Friday, December 16, 2011

Closer look at some of the more possible coaching options

Here is more info on some of the names that we know Pitt has contacted either this time or last year.  For now, I'm only going with these names because I'm assuming for now that Rhoads and Cristobal are the two guys they would most be interested in.  If neither one of them is the pick then I would be a little surprised at this time, and probably a little worried, too.  I don't see them hiring Mark Stoops, Ron Zook, Dave Doeren, K.C. Wheeler, or many of the other names I've heard.  And I would be very surprised if they went for Luke Fickell or Paul Chryst, too.

Paul Rhoads
Iowa State head coach
Hometown: Ankeny, IA
Alma mater:  Missouri Western
Age: 44
Salary:  $1,150,000

On offense, he has run the spread offense for the last three years after hiring young, promising then 32-year old Tom Herman away from Rice.  With Herman they have finished 73rd, 99th, and 55th in total yards against very tough schedules, but Herman was hired as offensive coordinator and quarterback coach by Urban Meyer at Ohio State about a week ago.

On defense, Rhoads employs the same 4-3 bend but don't break philosophy that sometimes drove Pitt fans crazy.  His defensive coordinator is Wally Burnham who is 69 years old (yes, 69).  Burnham has had a very good career and was also the DC at South Florida and South Carolina so he's no slouch, but at 69 you would have to wonder if he wouldn't want to just hang up his whistle.  Iowa State's defenses in  the three years that Rhoads and Burnham were together were ranked 99th, 87th, and 99th again in total defense.  By the way, Burnham's son, Shane, is also on the staff and coaches defensive tackles.

As for the rest of the staff, offensive line/assistant head coach Bill Bleil was the offensive tackle/tight ends coach during Walt Harris's last season at Pitt, and of course Curtis Bray, who is currently the defensive line coach at Iowa State, was a linebacker at Pitt and also coached for the Panthers.

His players love him to death and he is extremely passionate.  He runs up and down the sidelines, pumps his fists, and fights like hell for his players on and off the field.  Most importantly, however, is that he is very classy and stable, something Pitt desperately needs at this time.  When all is said and done, he is the safest pick, and he will make the university proud.  But I have my doubts that he will make Pitt a power, and that's supposedly the reason the administration fires every coach that wins 8 or 9 games.  If a stable well liked coach who will win you 8 or 9 games is what Pitt wanted they could have saved us all a lot of trouble and just kept Dave Wannstedt.

Paul Chryst
Wisconsin offensive coordinator
Hometown:  Madison, WI
Alma mater:  Wisconsin
Age: 46
Salary:  $405,000 

Chryst (rhymes with missed) is considered one of the best coordinators in the country and his track record speaks for itself.  Not only has he succeeded at a high level as a college coordinator, he has also coached in the NFL, Division III, the CFL, and even the World League.  He's been the coordinator at Wisconsin since 2005 and his total offenses nationally in that time were 45th, 35th, 46th, 37th, 30th, 21st, and 15th.

Chryst's rushing offenses in his seven seasons at Wisconsin nationally ranked 37th, 37th, 21st, 14th, 15th, 12th, and 10th.  His passing offenses ranked 50th, 50th, 72nd, 84th, 66th, 75th, and 63rd.  Obviously at Wisconsin it's all about the running game and Chryst has said that he would rather have an offense that was good at a few things rather one that was average in a lot of things, and clearly running the ball is one of the things his offenses are good at.  In fact, in 2010 Wisconsin incredibly came within 4 yards of being the only team in Division 1 history with three 1,000 yard rushers.  Yet his teams routinely score over 40 ppg including 44.6 ppg this season, good for fourth nationally.

Before Wisconsin, Chryst was the offensive coordinator at Oregon State for two seasons under Mike Riley.  There his offense finished 10th and 54th.  In his first season as a coordinator, the Beavers also finished 6th in passing yards and became the first team in Division 1 history to have a 4,000 yard passer, two 1,000 yard receivers, and a 1,500 yard rusher.

