A New Discipline Structure

Today, we take a look at new Pitt head coach Todd Graham's approach to team discipline; how he handles it, and the expectations he sets for himself, his staff and the players.

Todd Graham has put together a booklet, giving an overview of "The Pitt Way"—a mantra of sorts of the way his staff intends to run things. In this booklet, which has been given to all the players, explains certain details of the offensive and defensive system—not an entire playbook, but at least an idea of some things he'd like to see run for spring. In addition to that, a set of guidelines for how the conditioning program will start off, and transform all the way through to fall training camp.

On the cover of this booklet, is a mantra that Graham wrote himself:

The foundation of all successful programs start with building positive relationships with everyone involved with the program. We will approach every task with a positive attitude and with a passion to be the very best. Speaking victory every day is our motto. We will treat everyone with great respect and expect the very best from them every day. We want to develop a culture of faith that we can achieve anything together with great focus and great work ethic. We will all have an attitude of gratitude. The key to our success is to recruit and develop student-athletes who see themselves as smart, and have great character and discipline. We will focus on each student-athlete to achieve academic excellence as well as winning championships on and off the field. We win championships every day. We must adapt our schemes to fit the skills and talents of our players that we have here and that we will have year in and year out recruiting. We will be innovative as well as the most positive, the most energetic unique staff in the country as well as our players. No one will outwork our football team. We will have a hard edge mentality that represents the city of Pittsburgh. We will be the hardest-working, most disciplined, best prepared team in the country. We will take college football by storm with our unique approach, the most explosive, fast tempo, dynamic, unique, intense, high-powered football in the nation; the Pitt way. Character, integrity, positive relationships, academics, community, blue-collar, hard edge work ethic.

This mantra underlies one important theme that Graham feels is one of his fortes, and that is discipline. There has been some off-the-field developments with ties to Pitt players over the last year. Among them:

- Defensive end Jabaal Sheard caught in a fight on Pittsburgh's South Side, just days before the start of training camp. Sheard was eventually cleared from the incident, following an indefinite suspension from team activities.

- Redshirt freshman running back Jason Douglas—hours after Pitt's win over New Hampshire on September 11—was arrested for driving while intoxicated, and a hit-and-run just four blocks from where Sheard's incident took place. Starting middle linebacker Dan Mason was a passenger in Douglas' car. Douglas was suspended indefinitely, and was not reinstated to the team. Mason was demoted to backup at middle linebacker for the next game against Miami.

- Walk-on offensive lineman Keith Coleman was arrested for an off-campus fight. Coleman was also suspended indefinitely, and did not return to the team during the remainder of the season.

- Freshman safety Jeff Knox was dismissed from the team just hours before Pitt's Thursday night game with Miami after being charged for assaulting a woman off campus.

Obviously, with the indefinite suspensions, there's that possibility pending the outcome of a trial, on whether or not a player could come back to the team. With Graham now in charge, it does not look like those suspended indefinitely—mainly Douglas and Coleman—if there was a chance of either coming back to the team, it looks like they are both officially done now.

"Anybody that's been dismissed from the program will not be back in the program," Graham said. "When we came in, the guys we have in the program, we'll move forward. We'll start with the guys we have, and we'll move forward with them.

"Our guys, that's part of developing. That's kind of what we're going right now. How can you talk about integrity and character, and that's going to be the foundation of our program, and allow substandard behavior. It's just not going to happen."

Also, where Graham is at, is an assessment phase. Part of that assessment phase is looking at what worked well for Pitt, what didn't work well, in addition to player tendencies and an idea of trying to maximize certain potential out of a certain position if it might mean a player taking on a new role.

Through all his evaluation, he came to one glaring observation after watching film of every Pitt game over the last two years; a span where Pitt went 18-8.

"We've gone back first and foremost and assessed how many penalties, how many critical penalties, and when have these penalties happened," Graham said. "On Sundays, I want to come in say, ‘We're ranked number one in offense, number one in defense.' I'll also come in and say, here's where we are on penalties."

It's an important statistic. In 2009, Pitt was one of the most disciplined teams in the area of penalties, averaging five penalties and 50 yards a game. In 2010, those numbers jumped to 6.7 penalties for 54 yards a game, those numbers on the heels of many off-the-field issues the team faced prior to and in the early goings of the 2010 season.

