Colin Dunlap: A Step In Right Direction Is Enough For Pitt
No one internally is going to say it, nor should they.
No one ever comes out and says, “it would be OK to be above-average this year,” even as it appears to be an outcome that would show strides in the right direction.
No one ever says that, so I will — the Pitt football program, all things considered, would do well to have an above-average season.
Those goals and aspirations can all be recalibrated going into next season, be reset in accordance with the outcomes in 2013, but for now, for these 12 games ahead of them, above-average is just fine by me.
As it stands, with the schedule something written on a placard and not played out on a field, I’d sign for a 7-5 record.
Every single day of the week.
As Pitt opened preseason camp Tuesday, barreling toward a Sept. 2 season-opening (and welcome to the Atlantic Coast Conference) clash with Florida State, predictably there was the enthusiasm.
“Obviously, it’s great to get back out here and we appreciate the work the guys put in,” Pitt head coach Paul Chryst said at the start of his second season. “Like any first day, it was good but with a lot of stuff to clean up and we’re looking forward to doing that. I thought overall it was a good first day, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
Indeed, the program does — but it’s little fault of Chryst’s. And, certainly, the opinion here is that he is the precise man for the job to build Pitt into a bona fide winner.
Take for example Chryst’s refusal to genuflect in the direction of star players and sacrifice the betterment of the team. It happened again on Wednesday, when the head coach let linebacker Todd Thomas walk and won’t chase him, as Thomas reportedly quit the team for good after a demotion to the second team.
Chryst also didn’t chase standout running back Rushel Shell when he made a stink. Chryst let him walk, too.
That said, I’m fine with seeing the improvement happen incrementally, because Chryst has announced, through actions, he’s going to do it his way.
Not at the pace of a snail.
But it isn’t going to happen with the jolt of a Maserati, either.
A step-by-step process is OK by me. And it should be for any sane, sensible Pitt fan.
Chryst, in his first season as a head coach, directed the Panthers to a 6-6 regular-season mark in 2012, pulling the program up from the bootstraps after coaching turnover seldom (if ever?) seen in college football.
He should be soundly applauded for getting things back together after what could have been a season-devastating loss in the opener against Youngstown State.
Truthfully, it could have all fallen to pieces from there.
But it didn’t.
However, there were times last season, when I thought the million-miles-a-minute, feverish pace of the sideline got to Chryst. Keep in mind, this is a man — in a role for many years as an offensive coordinator — who was accustomed to coaching from the press box. Quite simply, up there, you can make it into a video game; you control the moving parts from on high, you don’t have to live amongst the chaos.
“We’re certainly more comfortable,” Chryst said. “But there’s always that excitement for the season.”
And there’s always room for Chryst to grow as a head coach.
I think he will do precisely as much, into a very, very good one.
His task isn’t easy this season, as no one needs to be reminded that the Atlantic Coast Conference is, exponentially, better than the Big East.
Perusing through Pitt’s schedule, there are the games with New Mexico, Old Dominion, Navy, Syracuse, Duke and Virginia that Pitt — on paper at least — would look to be competitive in. Then there are the six uphill climbs, the games against Florida State, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Miami.
Chryst and his staff would do very, very well to win the former six that are mentioned on that list and grab one from the latter column to arrive at a 7-5 mark.
Grabbing two from that second column and winning the other six to earn an 8-4 record? Well, throw a parade. It would be that much of an accomplishment.
Now, down the road, is above-average good enough? No.
In, say, 2014 would it be fine for this team to be just a tick above the .500 mark? Most likely not, with how Chryst has pushed forward the recruiting efforts.
The ambitions in the future should be much, much loftier.
However, see this season for what it is: A touch above-average would start this program down what could be a very good path.
Colin Dunlap is the featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his bio here.