Even though Chryst is a Wisconsin man, and even grew up in Madison, he desperately wants to be a head coach and will leave his alma mater to do it.  He interviewed at Pitt and Minnesota last year, and he already interviewed at Illinois and Kansas this year.  And that's where you can see the problem.

Chryst's resume screams great head coach candidate but there are red flags that should doom him at Pitt as much as he was doomed at those other interviews.  And that's Chryst's personality.  To be blunt, he doesn't have much of one.  More than anything, head coaches at this high level have to be leaders and it's no secret that almost every great college coach also has to have great charisma so that his players, the boosters, and the fans will believe in the team.  There have actually been head coaches over the years who have lost their job mainly because they weren't good shmoozers on the banquet circuit.  For coordinators, all you need to know is the x's and the o's.  As the head coach, you have to have an extra something about you, and Chryst can't even muster up enough charisma to seal the deal at an interview with some mediocre programs.  That lack of charisma also shows up in another one of his major weaknesses- he doesn't like to recruit and by all accounts from Wisconsin observers, he's not that good at it.

Mario Cristobal
Florida International head coach
Hometown: Miami, FL
Alma mater:  Miami
Age:  41
Salary:  $453,000

One of the fastest rising young head coaches in the country.  Tight End/Offensive Line coach at Rutgers and Miami before becoming head coach and as a Hurricanes offensive tackle he was a four year letter winner and was on two national championship teams.

His five year record at FIU is 24-37 but looks can be deceiving.  He was 7-6 last season and is 8-4 this season, and when he took the job FIU was probably the worst program in the country.  How bad?  The school had no real stadium or weight room, the previous team was 0-12, they had the worst academic rate in the country, and a month after taking the job the NCAA told Cristobal that FIU was going to lose an incredible 24 scholarships.  Oh, and 17 of his players were suspended for a brawl the previous year.  If people still question his record or coaching ability after knowing that then I don't know what to tell you.

On offense he runs a fast paced spread offense, but don't worry, there's been no documentation that he's ever used the term "high octane".  His offensive coordinator, Scott Satterfield, is a North Carolina native which could help recruiting in that area, and was also the passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Toledo for new Illinois coach Tim Beckman, and quarterbacks coach, at his alma mater Appalachian State, for six seasons.  Even though he was not officially called the offensive coordinator he was responsible for the play calling.  And it's at Appalachian State where Satterfield's spread made news by winning three straight 1-AA national championships and upsetting Michigan in 2007.  He's been at FIU for two seasons.

On defense, Cristobal's coordinator is equally impressive.  He's Todd Orlando, who was the defensive coordinator at UConn under Randy Edsall for six seasons.  In two of those seasons, Orlando's defenses finished 6th nationally in total yards allowed.  In his first season at FIU this year his defense was an impressive 33rd nationally.  He also employs a blitzing defense that thrives on big plays.  As an added bonus, he's from Pittsburgh and started his coaching career as an assistant at Pittsburgh Central Catholic and Fox Chapel.

Cristobal was interviewed before and you have to think that Pitt would be smart enough to interview him again.  He's charismatic, he's a leader, and he is due for a much better job.  He would definitely be interested.  Most of all, he is an excellent recruiter who is loved by his players, loved by the media, and loved by his community.  In other words, he is the exact opposite of Todd Graham.  Sure, there will be fans who will worry that he will eventually go back to Florida when a big job opens, and all I have to say to that is, get over it.  There are 119 Division 1 coaches and only 18 have been at their job for more than five years.  Coaches don't stay.  There's always a better job until they retire.  The administration should try for a home run and worry about keeping him later.  Right now Cristobal is the best chance of a home run on this list and the buzz around the country if they hired him would be extraordinary.

Teryl Austin
Baltimore Ravens Secondary Coach
Hometown: Sharon, PA
Alma mater:  Pittsburgh
Age: 47
Salary:  Unknown

Obviously this candidate is well known to Panthers fans, mostly because he is a Pitt alum and they feel he may stay if he succeeds.  Truthfully, of all of these candidates, he probably would stay the longest if it were up to him.

