First of all, and this is important because I know fans tend to go into histrionics when one of their favorite teams is criticized, let me state for the record that I am not saying Paul Chryst will fail as the Panthers head coach, I'm not saying he won't be a great game coach and a great leader, and I'm not even saying that his recruiting won't be excellent in the future. But what I am saying is that, in my opinion, the first six months of Chryst's tenure has not been exactly impressive when it comes to recruiting.
Let me first state the problems as I see them, and for those of you who still believe in Chryst, be patient because I will then show that there is still time to change things.
The most obvious problem facing Chryst is his recruiting, or lack thereof, of the top prospects in the WPIAL. There are six players in the Pittsburgh area who stand out above the rest. Those six are Robert Foster, Patrick Kugler, Dorian Johnson, Tyler Boyd, Scott Orndoff, and Chavas Rawlins. Four of those players have committed to a school. Orndoff chose Pitt, Kugler chose Michigan, Johnson chose Penn State, and Rawlins decided on West Virginia. Of the two remaining, the Panthers have a chance with Foster, and probably a lesser chance with Boyd. That means Pitt has already lost three of the six excellent players in the Pittsburgh area, and could conceivably lose five out of six.
We hear that the WPIAL coaches really appreciate Chryst's personality and his style, and I have no doubt that that's true. But the bottom line is to get players, not accolades. If Chryst loses five out of the six top players in the WPIAL, then that's a serious problem. Even Todd Graham, who local coaches apparently disliked heavily, did better than that.
Of course there are people who say that Pitt's recent coaching fiascos have something to do with that, but that's ridiculous. Dana Holgerson is a public relations nightmare as far as coaches go, and Penn State is in the middle of what could be the biggest sports scandal in this country's history. And Pitt is losing local players to these two programs.
Then there is how Chryst and his staff attacked recruiting this season. First he took weeks to fill out his staff while other programs were recruiting with all of their personnel. Then he filled his staff with some curious choices.
I hate to continue to bash Inoke Breckterfield because he as is not the problem per se. The problem is the choice to hire him in the first place, and that falls on Chryst. I've ranted about this before but now that five months have passed since he was hired, it's looking more and more like it was a bad choice.
And why is that? Breckterfield, who was fired after one season at UCLA, recruited for the Bruins in Bakersfield and Fresno in California, as well as Utah, Hawaii, Montana, and Idaho. I'm not saying that Breckterfield won't be an excellent defensive line coach, and I'm not saying he may not end up as an excellent recruiter. But there are many talented assistant coaches out there. Are you telling me the best that Chryst can come up with is a guy with one year of major college experience before getting fired, and with no recruiting ties to anywhere remotely close to where Pitt will get their players? Why not an assistant coach from Maryland, New Jersey, Florida, or even eastern PA, places where Pitt needs a presence?
Even having said that, if Chryst really had faith in Breckterfield's ability, why not put him in one of those places and let him develop ties? Instead Breckterfield is recruiting in California and for some reason, Georgia. Yes, you heard that right. Pitt has offered at least fourteen players from Georgia. And every one of them have major offers from southern powers. Pitt can't land Pittsburgh kids but they're wasting their time offering elite kids from Georgia?
And it doesn't end there, of course. The staff also doesn't seem very aggressive or organized in recruiting either. Some of the top players in PA didn't get offers for quite some time. Linebacker Alex Anzalone, a national recruit from the eastern part of the state didn't get an offer from Pitt until two months into the recruiting season, and he had over 20 offers by then. Aliquippa defensive back Dravon Henry, one of the state's top prospects for the 2014 class, has offers from West Virginia, Rutgers, Maryland, Michigan State, Cincinnati, and even Kent State, but Pitt hasn't offered him yet. It's obvious they will but why not already? Why not show him right away that you want him very much? Especially when for the 2014 class, the staff has already offered two kids from South Carolina, as well as kids from Virginia, Wisconsin, and Detroit.
Showing even more lack of organization, at least two players who have committed to the Panthers, Scott Orndoff and Zach Challingsworth, had miscommunication problems with the staff. "Maybe they assume I already have one (scholarship offer), but they haven't formally told me," Orndoff told Rivals.com. Orndoff admitted that he wasn't concerned about it, but it's something you think Pitt would have made clear to a player they were trying to get a commitment from. Especially when programs like Michigan and Virginia made it abundantly clear to Orndoff at that same moment.
Then it happened again with Challingsworth who committed to Toledo then immediately reversed course when, lo and behold, that school he wanted to go to didn't get around to telling him that they wanted him. Said Challingsworth to Scout.com, "They were confused when I committed to Toledo, because they thought I knew they wanted me there." Well, how could Challingsworth know that they wanted him there when they didn't even offer him?
It even happened a third time that we know of, this time with New Jersey running back Zaire Williams, who told Rivals.com, "I had an offer from Pitt a month ago, but I didn't know. The running backs coach was there and he told my coach that I already had the offer, but I didn't know about it." Incredible.
