Bowl Week Now For Pitt

Pitt makes a return trip to Birmingham, and should come back with a little swagger with memories of an impressive 27-10 win over Kentucky. Once again, the Panthers return with an interim coach, but at least this time around knows that its next coach is on board.

There should be a lot of ifs solved over the next week with the Pitt football program. The most important thing, if you're a player, is that finally after a five-week layoff from its regular season finale, you get to play football again.

And what a tumultuous five weeks it has been. Given the circumstances the program was heading into last year—the firing of Dave Wannstedt, the hiring of Michael Haywood, followed by his subsequent firing followed by a coaching search that was going on while the team was preparing in Birmingham—this year's coaching shakeup has a much more positive outlook. Mainly, Pitt's head coach is in place, and that is Paul Chryst. Chryst called one last game as Wisconsin offensive coordinator—guiding the Badgers offense to 38 points and 509 yards against Oregon, despite a loss to the Ducks in the Rose Bowl.

Chryst—who said on the day of his announcement that he could be in attendance at the game Saturday—will begin a very short turnaround process of getting to Pittsburgh, and putting some assistants in place. Two are reportedly in place. Offensive line coach/run game coordinator Bob Bostad is set to join Chryst's staff in Pittsburgh. Most likely he would take on a similar yet more responsible role as offensive line coach/offensive coordinator.

According to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mt. Lebanon head coach Chris Haering will take over as linebackers coach. Haering comes to Pitt after 18 years as a high school head coach, including 17 at Mt. Lebanon where he led the Blue Devils to the 2000 WPIAL title. Haering played under Chryst when Chryst's college coaching career started as a graduate assistant in 1989. Haering coached defensive tackle Arthur Goldberg this past season, who verbally committed to Wisconsin over the summer.

Those two coaches are the only two known candidates reportedly to be on board, but not official according to the university. We could get word as early as Tuesday on other assistants that will join the staff. Then again, as was the case last year, the university may wait until all assistant coaches are on board to make them all official.

That leads us to who will actually coach this game on Saturday. Co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson will serve as the team's interim coach for this game. Interestingly, a month ago, it was looking like SMU would be the team in Birmingham with the interim coach, with its head coach June Jones in deep negotiations with Arizona State. He was expected to sign on and be introduced, but contract agreements broke down at the last minute. A week later, Arizona State lured Pitt's coach Todd Graham.

Paul Randolph is also expected to be on board for at least one last game. He will handle his regular duties coaching the defensive line. Patterson will coach the linebackers. Randall McCray—who initially came on as an outside linebackers coach and special teams coach, then over to safeties, will likely take over coaching all the defensive backs in light of Tony Gibson leaving to go coach at Arizona.

On the offensive side, Todd Dodge will stay on to call the offensive plays. As co-coordinator with Michael Norvell, who bolted for Arizona State last month—the lone Pitt assistant under Graham to do so thus far—Dodge is also in charge of the quarterbacks. Offensive line Spencer Leftwich will also remain in place to coach the offensive line. Strength coaches Shawn Griswold and Trevor Dieleman and Travis Pelletier are still in place. Bo Graham—son of former head coach Todd Graham was a graduate assistant at Pittsburgh, but accompanied his father to Arizona State the day he was introduced. Other grad assistants such as Matt Caponi, Dave Bucar and Dan Lanning are expected to be with the team.

The Pitt team will take a chartered flight into Birmingham later this morning, and arrive early afternoon. They will arrive in time to have its first practice. Instead of practicing at Birmingham Southern College, the Panthers travel to Hoover High School to conduct their practices this week. All practices are closed to the public.

The team will practice at Hoover Wednesday and Thursday. They will partake in a more formal Kickoff Luncheon at the Sheraton Birmingham on Friday. Former Auburn and 17-year NFL veteran Al Del Greco will be honored at this year's luncheon. Keynote speaker will be former Philadelphia Eagles special teams ace Vince Papale.

Wednesday will begin early with the annual FCA Prayer Breakfast at the Sheraton. Patterson and select Pitt players will be in attendance. Bobby Bowden—honored last year at the Kickoff Luncheon—will be the keynote speaker. The Panthers will also tour the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and visit the StarDome Comedy Club that evening. Thursday, select players will visit the Children's of Alabama Hospital. Thursday evening will be the bowling challenge and barbeque for both teams.

Prior to the game, both head coaches and select players will hold a special pre-game press conference on Friday afternoon at Legion Field. The Pitt Pep Rally will be held for fans, starting at 5 pm (CST) at the BBVA Compass Bowl Street Fest at Historic Five Points South. The event is free and open to the public. Saturday morning from 8:30 am to 11:30 am is the Power Force Fan Zone outside of Legion Field. The event is free and open to the public. Kickoff for the BBVA game follows at 12 noon (CST).

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