While he somewhat has great experience in both college and in the NFL, his biggest problem is that in his 20 year coaching career, all but one season was not as a defensive backs coach.  In 2010, he finally got his chance to be a defensive coordinator, and at Florida under Urban Meyer no less, but Meyer retired after the season.  Austin did well, however, helping the Gators become the 9th best defense in the country.

He's coached at Syracuse, Michigan, and Wake Forest previously, as well as with Seattle and Arizona in the NFL.  He is clearly an excellent secondary coach and he is known to be an excellent recruiter.

Steve Pederson was practically forced to interview him last year since he didn't have what Pederson was looking for in a coach.  But Austin still hit it out of the park in the interview.  He probably still doesn't have the resume the Panthers desire.  Truthfully, if the played at Syracuse and had this resume would anybody be clamoring for Pitt to hire him?  No way.

I don't think the administration will hire him.  He's just never been a head coach before and except for the one season at Florida, he's never even been close to being any kind of boss on a team.  I think eventually that will be his downfall.  But, yet, for some reason I still like the guy.  He reminds me a lot of Mike Tomlin in that he's smart, classy, and quietly charismatic.  I think he could get very good players to Pitt, especially locally, and I think his players would love him.  But I also think he's too much of a risk at this time because it's too unknown how he could be as a head coach.  Even saying that, if he does end up being the head coach, I would be cautiously optimistic that he could be a pleasant surprise.

Luke Fickell
Ohio State defensive coordinator
Hometown:  Columbus, OH
Alma mater:  Ohio State
Age:  38
Salary:  Unknown

One of the more intriguing names to come up early in the process, Fickell spent the entire season as the interim coach, warming the seat for Urban Meyer after Jim Tressel was fired.   He went 6-6 which obviously was not a typical Buckeye season, but through suspensions and controversy he gained major points from Columbus and around the country on how he handled the season.  And he clearly impressed the Pitt administration.

He's a very good defensive coordinator and recruiter, but he obviously wouldn't beat Urban Meyer head to head for any top Ohio kids.  According to Ohio State observers his game coaching skills were severely lacking this season.   Some day soon he could be an excellent major college coach.  But can Pitt afford for him to learn on the job?


  1. Hi Chris,
    Is Stoops no longer in the running? I haven't heard his name mentioned anywhere recently.

  2. Not sure why they do not look at Bud Foster, at his age he would not bolt to another school, and I think he would be able to recruit well. Knows the acc, good defense, kind of the safe Tom Bradley. If its Rhodes, not sure of the upside there, but I'm not going to get a crazy about it, because I knw Peterson will not take who I think he should.

  3. Bud Foster was approached last year and decided not to even come up for an interview, citing the need to recruit. Now he's supposedly changed his mind? I'm not sure that deserves a return call by Pitt. If - as ESPN's ACC blogger reports - Foster is now interested, he'll need to approach Pitt and not the other way around. Until he does that, I would spend a minute on him if I am Pitt.

  4. Good write up..
    I agree with you about Paul Rhoades. A good decent man who would be a solid coach at Pitt but probably would not take Pitt to the "next level". If we hire Paul Rhoades, then it means Steve Pederson made a colossal mistake by firing Dave, since I think Dave is a better coach than Paul Rhoades.
    I have no faith that Pitt will make a good hire especially when they insist on having head coaching experience. Perhaps they should ask their neighbors how much head coaching experience Chuck Knoll, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin had before being hired? Tomlin , in fact, only had 1 year of being a defensive coordinator prior to being hired.

  5. another opinion on chryst from a wisconsin beat writer I emailed.

    "A source said as of midday today, no contact from Pitt asking to talk to Chryst. But that could change. UW athletic director Barry Alvarez told us a couple weeks ago, Chryst told him he's ready to leave and be a head coach. I know there was some interest from Pitt last year.

    Chryst is not much of a recruiter, in part because he's not asked to be. He recruits the quarterbacks and that's it. He doesn't have a specified area.

