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.
Iowa State head coach
Hometown: Ankeny, IA
Alma mater: Missouri Western
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.
Wisconsin offensive coordinator
Hometown: Madison, WI
Alma mater: Wisconsin
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.
Florida International head coach
Hometown: Miami, FL
Alma mater: Miami
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.
Baltimore Ravens Secondary Coach
Hometown: Sharon, PA
Alma mater: Pittsburgh
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.
Ohio State defensive coordinator
Hometown: Columbus, OH
Alma mater: Ohio State
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?