Wisconsin takes high road on Pitt's Chryst

Athletic director lobbied Panthers to hire football coach last year


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Something unusual happened Thursday in Madison, Wis.

A college athletics administrator made a decision, not based on money or prestige, but on loyalty and values.

University of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez made a choice this week based on nothing more than what he thought was right.

At a news conference to discuss his school's vacant football head coaching position, Mr. Alvarez said that University of Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst will not be returning to coach at Wisconsin. Mr. Chryst, a Wisconsin alumnus and Madison native, was considered a front-runner for the job at a school where he served as an assistant in 2002 and from 2005-11.

"I wouldn't think it would be right for him to leave after one year [at Pitt]," Mr. Alvarez said. "I wouldn't feel right, and I don't think it would be appropriate for me to hire him back after I asked someone to do me a favor and help him get that job. So Paul's going to stay at Pitt."

Mr. Alvarez, a Burgettstown native, said he asked some very good friends of his to help Mr. Chryst get the job at Pitt in December 2011 and he thinks Mr. Chryst should honor the commitment he pledged to Pitt in a statement earlier this week.

Mr. Chryst issued a statement Tuesday saying he was "committed to the Pitt football program and the University of Pittsburgh." At a news conference Thursday in Birmingham, Ala., scheduled in advance of Pitt's participation in the BBVA Compass Bowl next month, he said he wasn't aware of Mr. Alvarez's comments but appreciated any positive words from his former employer.

Given the nature of uncertainty in coaching searches, Mr. Chryst's name might still be mentioned until the ink is dry on someone else's contract at Wisconsin. But virtually every sign points strongly toward him staying at Pitt.

Mr. Alvarez's and Mr. Chryst's emphasis on commitment and ethics is unusual in a college sports landscape that has seen universities break 50-year-old conference ties for a few extra million dollars in TV revenue or coaches who issue statements of commitment only to leave for a "dream job" a few days or weeks later.

The notion that hiring a coach away after one year at a program "wouldn't be right" also is refreshing for Pitt, which just last year lost a coach after one season on the job.

Todd Graham left Pitt last season, after just a year at the helm, for the head coaching job at Arizona State. He announced his departure to players in a text message, and many players said they felt Mr. Graham lied to them about his intentions.

Former Pitt player Chas Alecxih, a senior on the 2011 Panthers team, said Mr. Graham told the team a week and a half before he left that he was "in it for the long run."

"This guy comes in talking for 11 months about character, integrity, discipline, and then doesn't even have a meeting to tell us he's leaving," Mr. Alecxih said.

Mr. Graham's departure was just the latest turn in Pitt's coaching tumult. Dave Wannstedt was forced to resign after the 2010 season, and Pitt hired Miami (Ohio) coach Mike Haywood as his replacement. He was fired just 21/2 weeks later after being charged with domestic battery. The charges were later dismissed. Mr. Graham was hired in January 2011 and left for Arizona State 11 months later.

Mr. Chryst was hired to provide stability to a program desperately in need of it, and sticking around this offseason might be one of the biggest statements he could make.

"I think that shows unbelievable commitment on his part to want to actually stay there and just recognize that the program has kind of been through hell these last few years," Mr. Alecxih said. "To kind of get some stability and not put the guys that are going to be seniors next year through that again, I'll tell you what, that makes me so happy."

Audrey J. Murrell, director of Pitt's David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership, said the decision-making of the leadership at the top serves as a model for the organization as a whole. For college coaches dealing with 18- to 22-year-old players, their decisions can have a profound impact.

"The leadership sets the tone for the organization," Ms. Murrell said. "They really are the model for what the organization stands for in terms of its principles, in terms of its codes, in terms of what the mission and the vision of the organization are.

"If [leaders] say one thing and do another, that can sometimes undermine the effectiveness of what we're trying to do in terms of ethical policies or codes."

Mr. Chryst said his statement Tuesday was meant to show his players and future recruits that he was at Pitt for the long haul.

"You know what the kids went through," he said. "I'm appreciative of where I'm at, that's the thing."

pittsports

Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG. Drew Champlin of the Birmingham News contributed to this report. First Published December 7, 2012 5:00 AM


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