Then there's the staff. Joe Rudolph was brought in to be the ace recruiter but he hasn't drawn a single ace yet. He couldn't even land Johnson, even though Rudolph was a Belle Vernon alum and Johnson was a lifelong Pitt fan. Former Mt. Lebanon head coach Chris Haering was brought in for help in the WPIAL but his name is never mentioned by recruits. Actually, there are only two names that do routinely come up when prospects talk about Pitt, and that's Matt House and Bobby Engram, who apparently are doing most of the recruiting while the rest of the staff seems confused or lackadaisical. Except for Breckterfield who is no doubt deep in the heart of Georgia somewhere wondering how in the hell he can get a Georgian to come to Pittsburgh.
Lastly, let's about the quarterback and offensive line recruiting. If there's two positions that you would think Chryst would nail, it would be these. But so far he has yet to land his future star quarterback. It looks like TraVon Chapman could be that player, and while he has potential, he mostly has potential because Chryst will be his mentor. Many of the top programs did not foresee Chapman as a quarterback and were instead recruiting him at different positions. In fact, Chapman was offered by the likes of Wisconsin, Arizona, Cincinnati, Illinois, and Boston College, as well as a few MAC schools. With the great quarterback successes that Chryst has had, one would think that a big, strapping future NFL quarterback would want to play for him.
As for offensive linemen, the Panthers had two of the best in the country right in their backyard in Johnson and Kugler, but missed out on both. And promising local center Matt Barone was not even offered by the staff, presumably because he was not the size that Chryst covets. Chryst also had talented Indiana guard Dan Samuelson de-commit and pledge to Nebraska instead. The program needed at least four linemen to strengthen the offense, but right now they've only got a commitment from one lightly recruited, albeit promising player. As of now, the Panthers are not heavily involved with any elite linemen.
Like I said, I'm not discounting Chryst's entire regime, though I have little doubt that many Pitt fans will get themselves all worked up over this article, thinking I'm doing just that. But there is definitely evidence that Chryst has not started out well in recruiting. The fact that his reputation when he was hired at Pitt was that he wasn't good at recruiting, and didn't like it, shouldn't make one optimistic that things will change anytime soon.
Of Chryst's eight recruits this year, only two, Orndoff and Corey Clement, could be considered topnotch prospects. Of the other six, all of them are worthy major college prospects, and any of them have the potential to be good college players. But when you have eight commitments, and six of them are lightly recruited, it's not exactly a jackrabbit start. Throw in the other problems I've mentioned and it becomes even more troubling.
Now the good news. Chryst could still salvage this class. He could still land Chapman, Foster, and Boyd to go with Orndoff and Clement. That would be an excellent five, though all five would be an offense, at least it's impressive. And I have no doubt that Chryst will still land some good players, and maybe even some excellent players. We also know that the man is a true offensive wizard and there is some very good talent still in this program.
Ultimately, I really want Chryst to succeed. He seems like a great guy and this fan base doesn't deserve anymore underachieving from this program. And that in the long run is my biggest problem when it comes to Pitt. I despise underachievement, lack of focus, and ineptitude, and the Pitt football program has given that to us in spades for three decades. This program has too much damn potential to be this damn mediocre for this damn long.
The Pitt administration claims they want a great football program, and fires any coach that doesn't give them that greatness, but unfortunately their desire ends there. They have not made it a priority to be a major football power, even though the makings of a major football power are there. All they do is make excuses and too many fans follow suit. "We don't have 100,000 people or are in the Big 10 like Penn State." "Nobody comes to the games." "We need our own stadium." "The Big East sucks." "The ACC sucks." Blah, blah, blah. Enough of the whining about how Pitt isn't great because, because, because. For a program to be great, people have to demand it, work at it, and don't stop until it's done. No great college football power was born a great college football power. There aren't a lot of great high school players in Nebraska, or Oklahoma, or Boise, but that sure as hell didn't stop them from being powers. They became powers because their fans demanded it and their administrations listened.
Bottom line, if Pitt wants to be a major football power, then they can be. That means getting proven head coaches, proven assistants, and having a big recruiting budget. And if the school decides it doesn't want to be a major player on the national scene, that it will have to do things that they don't feel like doing, then don't do it. But quit jerking us around. And enough of firing nine win coaches just to replace them with more nine win coaches. All that's doing is making the program tread water in an ocean of mediocrity. Good, but not great head coaches, with good, but not great staffs, and good, but not great budgets. All that gets you is good, but not great teams.
That. more than anything, is why I'm hard on Chryst's early recruiting. I want him to succeed but to do that his great offensive mind probably won't be enough. He's going to need players. He's going to need a staff. He's going to need a budget. And if all of that doesn't happen then he could be the next nine win coach to be fired. And I for one don't want to see that happen at Pitt anytime soon.