PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) — The University of Pittsburgh has fired athletic director Steve Pederson after Paul Chryst’s abrupt departure for Wisconsin left the Panthers searching for their fourth football coach in four years.
Randy Juhl, vice chancellor for research conduct and compliance, will serve as Pitt’s acting athletic director.
Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph will serve as interim coach for the Panthers as they prepare for the Armed Forces Bowl on Jan. 2 against Houston.
“Joe is highly respected by our players and staff. He has been an important figure in our program’s growth and will provide our student-athletes the support and leadership they need as they prepare for their final game,” Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said in a press release.
Wednesday’s announcements came as Chryst was being introduced as Wisconsin’s coach following three seasons at Pitt.
“On behalf of the entire Pitt community, I would like to thank Paul Chryst for his efforts the past three years. He leaves the program with a strong foundation for future success, both on and off the field,” Pitt’s chancellor said in the press release.
Chancellor Gallagher thanked Pederson for his service to the university, which included guiding Pittsburgh from the crumbling Big East to the ACC. Pederson struggled to find stability in the football program, however, after Dave Wannstedt was forced out at the end of the 2010 season.
In a press release, Pederson said: “With major decisions to be made about the future of football, I thought it was in the best interest of the University of Pittsburgh for Chancellor Gallagher to assemble his own team. I am a Pitt and City of Pittsburgh fan, and want what is best for everyone moving into the future. I will miss the daily interaction with our great staff, coaches and student-athletes, but will enjoy watching them accomplish great things. To our friends and supporters, thank you for making this a great home for our family.”
Meanwhile, Wisconsin made Chryst’s hiring official on Wednesday evening during a press conference. The announcement ended days of speculation following the surprising departure of Gary Andersen for Oregon State.
Chryst is a former Wisconsin offensive coordinator and a Madison native. He leaves the Panthers after going 19-19 in three seasons, returning to his hometown and alma mater.
“Very appreciative and honored for this opportunity,” he said.
The 49-year-old Chryst had two prior stints as an assistant for the Badgers. Most notably, he was part of the Wisconsin staff from 2005-11, helping the Badgers to five double-digit victory seasons and two Rose Bowls.
He was coordinator in 2011 when the high-scoring Badgers featured quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Montee Ball.
Chryst started at Pittsburgh in 2012. When Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas after the 2012 Big Ten championship game, athletic director Barry Alvarez said then that he would not pursue Chryst for the opening after helping him get his first head-coaching job at Pitt.
Andersen ended up in Madison, and left almost exactly two years later to take over the Beavers. He departed Wisconsin on Dec. 10, the same day that star running back and Heisman Trophy finalist Melvin Gordon announced he was skipping his senior season to enter the NFL draft.
Gordon’s departure was expected; Andersen’s move was a stunner after leading the Badgers to a 19-7 record in two seasons.
With the job open again, Chryst quickly rose to the top of the list as a potential replacement. This time, there no was hesitation to reach out from Wisconsin.
Alvarez said the first person he thought of when Andersen informed him he was leaving was Chryst.
Unlike Andersen, a Utah native who spent most of his coaching career in the West, Chryst has roots in Madison. He remains a popular figure at Wisconsin, and the school added a dose of fanfare at his introductory news conference with a small band set up to left of a stage at the school’s basketball practice court.
While the Badgers look to Chryst for stability, his departure throws Pitt back into uncertainty.
The Panthers will be in the football coach market for the fourth time since Wannstedt was let go after the 2010 season. Since then, Pederson has hired Mike Haywood, who was fired less than a month after being lured from Miami, Ohio, after being arrested on a domestic violence charge; Todd Graham, who lasted one season before quitting and taking the Arizona State job; and Chryst.
Chryst’s level-headed approach provided a needed dose of levity at Pittsburgh after a rocky 13 months prior to his arrival. He said all the right things on the day he was hired, calling the Panthers a “destination” program and volunteering to put a buyout clause into his contract.
Results on the field were mixed. Each of his three regular seasons with the Panthers ended with a 6-6 record, mixing statement wins with puzzling losses.
Chryst lost his first game on the job to Youngstown State in 2012, and then guided the Panthers to a dominant win over then-No. 13 Virginia Tech two weeks later. A loss at Navy was followed by an upset of Notre Dame in 2013.
Pitt began this season 3-0 and was up 10 points at home against Iowa before losing to the Hawkeyes, and a week later to Akron.
There appear to be pieces in place at Pitt, though, for a real turnaround. The Panthers started the year with over 80 freshmen and sophomores on the roster, one of the youngest in the country. That group includes running back James Conner – who was named the ACC Player of the Year this fall after piling up 1,675 yards and a school-record 24 touchdowns – and sophomore wide receiver Tyler Boyd.
The school had approached Chryst about an extension before this season and details were never finalized.
The Badgers, who are in the midst of practicing for the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 against Auburn, return to the field on Thursday morning with Alvarez serving as the interim coach. Himself a former Wisconsin coach, Alvarez found himself in the same role two years ago in the transition between Bielema and Andersen.
Now, Chryst has returned home as the next coach of the Badgers.
Chris Peak, Publisher of Panther-Lair.com joined the “KDKA Morning News” to talk about the departure of Chryst and the firing of Pederson.
“It’s a pretty significant move by [Chancellor] Gallagher. He’s putting his stamp on not just the football coaching search, but the athletic department as a whole,” Peak said.
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Source: Chryst To Meet With Wisconsin Chancellor (12/16/14)
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