There was confidence resonating at the UPMC South Side practice facility on Tuesday, as Todd Graham was introduced as Pitt's new head coach.
Even when there were no questions, Graham offered questions that fans or members of the media might have, then answered them. One of the first things he talked about was pleading for the fan base for support. It wasn't so much begging folks to come to the game, but rather a statement of how important it is to the program to have everyone behind them.
"It is an honor and privilege to be your coach; that is something I will work very hard to earn your trust," Graham said. "For the alumni and fans, it's a time for me, I would ask for you to come together. It's a time of coming together."
He backed that up by promising fans will be so excited about the brand of football he intends to bring to Heinz Field, that he doesn't see any way possible that fans in attendance could sit during a game.
"One-play drives," Graham suggested. "That's what gets people out of their seats. That's what gets people in those seats. That's how we're going to play."
Through the negotiation process, Graham wanted to make sure that he could pay his assistants well. Tuesday that all made sense as he reunited several members of the coaching staff that was together while Rich Rodriguez was in charge at West Virginia.
He first introduced what he calls a senior associate head coach, and that person will be Paul Randolph. Randolph will also coach the defensive line, a unit that he told us, he can't wait to start working with. Graham and his assistants in attendance commented on how impressed they all were with Pitt's performance.
"I'm very impressed with the defensive front," Graham said. "I was shaking their hands today, and I was very impressed with how they played. The freshman cornerback (K'Waun Williams) I thought showed good signs. These guys have been coached well. It's going to be an easy transition for them. The hardest thing is going to be the training."
Graham also wanted to thank Dave Wannstedt and Phil Bennett for their leadership of the program, which was evident over the weekend in Birmingham. Graham said he and many of the assistants, specifically coach Keith Patterson, used to sit in on some of Wannstedt's and Bennett's talks at coaching clinics throughout the years.
"That's one of the things that makes (Pitt) a great job, is Dave Wannstedt," Graham said. "There's no question about it. I've sat in rooms for late hours listening to Dave Wannstedt talk defense. Phil Bennett has been a guy I've known for 20 years. I've known (Pitt) was well-coached."
Patterson comes to Pitt where he worked with Graham at Tulsa. He will likely serve in a co-defensive coordinator role at Pitt. Tony Gibson, a former West Virginia assistant and recent Michigan assistant, will coach the defensive backs and will also serve as recruiting coordinator. Calvin Magee also comes from Michigan, where he served as offensive coordinator. He will serve as co-offensive coordinator with Mike Norvell, who served a similar role under Graham at Tulsa. Graham said fans who come to watch the spring game will get a feel for Norvell's philosophy immediately.
"Coach Mike Norvell is our passing game coordinator this last year," Graham said. "If you guys get an opportunity to come out this spring and see us, you'll see that ball flying through the air a bunch."
Graham also tied in the recruiting to the assistant coaches, placing a sense of urgency on recruiting. He said it's very realistic to get back some of the initial verbal commits. He also talked about some of the areas, geographically that his staff will focus on.
"We'll go wherever (the recruits) are at," Graham said. "The great thing about Pitt is that it's a two-hour plane ride from anywhere. Kids now, they'll go (away from home). Kids from Florida, kids from Texas; they'll go.
Of all the assistants, it is known for sure that Gibson will recruit western Pennsylvania, as he did for Michigan and West Virginia in the past. Just like Graham came up through the ranks coaching defense, he's become a bit of an offensive guru. Now, those assistants--particularly Gibson and Magee--have learned so much about trying to beat Pitt on the recruiting trail. Now, they are working for the other side.
"(Gibson) is from right down the road here, about an hour," Graham said. "He probably knows a lot of you guys in this room."
Then, he addressed his current personnel in two ways. One, he talked about the current team in place, and what his initial meeting was like with them. Before getting in to that, he wanted to address some misconceptions about what kind of system he is bringing to Pitt. No, he does not coach strictly a spread offense. Yes, he does like to bring a fastpace, up-tempo kind of offense. Pitt saw this type of offense against Utah and Notre Dame in 2010, and from Cincinnati when Brian Kelly was there.
Graham says that in order for both sides to play more fast pace, it all starts with the conditioning program.
"The main thing for them is going to be getting used to the conditioning," Graham said. "Our tempo is not just an offensive tempo. It's a defensive tempo as well; how we run to the football and the speed. The key is getting more speed on the field. It's going to be different. It takes about three years to get in shape to do what we do."
In addition to addressing the future, he did not want to rule out guys from the past, mainly the three players--Henry Hynoski, Dion Lewis and Jon Baldwin--who declared for the NFL Draft on Monday. Graham said he would like the opportunity to at least speak with them, because he feels if they were to see their roles in this offense, it might change their minds.
"I think all three of those guys who just declared for the Draft are a perfect fit for our offense," Graham added. "Naturally, Lewis would be phenomenal in this system. This offense holds the (NCAA) record for the most yards per catch. (Baldwin) could break that. This system is one that's attractive to receivers."
At quarterback, he believes he has way to transform Tino Sunseri from a pro-style quarterback to a shotgun-type quarterback. This offense hinges on what the quarterback does, being that Tulsa's quarterback led the team in passing and rushing. Graham saw some good things in Sunseri from the bowl game on Saturday.
"We will adapt our system to him," Graham said. "I think there will be a lot of similarities compared to what we did at Tulsa this year. I think (Tulsa starting quarterback) G.J. (Kinne) and him are really similar quarterbacks. We will not come in here and open up a playbook, and say, ‘This is what we're doing.' We have a playbook, and we have a system. We will draw from that system. The number-one person that dictates are scheme is the quarterback."
Defensively, he has the same thoughts. There are some misconceptions about the type of defense he is bringing to Pitt. Instead of the 3-3-5 system, which was employed by Michigan and West Virginia--teams where some of his assistants have been over the years--expect to see multiple formations from Pitt. More specifically, expect Graham and company to utilize the current personnel.
"The only difference (from Wannstedt's philosophy) is that we're going to stand (the rush end) up," Graham said. "The (defensive players) are going to like it. In rushing the passer, it's very helpful. We'll put (the defensive end) down (in a three-point stance) too.
"With the spread offenses, there really is not a whole lot that is different. The only difference is that we will slide in some 3-3. We are a base 3-4, and we will play some four down (linemen). If someone has two tight ends, we're going to play more defensive linemen. We are multiple in our scheme.
"We are going to rush four guys. We're going to rush the quarterback. We're going to rush six, seven, we're going to impact the quarterback. The system is going to be an attacking system."
Overall, when it comes to game-planning, Graham's strategies will change from week-to-week depending on the opponent. His whole thing is exploiting the other team's weaknesses. It won't be one straight up philosophy every week. In order to win a championship--which is something Graham stressed heavily--you have to flat out beat the other team. Graham feels that running the football, throwing the football, rushing the passer, stopping the run--it's all imperative in his system. The only system he's implementing at Pitt, is winning championships.
"Our expectations are going to be winning championships, period," Graham said. "That's what it has to be. That's why you get in this business. I'm not one of those guys who has a five-year plan. I've got a one-year plan, and that's to win a championship next year."