Does this all have a correlation? Graham thinks so. As he goes further inside this analysis of all the penalties, he had another observation.

"Penalties speak about what kind of discipline you have as a team," Graham said. "We're going to be number one in the country in the fewest amount of mistakes; penalties, critical errors and things like that. I believe those penalties go back to everything. Guys that get penalties all the time aren't going to class."

So now, it's off-the-field incidents, an increase in penalties mixed in with a thought that players aren't going to class—something that may or may not be true, but it's Graham's thought. In order to prove whether or not his theory is correct, he is implementing this foundation of success, which starts with the mantra he has professed at the opening of this handbook that he has distributed to the team.

Yes, he understands his own credibility will be measured by wins and losses, but he feels in order to have that, you have to set a high standard of behavior with everything. The hope is that by maintaining a high level of accountability—whether it be academics, off-the-field issues, whatever the case—Graham feels by raising the bar high on everything, all these areas will have a positive impact on each other.

"I wouldn't have taken this job if it didn't have high standards," Graham said. "You have to win. I know that the expectations here, I know no matter what I say, the expectations are to be Big East champions, win a national champion. I believe in order to do that, you have to win every day. I don't believe that you can just go out there with great talent and have substandard behavior off the field, substandard behavior socially or in the classroom."

Even in the academic-sense, Graham uses an example from his own family to demonstrate what expects of the players, which also in turn goes back to his whole model for maintaining a father figure example for the team.

"I'm not just going to tell a kid to pass a class, that's not what I tell my kids," Graham said. "My son, I'm sitting there paying for him to go to the University of Tulsa, the engineering school, it's a little expensive. I expect him to excel to his potential. It's the same standards I have for the players. I think all those things, if you have substandard things in the community, off the field, in the classroom, they show up on the field. Those are the things we're focusing on. I do think our kids responded to that. Our kids want that." Obviously, one of the biggest challenges a coach will face on any college campus is the issue of underage drinking. Graham's view on that is simple.

"You're not 21, it's illegal to drink, you shouldn't be drinking," Graham said. "We don't want them in bars and things like that, that you're not supposed to be at. Any time you put yourself in that position, you put yourself at risk.

"You're drinking, you put yourself behind the wheel of a car. You might not get caught, but you're taking an unbelievable risk. We talk about responsibility, we talk about those things. We have to demonstrate that as coaches." An off-campus fight, such as an incident Sheard was involved with, Graham has a plan of action on how a player might overcome an obstacle as such.

"We also talk to them about situations that happen," Graham said. "You get in a confrontation, I owe that to you as a teammate to just go; lets get out of that deal. There's nothing dishonorable about that. It's about being smart, making good decisions. We role play, we talk about those situations. You put yourself in those situations."

Additional things that will be implemented will be certain dress codes. For example, players with earrings will not be allowed to wear them inside the Pitt practice facility. As for any potential recruits that wear earrings that might be turned off be such a policy?

"What do you do if you're recruiting the top receiver in the country; he's not going to take his earrings out when he comes to Pitt," Graham asked. "I guess he's going to go somewhere else. If your earrings are that important to you, then you're probably not going to fit."

In addition to the new strength program, new strength coach Shawn Griswold has a bulletin board setup in the weight room where he will post articles of players around the country getting in trouble for various reasons.

"You see that all over the country," Graham said. "I'm very aware of those situations. That's part of assessing and evaluating, and going back and looking at those things. Those are things that I can tell you that we are addressing and we will continue to address."

Does Graham have a timetable for when this discipline, and when it will set in? Are there certain measures he wants to see this team reach in terms of number of penalties per game, or a no tolerance off-the-field type of policy? He does have a strong view and belief in discipline, but he takes full responsibility for those beliefs and his actions. Much like being a good role model, he hopes his players will follow the same model on down the line.

"I believe kids will meet whatever expectation you set," Graham said. "I don't believe kids are any different than from when we were in school. I believe we've lowered the standard . Young people will make mistakes. Bottom line is we're going to have accountability in the way we do things."

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