    Everybody says he's not a big fan of recruiting. But I think he certainly has the personality to do it. I think he would be a fine closer. I think parents would love him. I think he realizes, if he's going to be a college head coach, he would have to get more involved in recruiting." Tom Mulhern

  6. Chris:

    You have 100% sold me on Christobal. I would also be happy with Austin or Fickel. While Paul Rhoades may be a great person and bring stability, I think we have to roll the dice. Any chance Nordenburg brings you in as special consultant. I shudder leaving this in the hands of Peterson.

  7. From the list it should be either Cristobal or Rhoads. Rhoads would be the safer choice for the long term if he came whereas Cristobal is the short term fix. Pitt maybe gun-shy on short term fixes at the moment.

    Per your comment that if Pitt wanted a coach that won 8 to 9 games a year then they should have kept Wannstedt, that is not entirely true. Wanny only won seven games his last year and that was with a team full of talent. He was more of a coach that could win 7 or 8 games a year and that is entirely unacceptable with a Big East schedule.

  8. The LAST thing on earth we need is a guy who can't -- or won't -- recruit. In college football, that's the kiss of death.

    Okay, that's the last thing we need other than another Sunseri on the sidelines or Ron Zook.

    I guess that makes three "last things" we need: Sal Sunseri (or Tino for that matter), Ron Zook, and Paul Chryst.

    Okay, with Tino, four. Four "last things" we need...

  9. A couple of coaches that built "next-level" programs in urban, professional sports markets: Johnny Majors, Ron Meyer, Jimmie Johnson, Howard Schnellenberger. What's the common thread? Charisma. These guys were dapper, larger than life characters that used urban style and high-profile visibility to stand out in that environment. Pitt doesn't get better with the safe guy. It doesn't compete with the Steelers and Pens by continually being mediocre.

  10. Schottenheimer! Who cares if he loses in the playoffs.. there are no playoffs in college! I'll take successful regular seasons any day of the week.

  11. Tressel, Bradley, Neuheisel......can we be rational folks?
    Cristobal is your man. Steve Pederson needs to make this process easy on himself and pony up the cash and tender a deal asap. Time is of the essence. This guy will lead PITT into the promised land.

  12. Yep, Christobal.

    Rhodes just signed a 10-year (wow!) extension at ISU. Guess we know what they think of their head coach.

    Tom Bradley would have been perfect, and dead-cat certain ... six months ago. Ron Cook's article in today's PG is right, it's really too bad / not fair. But it is what it is.

    Stoops has a good name, but only one of the brothers has had any lasting success as a HC. So is Mark more like Bob, or more like Mike? Can't take that chance this time.

    Chryst doesn't like to recruit?? Then he has zero business even thinking about being a CFB HC. Frankly, don't even know why Pitt is talking to him. That would be like a 4-star restaurant hiring a head chef that doesn't like to cook.

    Total curiosity, do you take a flyer and cold-call Les Myles' or Nick Saban's agent(s) and ask how much it would take? That would certainly ratchet down the upside uncertainty; and you do have all that new ACC money pouring in two years...

    Otherwise, Christobal. And by the time he's ready to bolt in 2-3 years, maybe Bradley's proven clean and free.

  13. Zatiti Moody,

    IMHO, Jim Tressel is more toxic than Tom Bradley. He's absolutely untouchable!


  14. Not much of a writeup on Fickell. It's easy to see why you favor Cristobal. Assistants are going to be a big part of the program and it looks like he's got a couple of good ones. That's an advantage over Luke and probably Chryst. And I do agree with you on Chryst - why take a chance on a guy *might* not be able or willing to recruit. That's risky. It's obvious that Rhoades is out. What about Dave Doeren?

  15. I know Chris thinks Dan Mullen of Miss. St. is out of the equation being that he coaches in the preferred SEC, still the question begs an it better to rule in hell in Starksville, mired in the bottom of your division (and constantly be the red headed stepchild of the SEC,) or is better to take your act to the ACC and the heavenly confines of the state of the art facilities and metropolis of PITT?

