On a personal note, I will be honestly sad to see Paul Chryst leave Pittsburgh but could not be happier that he, allegedly, will be going to Wisconsin. No one can fault him leaving, either. It's where he's from, where he played, where he coached and where he's developed a lifelong friendship for the man who wants to see him carry on what he started, Barry Alvarez.
I still feel we're getting to know Chryst as a head coach, and I feel we were ready to fully see the fruits of his recruiting, and what he put into the program. Though he didn't have the star power in his recruiting classes, he did know exactly what he wanted in a recruit. Take for example the No. 130 defensive end recruit in the 2013 class, James Conner. Conner, a two-star recruit, broke or set nearly every rushing record as a running back in just his sophomore year. Originally Chryst did like him as a defensive end. As Conner's senior year went on, Chryst changed his mind, and even said on signing day--signing just one running back in that 2013 class--that nobody compared to what he saw from James.
In two years, Chryst has coached an ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and now an ACC Offensive Player of the Year. Furthermore, Chryst signed five-star running back Rushel Shell in his first Pitt class, who left the program in the spring of 2013. You hardly heard Shell's name at all once Conner hit his success, and that was certainly a nice rousing example to build a program around. Guys bought in at all positions.
There were some negatives in recruiting, at least in terms of securing local talent. Two of the bigger names he lost out on in 2014 were four-stars Shai McKenzie (Virginia Tech) and Montae Nicholson (Michigan State), though he did get a big one in Jordan Whitehead for 2015.Pittsburgh had a weak schedule this season and still managed to go .500. Losses to Akron and Iowa really hurt the mojo of this year's team, and there were other collapses against North Carolina and Duke --games that Pitt basically gave away. The 6-6 record put him on a bit of a hot seat entering 2015, but he returns practically nine starters on offense, only losing a pair of offensive linemen, one of which figures to be a first-rounder (T.J. Clemmings).
As for being a first-time head coach, Chryst was a no-nonsense kind of guy who got rid of guys who wouldn't fit, or wouldn't buy in. Even though he sported just a .500 record, he was well-respected for cleaning up the program in his short tenure. He also held coaches to a similar standard, making several changes this past offseason in areas where he wanted to improve. The big one was adding former Badger Ross Kolodziej as the strength coach, a move he made heading into the bowl game last year. These were moves not based on wins and losses, but proactive moves he felt were necessary to make to build the program.
No Pitt coach in the last 30 years addressed the running game the way Chryst did in his short time here. In addition to Conner's success, he lured Chris James out of Chicago, and still found a way to get him involved behind Conner's impressive workload. He also added a few other running backs in this 2015 class, including Darrin Hall. Players like Hall and James certainly had some other big names to choose from. James even heavily recruited by Wisconsin until the Badgers got a verbal commitment from Caleb Kinlaw. They were sold on Chryst's philosophy, and you have to tip your cap to him for getting them.
The offensive line is three-deep across the board heading into 2015, with another three signed for this recruiting class. No coach since Mike Gottfried (1986-89) addressed and stockpiled offensive linemen the way Chryst did. He wanted to make Pitt the Wisconsin of the east, and it's safe to say he did that.
One thing that will help him even more is that he used recruiting ties he had at Wisconsin -recruiting Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin - to bring some good prospects to Pitt. Those same coaches, who he already had ties with, should make it even easier for him at Wisconsin, geographically speaking.
Pitt was poised to have a breakthrough season in 2015, which with a successful season would have garnered a contract extension. However, a lot is in place, and if Pitt makes a move such as promoting Joe Rudolph to head coach, they should be able to continue that progress and keep all those recruits in the 2015 class.
Chryst did things the right way, stripping this program to the bare bones and starting from scratch. He wanted to lay a solid foundation of work ethic and guys that would buy in. He did that. He may be criticized for a 19-19 record, but I think the record is irrelevant. He got his head coaching experience to help him prepare for taking this Wisconsin job at the right time. It's safe to say his experience at Pitt not only prepared him for that, but should also set Wisconsin up very nicely if he is indeed the guy.