Paul Chryst first talked with Panthers athletic director Steve Pederson about the job in 2010, following Dave Wannstedt’s coerced resignation. Chryst had just completed his sixth year as offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, his alma mater, and thought the Pitt job matched his blue-collar ethos.
“Obviously,” Chryst said, “I wasn’t real impressive.”
Pederson first hired Miami of Ohio coach Mike Haywood, who was dismissed weeks later after his arrest related to domestic abuse. Then came Tulsa’s Todd Graham, who after a 6-6 regular season with the Panthers in 2011, bailed for Arizona State.
“It’s great how life works out,” Chryst said as he prepared for Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech. “Gave me one more year at Wisconsin, which was a great year.”
A former assistant at Oregon State and in the NFL and Canadian Football League, the 46-year-old Chryst seems most comfortable away from the public eye.
“I never had the need to have ‘head coach’ on the business card,” he said. “But I wanted to make sure if an opportunity presented itself, I was prepared for it. … It had to be a special place and a place that was good for the family. I loved what I was doing.”
Sports is the Chryst family business. Paul’s father, George, was a high school head coach and later at Wisconsin-Platteville. His brother Geep is the San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks coach. His brother Rick is a former ACC associate commissioner.
“I think he’s a very stable, principled guy, and the kind of guy that you could see being the coach here for a long, long time,” Pederson said, acknowledging the program’s recent instability. “He’ll be successful here, and we’re just going to keep helping him and supporting him. … People like him, people have responded to him.”
The Panthers are 0-2 under Chryst, losing to Youngstown State and Cincinnati.
“The enjoyable part of this is getting to know who we are,” he said. “Each game we find out more. … You disrespect the game if you say we should win. How arrogant is it to say we should win? Respect the game, play the game and the game reveals the truth.
“The truth is, two Saturdays ago and a Thursday ago, we weren’t the best team, period. There’s no BS. That’s what’s great about sports. It’s the only reality today that’s real. … We get to live the truth and you have to acknowledge the truth when it’s not what you want.”
Chryst’s voice halts when he recalls all the players, coaches and staff who contributed to Wisconsin’s success and helped prepare him for this job. The Badgers averaged 10 wins per season during his time there.
“We can do that here,” Chryst said. “I truly believe that.”
Dixon has brought that sustained excellence to Pitt basketball. The Panthers are 238-77 in his nine seasons, averaging 26.4 victories and reaching eight NCAA tournaments.
A Pitt assistant the previous four years, Dixon succeeded Ben Howland when Howland went to UCLA. The Panthers’ interim athletic director at the time, Marc Boehm, offered the job to several candidates, including Pittsburgh native and then-Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser.
“I knew it was going to take time,” Dixon said of the process. “I knew they were going to offer it to a number of guys. I had to be patient.”
Pitt was 31-5 in his rookie season and has advanced in seven of its eight NCAA tournaments on his watch. Riddled by injuries, the Panthers were 22-17 last season and missed the NCAA for the first time in 11 years.
“People enjoy watching our basketball team play,” Pederson said.” As we begin traveling around the ACC, people will enjoy us coming into their arenas. We can’t wait to get the teams here.”