a coach in that wins big, there's no reason he can't or won't stay.
Coaching stability is about luck just as much as it is anything else. I truly believe Chryst would not have left Pitt for many — if any — other jobs. Pitt just happened to get unlucky that the Badgers targeted Chryst at this time. If a big name school had gone after Dantonio, for instance, three years ago, Michigan State would still be considered a stepping stone job. But the Spartans got a little bit lucky that no one did, and now they're perennial Big Ten contenders with Dantonio seemingly locked up for the long haul.
Things will likely kick into higher gear for Pitt tonight once Chryst is officially named Wisconsin's head coach. I'd expect Pederson to hold a press conference at some point over the next couple of days, and we'll have updates here as things develop. Also, if you don't already, this is the time to follow me on Twitter @SWernerPG.
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You weren't the one the only one surprised by the three-year, $8.75 million contract Deryk Engelland got from the Flames this past offseason.
Engelland was too.
"I was in shock," Engelland admitted prior to Friday's 3-1 loss for the Flames at Consol Energy Center, his first game in Pittsburgh since leaving the Penguins as a free agent in July.
Given Engelland's reputation for being more accomplished as a fighter than anything else related to his hockey career, the shock at such a considerable financial commitment by the Flames was understandable.
Things haven't gone entirely smoothly for Engelland in Calgary as he's been a healthy scratch occasionally this season. In 27 games this season, he has two assists and a team-leading 40 penalty minutes. But his team has been one of the NHL's biggest surprises. Few expected the Flames to be playoff contenders yet they are are in fifth place of the Pacific Division with a 17-14-2 record two and a half months into the season.
Friday, Engelland talked about joining the Flames, his contract and his time with the Penguins.
Is your role with the Flames similar to what you had with the Penguins?
"Yeah, it's not much different. It's kind of [being a] physical, defensive defenseman. Just try to make simple plays and clear the front of net. Be physical on [opponents]. Basically about the same."
Did you expect the Flames to be this successful this early?
"Going in, you knew it was a young team kind of in the midst of a rebuild. If you said at the beginning of the year, we would be 17-12-2 [prior to Friday's game], I would have taken that right from the beginning. To see the success that we've had so far, it just goes a long way to show how hard the guys have worked."
What was the offseason like for you given all the turmoil with the Penguins?
It was intense. Up until July 1, you didn't know what was going to happen. I was just kind of patiently waiting. Obviously after signing, it made a lot easier. We found a place right away in Calgary so that made the transition a lot of easier.
What is it like for someone from Edmonton who was a fan of the Oilers to join the rival Flames?
"I was born in Edmonton. I lived in the area a little bit until grade three and then I was in [British Columbia] for most of the time. Growing up, I cheered for the Oilers. We were only eight hours away. In the [1980s], it was tough to not to. I started my career in Calgary in the minors [with the ECHL's Las Vegas Wranglers]. To be able go back there and actually play for them, it's a great opportunity."
When the Penguins signed you to a three-year contract in 2011 worth $566,667 a season, it meant quite a bit to you for the simple fact that it was the first one-way deal in your career. In light of that, what does the three-year contract you signed with the Flames for $2,916,667 a season mean?
"Oh... it means a lot. Security for me and my family. It shows that they were really interested in me obviously. They had a lot of good things to say before the fact of the signing. To be rewarded for that, I was in shock. Still, some days, it's still pretty shocking. It's a lot of hard work and commitment I've put in to change my ways and it's paid off."
How do you assess your time with the Penguins?
"Phenomenal. I have nothing bad to say about this team or this organization. They were good to me for three years in the minors up to four years here [at the NHL level]. It's a great organization. The guys are all great. I've got nothing bad to say about anything here. It was great. Everyone welcomes you and your family in."
With so many changes with the Penguins on and off the ice this past summer, did you have a feeling your time was up in Pittsburgh as the offseason began?
"Yeah, well obviously, I knew it was probably one of my last [multi-year] contracts. I wanted to test the market and see where it was at. Obviously, it's tough to leave here. A great situation here but it was time for me to move on and try something else."
(Photo: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)