Oregon State head coach Mike Riley remembers well the first time he met Paul Chryst. Riley was head coach of the San Antonio Riders of the now defunct World League of American Football. Geep Chryst came in for a job fair. His brother Paul simply came along for the ride.
"We got together through an unusual set of circumstances," Riley said. "He came down with Geep, and Geep was the one looking for a job. Twenty-four hours later, (Paul) was on our staff."
Chryst followed Riley to Oregon State and to the San Diego Chargers. When Riley made the jump to being an NFL head coach, after a remarkable turnaround at Oregon State, he didn't hesitate in offering Chryst the job of tight ends coach with the Chargers. Chryst went on to hold that position for three years, where he coached Freddie Jones. Jones caught 71 passes for 766 yards and five touchdowns in 2000 under Chryst's tutelage.
In Riley's second stint at Oregon State, when he took over in 2003 where he's been ever since, he tabbed Chryst as his offensive coordinator. The 2003 Beaver offense ranked 10th in total offense, averaging 463 yards a game. It also marked the first offense to finish with a 4,000-yard passer (Derek Anderson), a 1,500-yard rusher (Steven Jackson) and two 1,000-yard receivers.
"The first thing, he has a good recongnition of what people can do," Riley said. "We had a quarterback in Derek Anderson that had a big-time arm. The thing Paul can do the best is take advantage of a guy's ability. It's so important for guys to take advantage of personnel. He looked at our team, and said, ‘this is what Derek Anderson can do, what Steven Jackson can do, lets emphasize those things, look for the right things.' That's what Paul does best."
"One of his great coaching jobs was taking a first-year quarterback in just one year, and making him as productive as he did," Riley said. "Quarterbacks take time; sometimes quarterbacks take two or three years to develop."
One of the hardest things Riley had to endure was when Chryst left to go back to his alma mater Wisconsin after the 2004 season. Riley knew that's the one place he would lose Chryst to. The two talk frequently, and even get together twice a year for three days each in the offseason to just watch film, and talk about offense.
"Those are my six favorite days of the year," Riley said. "He was very reluctant to leave (Oregon State). When he left, he had tears in his eyes."
Riley feels whenever that time is for Chryst to get his first head coaching job, it will no doubt be a tough decision for Chryst to leave his alma mater. At the same time, Riley feels that Chryst has never been more ready for the opportunity. In talking with him about the opportunity at Pitt, he says he's never seen Chryst this excited about another opportunity.
"I haven't seen this excitement in him," Riley said. "I know there's nobody more ready than this guy. Kids will love him. He will work hard for them. He'll run a program, and no one will ever have to worry about how it's done. He'll do it with class, professionalism. He's really a good person and he will make everybody proud.
"He's had opportunities in the past from the Cowboys, the 49ers and other (college) head coaching opportunities. He's been very reluctant in the past, but he's ready. There's nobody else like him in this business. He's absolutely ready."