Aside from all the talk of the ACC, and when Pitt is going to start playing in its new conference, athletic director Steve Pederson had a few other items of note—several in regards to the football program.
One big one that became official this week, was Chris Jacobson getting his sixth year of eligibility. Jacobson sustained a knee injury in the third game of the season against Iowa, and was lost for the season. Pederson expressed his excitement to see Jacobson back for one more year.
"We're really pleased about that for him," Pederson said. "The kind of guy who does the right things, has done very well at school, has been a good person all the way around, has been a good leader. I'm happy for him. That was approved by the NCAA, so he can play this season."
Then, there is still the departure of Todd Graham. Two months after Graham's departure, it's obvious that Pitt and Graham have moved on. There was some backlash from some of the current players about the way Graham left. Graham fired back at Pitt in an interview with CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodds.
"I think the mistake was making the move in the first place," Graham said in the interview, referring to taking the Pitt job.
In the months since then, neither Graham or his new boss, Arizona State athletic director Lisa Love, have not reached out to Pitt.
"I haven't had any conversations," Pederson said. "I really haven't read or paid attention to anything that's been said or written in that way. We've moved forward with our program. We have good people here and have been doing things here the right way for a long time."
Graham, as it turns out, paid Pitt his $1 million buyout. Pitt certainly upped the ante in paying to get Graham—a $2 million dollar salary, up from the $1.2 million salary they paid Dave Wannstedt. The reward for Pitt was Graham leading the team to a 6-7 season.
One other area that Pitt committed to, was freshening up the South Side practice facility. Not that it was dilapidated, or anything. The building finished its first decade of existence. Pederson said a plan was already in place to make some minor updates. He credited associate AD's E.J. Borghetti (media relations) and Chris LaSala (football administration) for the upgrades as the ones who came up with the ideas and gave all the input—not Graham. Throughout the facilities, large painted murals of former Pitt players are on walls all over the building. Other minor adjustments such as new carpeting were also installed.
"The changes that we made down at the facility were the kind of changes we were going to make anyway," Pederson said. "The building was ten years old. It was time. It was already re-carpeted before we hired (Graham). We felt it was the right time to freshen up the building. E.J. (Borghetti) designed what is on the walls down there. It's really a great history of Pitt football. It was good planning; E.J. and Chris LaSala worked with the company that was doing all the work. They kind of engineered what it looks like now. The stuff that went up, it was all stuff that in this day and age, we had a plan that would freshen it up. I think we were in the process of doing that anyway. We had plenty of commitment to be a successful football program, all the way around, always have and we'll continue to."
Pederson also expressed on some of the things he's reflected on since Graham's departure.
"I think in a lot of ways it was just unfortunate for our players," Pederson said. "I felt terrible they were thrust into that situation. I really admired the way Keith Patterson and some of the other coaches finished it up and treated the kids, were respectful of the kids and gave them their very best effort. We were able to find a terrific coach that was able to come in here and take over. I think everything ended up fine. I just feel bad for the players and I felt bad for our fans that they had to endure that a little bit. I think we ended up at a good place. Now, we move forward."
As the shadow of Graham's departure slowly dissipates, a big reason for that has been the hiring of Paul Chryst. Chryst—based on just a few public appearances and interviews—has already laid a pretty big impression on those in the athletic department, and more importantly the current players and the fanbase. Last week, an annual Signing Day reception was held at Heinz Field for season ticket holders. A record attendance came out to meet the new coaching staff, and get the staff's perspective of the incoming recruiting class.
Though Pederson was at some ACC meetings and not able to attend, he's received a pretty clear picture of how the reception went based on the feedback he's gotten.
"Everybody said it was a record crowd, if not the record, it about tied for the record," Pederson said of last week's event. "Our fans have been great. They've been so loyal and they've been so interested. I know I talked to Coach Chryst the next morning, and he was very proud. He said, ‘That was really fun,' he was really fired up about it. (The fans) are terrific people, and they're very supportive of what we're doing. They've always been supportive of our team and our players. I thought that was a really good sign, and upbeat kind of exciting. That's true gauge. You're asking people to come. You're not selling it, you're not talking people into coming; just opening the doors and telling people to come. The response was tremendous. I hope that a good sign of things to come.
And for Chryst?
"They really like him," Pederson said. "That's been the response I've gotten from anybody who's met him, anybody who's seen him on TV. They like him. They like his style, his demeanor. It's really been very positive. People who have met him really like him. They have strong opinions after they've met him. I think most people have a good feeling about him are excited about the staff he's put together. I think it's good."
Along the lines of football, more specifically, in the area of recruiting. There's been some recent news coming from some other conferences about some coaches expressing their disdain—specifically the Big Ten. Some coaches in the conference were upset at the way Ohio State head coach recruited certain athletes originally recruited to their school.
"I called Urban and we spoke about it," Bielema said in an article in The Sporting News. "We talked about it, and he said it would stop and it did. I'll let our commissioner deal with anything else. That's not who we are (in the Big Ten). We settle things among ourselves as coaches."
When asked about the issue, Pederson—a former recruiting coordinator himself—offered his take.
"I think the general rule was until they signed a letter of intent, you could recruit anybody you wanted," Pederson said. "Generally, we tried to be respectful if a student-athlete said, ‘I'm committed there, I'm going there, I don't want to talk to anybody else,' then we would leave him alone. If somebody else would still open the door, and would be willing to talk, obviously they're interested and they'll continue to talk.
"That's just the way it goes in this business. I've never really known anything about any unwritten rules that you backed off if a kid committed, because kids change their mind all the time. Ultimately, what you want to get is somebody who really wants to be at your place and is committed to your place. I always felt like if you could talk them out of it that close to the end, they really weren't excited to begin with. That's kind of interesting; interesting times, interesting take on that."
Aside from football, Pitt is able to field all of its varsity sports under one conference now with its move to the ACC. Wrestling had been in the EWL, and Gymnastics was in the EAGL. The ACC also sponsors championships in such sports of golf, lacrosse and rowing. Are there any plans in place to add any new sports with the new conference coming into play?
"We really haven't given any thought to adding any sports right now," Pederson said. "Part of it is that we really want to make sure that we're doing well with the sports we have and be able to support and be strong in those particular sports. At this point, we're just not in a position where ready to add anything. We're just going to focus on the ones we have.
"It is exciting, because for the first time, all of our sports will be in the same conference. Wrestling will be ACC, Gymnastics is going to be in the ACC. We don't have a conference affiliation that is all the same. It might be a little confusing to people. Our student-athletes, they're pretty excited in those particular sports."
With the recent additions of a new baseball field, softball field and soccer field, Pederson did say there's one more capital project that is in the early works.
"The last kind of ingredient in this puzzle is to build a track," Pederson said. "We have to build a track at some point. Certainly waiting for the right place and the right time, and certainly funding. In this day and age, it's going to be tougher. We're going to have to evaluate when we can do that. Certainly, we're able to compete. Really, all of our outdoor meets are held in the southern part of the country where we're running outdoors anyway. We're really not impacting things. We just want to get this thing built correctly."
One thing in Pitt's favor is that for a number of years, Pitt hasn't hosted many track meets. There's no need to hold several events in one season, as much as it is just to give the team a place to call home.
"We don't have any outdoor meets, we never really had any outdoor meets before, anyway," Pederson explained. "Getting people to come run in Pittsburgh isn't really at the top of their list. I'm going back 15 years, but our teams were going down south anyway. That's where all the great outdoor meets are anyway. The weather is just too iffy in this part of the country. Most teams in the north don't host a lot of outdoor meets. We're going to look at everything and try to make the right decision."