Works in progress
Paul Chryst is 4-6 in his third year as Pitt's coach, leaving the program with almost nowhere to go but up next season. Several college football coaches have improved their won/loss record by two or more victories from their third year to their fourth:
Coach, Team 3rd year 4th year
Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin 5-6 (1993) 10-1-1 (1994)
Walt Harris, Pitt 5-6 (1999) 7-5 (2000) Bobby Petrino, Louisville 9-3 (2005) 12-1 (2006)
Dave Wannstedt, Pitt 5-7 (2007) 9-4 (2008)
Urban Meyer, Florida 9-4 (2007) 13-1 (2008)*
Mark Dantonio, Michigan State 6-7 (2009) 11-2 (2010)
Art Briles Baylor 7-6 (2010) 10-3 (2011)
* Won national championship
ESPN college football analyst Rod Gilmore is aware of the difficulty involved in taking over a college football program, a reality slapping Pitt coach Paul Chryst in the face in his third year.
“It’s unusual for a guy to step in and have everything ready-made,” Gilmore said.
That concession aside, Gilmore suggests expectations rise in the fourth year.
“The pressure is on, and it should be,” he said.
Pitt’s recent past is a sorry but familiar one, with three coaches hired since Dave Wannstedt was fired near the end of his sixth season. The coaches who showed up for the games — Todd Graham and Chryst — have led Pitt to a 23-26 record since 2011.
Chryst (17-19) inherited a mess and spent two years cleaning it up, leaving only 19 juniors and seniors on the current roster. Gilmore said that’s not unusual at many places.
“First and foremost, you find there are holes in the classes,” he said.
The lingering effect for Pitt is a 1-6 record since mid-September, with 11 freshmen and sophomores among 22 starters.
“The game really is a junior, senior sport,” Gilmore said.
That Pitt is losing with the youngest roster in the FBS (81 freshmen and sophomores) reinforces his point.
“If you have a teenage kid and you ask him to do something,” Gilmore said, “you are happy if he can do it 80 percent of the time. The problem is if you are doing it right 80 percent of the time (in a game), you are probably losing.”
Several coaches over the past three decades have discovered Chryst’s reality, including the man who hired him twice — former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez.
Alvarez’s third team was 5-6 in 1992 — a team that included young offensive lineman Joe Rudolph, now Pitt’s offensive coordinator. A year later, the Badgers were 10-1-1 and went to the Rose Bowl.
The past two Pitt coaches to last at least three years — Walt Harris and Wannstedt — won only five games in their third season. After that, Harris always was at least two games over .500; Wannstedt went from 5-7 to 9-4 to 10-3.
“Having four years to get your people is critical,” Gilmore said.
An exception to the rule is Graham, who is 8-2 in his third season at Arizona State after going to the Pac-12 title game last year.
Chryst’s fourth season looks to have promise. The offense has a chance to be good, with wide receiver Tyler Boyd, running back James Conner and quarterback Chad Voytik making plays as sophomores this season. The line will have five regulars returning, including center Artie Rowell, who is recovering from knee surgery.
Predicting improvement for the defense is difficult. Defensive coordinator Matt House, who has been with Chryst all three seasons, said building a program is more than just playing games on Saturday.
“Any time you build a culture, there’s a process,” he said. “I think we’re right in the process of where we’re really forming these young kids and forming the expectations.
“Not just for the game this week or the game in two weeks, but for how we want to be looked at as a program, how we work, how we practice, how we prepare, what we do out in the street, all those things.
“I think we have (the right players) here. It’s just a matter of developing them.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.