  16. Rhodes is out now....he just signed a 10 year extension for I assume more money.

    Foster is interested now because he saw that Pitt paid Graham 2 mil...

    I like Austin, but Pitt can't afford to wait until February for him while he chases a SB ring.

    I'm not crazy about Luke Fickell who has already been interviewed. They're also looking at Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren. Of these guys I like Mario Cristobal the most if Pitt is indeed looking at a home run kind of guy. He'll just have to buy a winter coat....

  17. They've already interviewed Fickle according to PG. Better get better sources dude

  18. Where did I say they wouldn't interview Fickell?

  19. Hey Chris,

    You still love Mr. high octane?

  20. Mr. High Octane would have done well on the field if he stayed. No doubt about it. Everybody expected him to leave but nobody expected it after one season. If he was great then left in four seasons, he would have been a success.

  21. Not sure I would want him to be honest. Look at the uproar he caused with present and past players with this. Pitt players don't do this. They suck it up. I wouldn't want a malcontent in the program.

  22. Chris,

    That's just your opinion unless you have somehow seen into the future. Based on how things went this year I doubt it. Now stories are coming out about how he treated his players yep a leader of men! You ripped Wammy, but he was a better person and coach. When lay with dogs you get fleas and Pitt has them!

  23. I never said Graham was a better man, obviously. Wannstedt was a coordinator masquerading as a coach. In my opinion, Graham had a better chance to be effective because of the system he would have run when he got his players. If you put the two together you would have had a great coach.

  24. I've been saying all along that Graham should not be an indictment of what Pitt was trying to do. It turned out horribly (Everything SP touches does) but the intent was right. Pitt needed some excitement and 21st century college football coach. Hopefully, this doesn't take us back to the dark ages of what a college offense or defense should be. Make not mistake about it, it was time for Wanny to go it's just unfortunate the way this entire mess played out. I'm personally hoping for Christobal(sp?). He runs a spread and aggressive defense plus he's turned around a program in worst shape than Pitt already. He may not stay long, but hopefully he can give 4 years and then maybe one of his coordinators inherits the job. Who knows, maybe he falls in love with the University and city like Dixon did. Outside of a "Pitt man" there are no guarantees, however. And right now, there is not a "Pitt man" qualified enough to do the job. Best case scenario would probably be the new coach take on Austin as a coordinator and he inherits the program when the new guy leaves...not likely though.

  25. Chris,

    I think you miss the point of continuity and us Pitt fans "getting over it." It's not the head coach departure that is problematic.

    It's the complete gutting out of the staff that has created the problem. In isolation you can make the point about an up and comer leaving before his time. But the fact is Pitt has gutted this program 3 times in the last 4 years (Wanny's staff, Haywood staff, Graham staff). This has consequences far beyond the field. Currently, Pitt has no recruiting pipelines. Of the programs that have had turnover how many of them have had complete gutting of staff?

    That's the point here. I believe PItt needs at least a 3 year commitment to resolve this issue. To repair broken relationships locally. To establish national pipelines. And more importantly to build relationships within the program so that if Coach Cristobal does move on to bigger and better things...we can promote from within.


  26. correction:

    they have gutted the staff 3 times over the last year.


  27. Three years, absolutely. Hell, I would want and expect four to be honest. But my comment about Pitt fans needing to get over it was meant for the fans who want a guy for 5-10 years because that's not realistic these days.

  28. Mario Cristobal

    He just signed a 5 year deal with FIU in August. PITT will fall off of the morality wagon if they go with him. Can't whine about Fraud Graham jumping ship if you are willing to hiring another guy that has done the same to FIU. Right?

  29. They are not the same thing. Cristobal was there for five years, he brought them back from the dead, and nobody will begrudge him for quadrupling his salary.

  30. why would they waste time interviewing someone (Fickell) they're not interested in ?(according to you).

  31. Where did I say they weren't interested in Fickell? I said I think they would most be interested in Rhoads and Cristobal.