Ron Cook: Pitt makes right decision with Rushel Shell


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There is no way Pitt could take back Rushel Shell.

There is no way it should have taken him back.

There is no room for misinterpretation there, right?

It seems Shell knocked on Pitt's door -- or at least inquired about knocking -- to ask to be reinstated to the football program. Coach Paul Chryst made it clear he wasn't going to answer the knock or open the door. It's hard to blame him. Chryst moved on a long time ago, back in April when Shell told him he wanted to transfer. He is not going back now. He can't go back.

Where that leaves Shell, the terrific schoolboy running back from Hopewell, is difficult to say. He appears to be having a hard time deciding what he wants out of his college football career. He reportedly turned down a scholarship offer from Alabama to accept one from then-Pitt coach Todd Graham, instantly becoming one of Pitt's most ballyhooed players. He stayed at Pitt after Graham betrayed him and the rest of the team by bolting for Arizona State after just one season. Shell showed signs of greatness during his freshman season last year under Chryst, a first-year head coach, although he got off to a bad start by getting suspended for the opening game against Youngstown State for violating team rules. But halfway through spring practice this year, he decided Pitt no longer was for him. He finally settled on a transfer to UCLA, which seemed like a long way from home for a 19-year-old who has 16-month-old daughters. Then, during the weekend, news broke that Shell no longer was going to UCLA. Word came that he hoped to return to Pitt.

There is no way Pitt could bring back Shell.

Am I clear on that point?

This isn't about failing to give a kid a second chance. Our country is based on second chances. But Shell got his when he elected to transfer to UCLA. A lot of people tortured him for bailing out on Pitt. I defended him. Kids change their mind all the time. Shell had to do what was right for him even though it looked from the outside as if he were running from his family obligations. I figured he knew what was best for him. So did Chryst, I'm guessing. He wished Shell well and moved on with those players who wanted to be a part of the Pitt program. He had no choice.

In one way, it must have been tempting for Chryst to welcome Shell back. Shell would have been his best running back this fall, although Chryst has said he is eager to see what Isaac Bennett and Malcolm Crockett can do in bigger roles. But Shell's talent isn't the issue here. His skill is beyond dispute. What's important is the team, the other players who stuck with Chryst through the long, grueling spring workouts that have continued into the summer. He has to be able to look them in the eye. He has to do what is right for them.

Even before Shell decided to transfer, his commitment to the Pitt program was questioned. His work ethic wasn't good, at least not good enough for his coaches. There were whispers he was going to face more discipline if he had stayed. That's why Chryst didn't seem especially upset about losing Shell. It was as if he decided any short-term pain would be secondary to the long-term good of the program. Remember, Chryst has said he plans on being at Pitt for the long haul. He has said many times that he wants to build a program, not just a team. There is a significant difference between the two.

Maybe Shell has matured since April. Maybe he has a better grip on his family responsibilities. Maybe he would be a better teammate from now on. But, apparently, none of that mattered to Chryst. Nor should it have mattered. Chryst can't make his decisions based on the whims of one player. What if Shell changed his mind again in October? Or next April?

Chryst is absolutely right to leave the door closed for Shell.

No player can be bigger than the team, not even a star player.

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Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published June 25, 2013 4:00 AM


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