Pitt expected to hire Chryst for football job

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The University of Pittsburgh is expected to name Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst as head football coach today, bringing to an end its third coaching search in one year.

Mr. Chryst, 46, who will be the sixth person to carry the title "Pitt head football coach" in the past 12 months, will replace Todd Graham, who resigned eight days ago to take a similar job at Arizona State University.

Mr. Chryst is expected to be in Pittsburgh today to finalize the details of the deal and sign his contract. If all goes as planned he could be introduced at a news conference late this afternoon.

The other finalist for the job was Florida International University coach Mario Cristobal, but he spent Wednesday negotiating with that school on a raise, a contract extension and some assurances of facility upgrades, according to the Miami Herald.

Mr. Cristobal was considered the leading candidate for the job after the interview process began but there were enough questions among certain search committee members about his interest in the job and whether he would leave Miami, where he was born and raised and lived most of his life, for the committee to turn its attention to Mr. Chryst.

Mr. Chryst has been the Badgers offensive coordinator for the past six seasons and his offenses have generally been among the best in the Big Ten Conference. He was named the co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach in 2005.

In his first five seasons as offensive coordinator, the Badgers have averaged 31.9 points and 408.6 yards per game.

And this year was the best year for the offense under Mr. Chryst as the Badgers averaged 44.6 points and 467 total yards per game. The Badgers also averaged 237.4 yards per game rushing and featured one of the best tailbacks in the nation, Montee Ball, who averaged 135 yards rushing per game and scored 32 rushing touchdowns.

But perhaps the most impressive attribute Mr. Chryst brings to the table as a coach is his adaptability and his ingenuity, according to those who know him, and that was on display with the Badgers passing game, which he tailored to the talents of senior quarterback Russell Wilson, who transferred to Wisconsin before this season.

Mr. Wilson, who is a mobile quarterback, thrived as the Badgers, traditionally a power running team, took advantage of his talents. He completed 206 of 284 passes for 2,879 yards, 31 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

The 44.6 points per game average broke the school record, which was held by last year's Badgers team -- also under the direction of Mr. Chryst -- as that unit averaged 41.5 points per game.

Those are the only two years that Wisconsin has averaged more than 40 points per game, and both years were with Mr. Chryst at the helm with two extremely different types of quarterbacks.

Mr. Chryst's ability as a coach was not in question, though he has never been a head coach, and that is the reason he was so high on Pitt's wish list to begin with.

But he is described as a low-key man who doesn't have a dynamic personality, and that is one reason he has not been able to land a head coach position despite having several interviews over the past few years.

In fact, Mr. Chryst interviewed with Pitt's search committee last year during the process that led to the hiring of Mr. Graham, and his interview was described as "underwhelming" by those with knowledge of it.

This time, however, with another year under his belt and some more seasoning, he, according to one source, aced the interview and really won the committee over with his performance -- especially since they were able to compare it to his performance in January.

The committee was unanimous in its support of Mr. Chryst coming out of the weekend and on Wednesday made the decision to offer him the job.

There is no word yet on what Mr. Chryst's staff might look like, but several Wisconsin assistants have Pittsburgh ties and that would make them likely candidates to join Mr. Chryst.

Wisconsin's tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Joe Rudolph is from Belle Vernon, and though he played at Wisconsin, he is responsible for heading up the Badgers recruiting efforts in Western Pennsylvania and would be an obvious choice to give the new staff a good start on recruiting locally.

Also, co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge was an assistant at Pitt under both Walt Harris and Dave Wannstedt and is an excellent recruiter with a lot of ties in Florida, where Pitt has traditionally recruited heavily.

Mr. Partridge was at Pitt for a total of five seasons and coached the defensive line and linebackers. He left for Wisconsin in 2008 and still has many ties in local recruiting as well.

Also, the Badger strength coach, Ben Herbert, is a West Allegheny graduate and still has family here in Pittsburgh.

Mr. Chryst's deal is expected to be for five years.

Once Mr. Chryst is signed and announced, he will join Mr. Wannstedt, Phil Bennett, Michael Haywood, Mr. Graham and current interim coach Keith Patterson in the fraternity of men who have held the Pitt head coaching title over the past 12 months.

Mr. Wannstedt was fired last December but remained coach until he officially resigned a week before the BBVA Compass Bowl in January.

He was followed by Mr. Bennett, the interim coach, then Mr. Haywood, who held the job for less than three weeks before he was arrested in a domestic incident and subsequently fired. He was followed by Mr. Graham and then Mr. Patterson.

School officials believe Mr. Chryst, who hails from Wisconsin and a three-time letter winner with the Badgers, will provide stability for the Pitt football program.

He and his wife Robin have three children.

Prior to going to Wisconsin, Mr. Chryst spent time as an assistant with the San Diego Chargers, Oregon State (1997-98), the Saskatchewan Roughriders (1996), Illinois State (1995), the Ottawa Rough Riders (1994), UW-Platteville (1993) and the San Antonio Riders (1991-92). He also worked as a graduate assistant at West Virginia (1989-90).

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com or twitter @paulzeise First Published December 22, 2011 5:00 AM


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