The week began coaching his final game at Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. By week's end, Paul Chryst was fully decked out in his Pitt gear, getting a live look at his new team. From Pasadena, to moving into his new office in Pittsburgh, to then traveling south to Birmingham.
"Oh yeah, it's been really hectic," Chryst said. "It's been really hectic, but you just try the best you can. It's been crazy, but it's all good."
One of his first chores was adding a few assistants to start things off with. From Wisconsin, he brought Bob Bostad as offensive coordinator/offensive line coach, Dave Huxtable as defensive coordinator, Joe Rudolph as assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach, Chris Haering for linebackers, Jim Hueber for tight ends and Todd Rice as strength coach.
One thing that has been evident so far, is the local emphasis Chryst has already placed—not just with his staff, but in becoming fully entrenched with the area. In talking to him about Haering—who was a player at West Virginia while Chryst started off as a graduate assistant—you can tell Chryst is well-versed in Haering's background as the long-time head coach at Mt. Lebanon. Another mutual friend—Bethel Park head coach Jeff Metheny—is also a friend from West Virginia.
"Metheny hasn't said anything," Chryst joked. "There's probably been a lot said between those (Haering and Metheny). That's the one game that I try to follow. It's pretty good. I can jump on whichever bandwagon I want."
It should help Chryst in his early days having Haering on board—as a former WPIAL head coach—to speed up the western Pennsylvania ties. Rudolph, a Belle Vernon native, has also recruited the area well in the past while at Wisconsin. It might already seem strong to have Haering and Rudolph working western Pennsylvania alone, but that's not Chryst's main ideal. He's hopeful his entire staff will become well versed among all the western Pennsylvania schools.
Has Chryst spoken to all the western Pennsylvania head coaches yet?
"Some," Chryst answered. "There's a lot more I gotta hit, but some. You always start from within and build out. I think we all want to have (western PA ties). We're all trying to put it together as we finalize the staff. We all want to be a part of the western PA (recruiting)."
He's also reached out to many of the current commits for Pitt's 2012 recruiting class. Much like the coaches, he wants to reach out to some more of them—committed or uncommitted.
"You try to reach out and touch base with them," Chryst said. "That's the thing that will be nice. The dead period's out, and we can go out and get our staff in full force. You're interested in taking care of all the different things; current players and recruits. I like where a lot of them are at. It'll be good to just make it real and get off the phone and see them face to face. You appreciate what they've (done), kind of stuck through it all. I'm looking forward to that part. This job's better when you have people. It'll be good to have players that are here."
One thing that will be different from the previous regime, is that Chryst doesn't have a specific system that only certain players fit. He seems to have a broader spectrum of players he can go after. That's not much of a surprise, considering he has a track record of making things adaptable to whatever players he's dealing with.
"I think the vision is making it fit the guys," Chryst said of his overall philosophy. "The one thing you have to be careful of is, the systems have to fit the players. Football is a tough, physical game. I like that part of it. I think you accommodate your players. I think that's the one thing I feel good with the coaches that we have. You're a better coach with better players. Coaches give players a better chance to be successful. You gotta be careful of putting a square (peg) in a round hole. We're not gonna say, ‘lets just pound it,' type team. We want to be balanced. It's not that complicated. You want to score points on offense, stop them on defense. However you want to do it, you do it within a framework of continuity."
A big part of Chryst's overall scheme of things, is loyalty. With this early round of hires, he was able to bring three key assistants from Wisconsin—three assistants in addition to himself that made the Badgers so successful in recent years. He said initially, when putting his staff together and offering Bostad, Huxtable and Rudolph the opportunity to come on board, he obviously felt they were guys that would work well at Pitt.
"We know each other, really everyone," Chryst said. "There are some guys that are ultimately side-by-side, but there's always connections. A lot of that will be helpful. It's a big group of guys that really like football and take their coaching seriously."
Was he surprised, or worried at whether or not they'd leave Wisconsin and be able to come with him to Pitt?
"I don't know if pleasantly surprised is the right word, but you're pumped," Chryst said. "You want to keep working with those guys. Each guy has to make the right decision—is it right for them; professionally, family-wise—then picking up and coming. That means a ton to me.
"You offer guys you respect that you want to be with. You hope it's the best situation for them. You have to let them decide. Certainly, there's so much they bring individually. That's what you want. Where I was at, most recent, at Wisconsin, I was fortunate to be with most of those guys. I wasn't sure how it was going to play out. It felt great in offering all three of them. I feel appreciative and thrilled that we'll be able to continue to work together."
Others like Hueber and Rice are guys that he's worked with at other stops. He felt bringing them on board was just as much of a no-brainer as it was to bring the three guys he was with at Wisconsin.
"Obviously, it's real exciting, and you feel real fortunate," Chryst said. "There's certain guys, where you feel, ‘boy, this should be ideal.' I'm really thrilled. It humbles you. They're at a pretty good place. It's pretty exciting. That's one of the hardest thing is there's a lot of guys. The three guys from Wisconsin, I've certainly worked for a long time with Joe and Bob, and just think the world of them. They have great families. With Hux coming in, to be around him, I have a ton of respect for him. There's a couple guys I have a chance to reconnect with. Jim Hueber, I had a chance to work with him at Wisconsin. He was up at Minnesota. Chris Haering, and those guys, I've known them for a long time. We've talked about those kinds of things. We're fortunate to have him. And then Todd Rice, that's a guy that played for my dad. We've been friends for a long time. Followed his career, and have a tremendous amount of respect for what he does. It's pretty exciting, and really, we're getting pretty close to finishing it up."
He talked a little more on Rice, and what his philosophy will be like. The strength coach—especially in the offseason—is one of the most visible areas in terms of how certain players will transition between now and the start of spring ball, and how some will transition between the end of spring and the start of training camp. He talked a little about what to expect from Rice.
"One, give the (players) the right amount of time (off)," Chryst said. "It's been a long stretch. They had a little bit (of a break) over Christmas. They've already missed a couple days of school. You get a good jump on it. I think one of the strengths of Todd is that he's unbelievable. He's got a very specific program. He's about trying to get guys to be the best athletes they can be. Strength is a big part of it. Flexibility and nutrition, I think he's one of the best, complete training. I'm excited for our guys to be able to work with him."
There's also the possibility that a couple of the assistants who stayed with Pitt through the bowl game could be retained. Chryst talked about the chance to at least visit with them.
"I'm going to talk to a couple of them," Chryst said. "You have a lot of respect for them. It was great. A little while ago, Todd Dodge's wife came up to me and it meant a lot. She said something, and there's some great people here. You appreciate them as professionals for what they're doing. I know Randall (McCray), and I worked with Randall before. I met Paul (Randolph). He played for a friend that is a close friend of mine. I've got appreciation for what they're doing and a lot of respect for it. I want to talk to them. We've got guys in plays. There's only so many spots. There's certainly a ton of respect for them and their families."
Obviously, he would have liked to have seen a better outcome on Saturday. When observing the players at this early stage, he said it's really about just taking a look at the roster—seeing who's coming back, how certain positions are going to be depth-wise, and then meshing it up with his first recruiting class which will be signed in just three weeks.
"Honestly, we'll watch a little bit, but when you're watching, you're just trying to get your roster out—here's your seniors, juniors," Chryst said. "You're watching people even more than you're watching schemes. You're not watching the scoreboard. You're just kind of going with them. There's a lot of the recruits we're familiar with. It's been fun. This will be a little more real.
"It'll be fun just to watch, kind of like anything. You watch guys on film, and now you have to see them live. You just want to see guys compete. That's what you want to see."