Big East Week: One Big Question for Pittsburgh, Can Chryst Succeed in Year One?


It’s safe to say that is has been a rough year or so in Pittsburgh.

After firing Dave Wannstedt at the end of the 2010 season, the Pitt brass hired rising coaching star Mike Haywood from Miami of Ohio, only to fire him after two weeks on the job. It was a nasty affair all around, but with Haywood under arrest for a domestic abuse charge, it had to be done.

With another coaching search underway, it seemed like Pittsburgh finally had the right man for the job when Todd Graham arrived from Tulsa.

Graham praised Pittsburgh as a “dream job”, bringing his own vaunted brand of the spread offense, the “High Octane Offense”, and a number of other guarantees that he would never fulfill.  After only one year on the job – and a mediocre 6-6 season at that – Graham was gone, making his way to his next “dream job” at Arizona State.

So once again the Panthers were left coach-less and reeling from another difficult season. As the Athletic Department resumed yet another coaching search, the job fell to Wisconsin Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst.

Under Chryst’s guidance, the Badgers broke numerous offensive records, and annually were one of the top rushing offenses in the Big 10. Now that Chryst has taken over in Pittsburgh, he’ll look to instill that tough, physical attitude in a team that didn’t seem to have a real identity last season.

Chryst’s largest order of business heading in the fall will be the development of senior QB Tino Sunseri. Sunseri completed 64% of his passes last fall in Graham’s spread offense, but only threw for only 10 touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions. If Pitt wishes to challenge for a Big East title in Chryst’s first year, Sunseri will need to lead an offense that at times struggled to move the chains in 2011.

Fortunately Sunseri will have plenty of help around him. Junior RB Ray Graham returns after finishing with nearly 1,000 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground.  On the outside WR Devin Street is a tall jumper with good speed and should excel in Pitt’s new Pro-Style attack. Senior WR Mike Shanahan returns, as well as five out of the Panthers top six receivers from last season.

So the question remains: Can Chryst work his magic with yet another quarterback, as he had done so often at Wisconsin? If the Pitt offensive line can generate good protection, and with Graham receiving a good load of carries, that could pave the way for a strong senior seasons for Sunseri.