Two weeks ago, almost as soon as former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema left the Badgers for Arkansas, Pitt coach Paul Chryst was rumored to be a leading candidate for the Wisconsin job.
Chryst said he understood why his name was mentioned and that there was much more speculation than actual substance.
"Every year you go through that and it's a natural part of the profession," Chryst said Friday.
Chryst grew up in Madison, Wis., and played for the Badgers from 1986-88. He also served as an assistant coach there for eight years, including a seven-year stint as the team's offense coordinator from 2005-11.
He released a statement the day the Wisconsin job opened, affirming his commitment to Pitt. He re-iterated that sentiment Friday.
"I feel fortunate to be here and I like what we're doing and I love doing it with the guys that we're doing it with," Chryst said. "That's a pretty good feeling."
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who Chryst worked with during his time with the Badgers, said last week that he would not pursue Chryst.
Pitt redshirt sophomore T.J. Clemmings admitted he was nervous when he heard speculation about Chryst leaving for Wisconsin.
Like many of the current Panthers, Clemmings already has experienced three coaching changes since the 2010 season.
"We don't know much about that but we were just hoping that it wouldn't be another coach again," Clemmings said. We don't know, but guys were a little bit worried. I was a little bit worried."
Clemmings said Chryst addressed the team when his name came up but didn't get into too many details.
Since Pitt wrapped up its regular season Dec. 1 against South Florida, Chryst has split his time between bowl preparation (the Panthers play Jan. 5 in the BBVA Compass Bowl against Mississippi) and hitting the recruiting trail. Multiple recruits said Chryst and the rest of his staff pledged they would be at Pitt next season.
Saturday, Pitt was host to several key recruits, including Clairton wide receiver Tyler Boyd, at its men's basketball game against North Florida. When Petersen Events Center Jumbotron showed Chryst at one of the first timeouts, the crowd gave him a loud ovation.
"That was a little cheesy," Chryst joked.
The extra bowl practices have given the staff a chance to glance to next season and maybe even shift the roster around a bit.
Clemmings, a defensive end, said he has been spending the bowl practices working at offensive tackle and that the move likely will be permanent.
"Coach Chryst, he asked me if it was something I wanted to do. I didn't have to, he said it was no big deal," Clemmings said. "But I went home, thought about it. I thought I'd be pretty good at it, so let's give it a try. The team needed some help on the offensive side anyway, so I'll try and help the guys out."
Clemmings missed three of the past five games due to injury but started six games at defensive end for the Panthers earlier this season. He is currently listed at 6 feet 6 and 285 pounds but said he hopes to get up to around 300 pounds before he plays on the offensive line.
Despite not having played offensive line since high school, Clemmings said it felt like a natural move. That comfort level was part of the reason he wanted to stay at the new position for next season.
"First time I went out there, it didn't feel crazy to me, like, 'Oh, I can't do this, this is too much,'" he said. "I actually felt like I had done it before, but I never have."
In addition to position changes, the bowl practices have been focused on spotlighting some of the younger players who didn't play much this season.
Several of the older players have taken practices off for exams or to rest up, giving other guys a chance to shine.
"We've got a group of guys, the seniors, they've played a long season, and we asked a lot of them," Chryst said.
Though Chryst said he enjoyed watching the younger players get a bit more action, nothing really jumped out over the past few sessions.
"No one's like, 'Where'd this guy come from?'" Chryst said. "It's just been good to see them do it over and over. No one's shocking, but shame on us if someone shocks us."
For many Pitt seniors, the next step after the bowl game will be preparing for pro days and possibly the NFL draft.
Chryst said he and his staff are ready to provide whatever support players need to prepare for the next level.
"Each guy's different, so you just kind of be with them through the process," Chryst said. "You try to do whatever you can for them, whether it's film [or] just making sure a receiver's always got a quarterback."
Chryst said some juniors have submitted paperwork to receive an NFL draft evaluation, though he did not specify which ones. It is standard protocol for players considering leaving early to request an evaluation, even if they intend to return to school.pittsports
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @SWernerPG.