Paul Chryst has a chance to use Pittsburgh's football culture to his advantage.
After having four coaches in just over a calendar year, Pitt seems to have made the right choice in Paul Chryst. After all, the coach produced offenses at Wisconsin that ranked 18th, 12th and 6th from 2009-11. Panthers fans are certainly anxious to see what he can do on the field. But first, Chryst will have to show his wares on the recruiting trail. After all, Pitt won't play under Chryst for another eight months. When the dead period lifts, Chryst will hit the ground
running sprinting to finish the class by signing day.
I'm not a believer that cities or programs need a certain type of coach to succeed. But it's undeniable that there are certain guys who just fit better at one program or another. And Pittsburgh, both the city and the program, is one of those places.
Chryst seems to fit. Pittsburgh is a pro-style city to the core. The Steelers' reputation is for dominating defense and smash-mouth offenses. Sure, the Steelers also chucked it around quite a bit with Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger. And the Panthers did the same with Dan Marino. But this is the city of Hugh Green, Tony Dorsett and Franco Harris. That is to say that a coach who wants to run the ball right at the opponent seems to be a better fit for the culture of the school, city and region than someone who wants to spread the field with five receivers and chuck it 50 times per game.
And Chryst's style is also well-suited for the style of the region. Chryst will want big offensive linemen, bigger, no-nonsense runners, and skill guys on the outside who are willing to block. Pennsylvania and the surrounding states offer kids of that type in bunches. While much of the country is running spread, spread and more spread at the high school level, the Northeast still has a good bit of traditional offenses.
So the players Chryst wants are available in the state. But can he get them?
Traditionally, the answer would have been "no." And the team giving that answer would have been Penn State. But the Nittany Lions' program is the biggest mess in major college football, and its recruiting momentum has fallen off a cliff over the last six weeks. Penn State's problems are Pitt's gain, and the PSU issues aren't going away anytime soon.
And though Pitt will likely draw close to or even pass Penn State on the recruiting trail, there will still be fierce competition for the in-state kids. The fiercest of which seems likely to be from Ohio State, which has been tearing up recruiting of late under Urban Meyer. Still, Ohio State and Pitt seem to be interested in different sorts of player. There will be some overlap on the top kids who fit any system, but Pitt shouldn't encounter much resistance from the Buckeyes for the majority of its recruiting targets. At least on offense.
Defense is another story, however, because the variance in defensive systems isn't close to what it is on the offensive side of the ball. Thus, the top defensive recruits are pretty much those wanted in any conceivable defensive system.
Chryst hasn't hired his defensive coordinator yet. It will be an important hire. Chryst should focus on someone who can also successfully recruit New Jersey -- a state with a surprising amount of athleticism and defensive talent. Still, the defensive talent available to be recruited from Pennsylvania and the surrounding areas is immeasurably better than what is available in Wisconsin, Minnesota and the rest of the the Great Lakes region.
The style of football Chryst brings might also be an advantage in the ACC, which Pitt is set to join in the coming years, whenever the legal issues get worked out with the Big East.
A lot of ACC teams recruit from the scraps of SEC teams, meaning they often get a lot of smaller, faster defenders. Chryst's strategy to go right at these undersized defensive units could neutralize their speed and be quite successful for the Panthers.
And Pitt has a lot to sell as a program. Pitt is in a major city, and they share the Steelers facilities at Heinz Field. Pitt also has a lot of tradition, albeit none of it coming in the lifetime of current recruits or recent graduates. The Panthers also have great basketball (prospects often attend basketball games on official visits).
What does Chryst have to work with? Conveniently, SB Nation's Bill Connelley has a look.
The transition from Graham's spread to Chryst's attack won't be all that dramatic of a change to the roster because Graham was only able to change the roster during one season. There are still some pieces here from the previous pro-style regime.
And Chryst has some nice pieces coming in.
The nicest of which is undoubtedly Rushel Shell, a 6'0", 215-pound four-star running back out of Aliquippa, PA's Hopewell High School. Shell committed to Graham, and when the coach left for Arizona State, Shell remained firm to Pittsburgh. That decision is about to pay off in a big way, both for Shell and for Chryst. Expect Shell to become the workhorse for this Pitt offense, as the Panthers are currently without a big back. It would not be surprising to see the freshman get 200+ carries.
But Shell isn't all the Panthers have. Quarterback Chad Voytik of Cleveland, Tennessee is a nice prospect. Most of the recruiting services rate him as a four-star recruit, and while he is slight of build (6'1" 185), Chryst has shown the ability to make the most of smallish quarterbacks with a little wiggle, frequently calling waggle and bootleg passes off run action.
Where will Chryst need to strike before signing day? Offensive line and tight end. Pitt currently has two offensive linemen committed. They likely need four. And the Panthers don't have a single tight end commitment.
Pitt currently has 19 commitments. A few were recruited for Graham's system and are unlikely to fit Chryst's attack. Pitt fans should expect a few of the ill-fitting pieces to commit elsewhere and open up some room for a few new recruits before signing day.
Pitt has the makings of a decent first class, but as always, a coach should be measured on his first full recruiting class. For Pitt fans, that means waiting until the ink is dry on the first Wednesday in February of 2013.