When the Wisconsin's head football coaching job opened up Tuesday afternoon, it appeared that Pitt might once again be heading toward an offseason of coaching upheaval. Almost immediately, Pitt coach Paul Chryst's name appeared as a leading candidate for the vacancy.
But Pitt officials said Wednesday that they are privately optimistic Chryst will stay.
Nothing definitive has been released, and it is still possible Chryst could end up leaving the Panthers for Wisconsin, his alma mater, which is in the city where he was raised.
A quiet man who former colleagues say places a high emphasis on values and honesty, Chryst, 47, was hired to provide stability to a program still reeling from three coaching changes since the end of the 2010 football season -- a situation that, counting interim coaches, put six men at the helm of the Pitt program over the span of 13 months. Chryst was appointed to be the antidote to upheaval -- and if he decides to stay, Pitt football will be on firmer ground than it has been in a decade.
Chryst is aware of the situation he inherited at Pitt. Former head coach Dave Wannstedt was forced out after the 2010 season. The school hired Miami (Ohio) coach Mike Haywood, only to fire him 21/2 weeks later after he was arrested on domestic battery charges. Those charges were eventually dismissed.
Pitt thought it had its man with former Tulsa University head coach Todd Graham, who was hired a few weeks later boasting about his "high-octane" offense. Graham bolted to Arizona State after last season with only a text message to his former players explaining his departure.
At his introductory news conference in December, Chryst called the Pitt head coaching position a "destination job." As recently as Saturday, after Pitt's victory against South Florida, players spoke about how they felt the program was the most stable it had been in years.
"That's huge knowing that coach Chryst is going to be there," quarterback Tino Sunseri said. "I can't say enough about how good a job coach Chryst has done. They've really brought in a coach that I feel is going to win championships here."
For his part, Chryst has made efforts to reassure players and recruits that he won't be going anywhere. He released a statement Tuesday night saying he was "committed to the Pitt football program and the University of Pittsburgh," and the staff has been calling future recruits assuring them that the coaching staff will remain intact.
When he was hired at Pitt last year, Chryst's contract included a "significant" buyout to assuage fears that he could bolt after just a few years. A source confirmed Tuesday that the buyout was in the neighborhood of $6 million, certainly a hefty price tag when compared to the reported $1 million Arkansas had to pay to hire Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin. If Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez ends up deciding Chryst is his guy, though, the buyout is unlikely to get in the way.
Those who know Chryst say he is not a man that would be tempted by money and prestige, but the allure of going home to Madison might be too much to resist. Chryst played for Wisconsin from 1986-88 and was an assistant coach for the Badgers in 2002 and 2005-11.
As of Wednesday night, Pitt officials were privately confident Chryst will be on the sideline at Heinz Field next season, but Panthers fans know all too well that the coaching carousel can make many twists and turns before it ultimately comes to a stop.
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.