ACC Football Kickoff: Coach Speak

In addition to hearing Paul Chryst give a state of the program update during his portion, you'll get an impression of Pitt from some opponent head coaches.

Monday was coaches day at the ACC Football Kickoff, the day where coaches take their turn talking to the different radio, TV and best writers who cover the team.

If anyone wants to know how Pitt is being perceived from some of the other league's coaches, and from the ACC as a whole, it's a pretty welcome reception.

Virginia head coach Mike London said that getting into and recruiting western Pennsylvania is an important part of his program's focus. Playing Pittsburgh every year as an ACC Coastal opponent adds to that, almost making it a rivalry game, in his opinion.

"I've been at Virginia for quite some years," London said. "One of the games we played (the 2003 Continental Tire Bowl), they had Larry Fitzgerald. We went up there (in 2006) and played at their place. I always remember some tough games, very talented people.

"As for recruiting implications, there are some guys we want in that Pennsylvania area, vying against (Pitt) for their top talent. It's an area that we're not and heavy into, recruiting-wise. That whole area up there, that corridor, is something important to us. Playing them, now regularly, lends itself to creating another rivalry."

Miami head coach Al Golden played against Pitt as a tight end at Penn State (1989-91). Not just Pitt, but Golden is well-versed in the history of both programs.

"I think it's great," Golden said. "I think people will appreciate the tradition of Pitt and Syracuse. A lot of memories, certainly, of playing both those teams."

The question of his Miami team, playing at Pittsburgh the day after Thanksgiving, came up. Is he concerned about weather, in that case.

"What do you want me to do," Golden joked.

Larry Fedora is a second-year head coach at North Carolina. He's battled through some sanctions that he inherited. Things should be even better in Chapel Hill, for Year Two under Fedora.

He also commented on what it means to be bringing Pitt into the league.

"We've talked about expanding, and how we would recruit the state of Pennsylvania," Fedora said. "Just like those guys coming in, and learning the intricacies of the league, we've got a lot to learn about them. The only way you're going to learn about them, is if you play them. Iknow about tradition, that's what you really know about them."

Jimbo Fisher, who has already chimed in on several occasions, looking ahead to his team's open on September 2 in Pittsburgh. He sided with Pitt fans, on something that's been a debatable issue for years, and something that should earn him a few fans in Pittsburgh.

"Hugh Green should have been the first defensive player to win the Heisman," Fisher said.

Pitt head coach Paul Chryst spent a lot of time, 55 minutes to be exact, talking with the best writers that cover the team.

Everything from being a conference member now, to impacts on recruiting, to the issues of paying players and rule changes.

Chryst is in a rare position, being that after one year in the Big East, he starts year two in the ACC. However, he doesn't look at it that way.

He sees it as him being the head coach of an ACC team, all along, and almost made it sound like it was a selling point for him, when he took over the program in December of 2011.

"The only thing we've known, going back to when I interviewed for the job here, to taking part in offseason meetings, has been ACC," Chryst said.

Same approach to recruiting. There was no difference from recruiting Pitt as a Big East team to recruiting Pitt as an ACC team. In Chryst's eyes, Pitt has been an ACC team the whole time he's been here. The university, if you want to go into recruiting terms, verbally committed to the ACC on September 17, 2011, before formally joining three weeks ago.

"We've been recruiting, only knowing that we're going to the ACC," Chryst said.

Two of the bigger topics at this year's ACC Football Kickoff, aside from Pitt and Syracuse being the two new members, have been rule changes and whether paying players should become a reality."We are all for player safety," Chryst said. "It better be an emphasis. Anytime there's a point of emphasis with the officials, you better make a point to your players. You don't want to take away from them."

Chryst referring specifically to the helmet rule, where teams will be penalized 15 yards, and the offending player will be ejected for hitting an offensive player with the crown of his helmet, on a helmet-to-helmet call.

On the idea of paying players, Chryst made a fair analogy, particularly comparing the idea of student-athletes coming together, filing a lawsuit against the NCAA, in order to receive a stipend.

"If one of your kids wants to ask you to get their tongue pierced, they're still your kid," Chryst said. "You want to make sure you know what they're doing it for the right reasons. I don't even know all the particulars. If you're going to be involved in it, you better know enough about it."

Aside from joining the ACC, rule changes, NCAA issues, it has been a busy and eventful offseason for Chryst's program. Just for example. Hiring a new defensive coordinator--a big theme in the idea of schemes, and getting the most out of players--paled in comparison to some of the other events.

Chryst said he's pleased with the hire. From the time Dave Huxtable was hired as defensive coordinator at N.C. State, to the time Matt House was hired in early February, Chryst echoed his statements from the day the hire/promotion was made--House was the best choice.

"You got different guys running it, but none of us are splitting the atom," Chryst said. "A defense is going to be a 3-4, or a 4-3."

Aaron Donald even commuted this week that he was going to be given a green light. Though Chryst doesn't like to put players on the spot, put one individual's performance on a pedestal, he mentioned a few players, who he expects to shine on defense.

"Not everybody is being given a green light, but Aaron has earned that," Chryst said. "It'll certainly be different schematically in some ways. I still think players define who you are. They're the ones that give identity to a team. Certainly there will be some differences. Aaron Donald is going to be Aaron Donald; then we have other guys on defense, too, like K'Waun Williams, Lafayette Pitts."

Interestingly, first-year N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren talked about the hire of Huxtable, specifically the passion Huxtable will bring to the staff.

"If you don't coach with passion, you can't coach for me," Doeren said.

As for the absence of Shell, Pitt was facing a question at running back, in replacing 1,000-yard rusher Ray Graham.

After Shell leaving the program, Pitt still has junior Isaac Bennett, sophomore Malcolm Crockett and true freshman James Conner.

Can he compare Bennett, or any of the others, to Montee Ball--a player who had a breakout year in 2011 while Chryst was the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, after being virtually an unknown.

"You don't compare them, because you get to know them so well," Chryst said. "You can't say, 'you and your brother are so alike,' when you are way different. Fortunately, you get to know these guys a lot. Their styles, these are all things that become who they are to you, and the way you feel. I have a hard time (making comparisons)."

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