After another disappointing loss (that's becoming a trend around here), Pitt's Paul Chryst again faced the media for his Monday press conference. Want to know the easiest way to tell when a team had a really bad week? When the press conference about an upcoming opponent doesn't include one question about said opponent.
As always, we bring you the top ten quotes (full transcript provided by Pitt's athletics department):
10. (On if there are any second-string players threatening to crack the starting lineup): "Todd Thomas is certainly getting healthier and, truthfully, able to have enough practice now under his belt. Last week and two weeks ago I think he felt like he was in camp a little bit..."
Thomas is still clearly getting back into the swing of things and it will be great once he can get out there a bit more. The punt block was just one example of his athleticism, but where Pitt really needs him is making tackles as a linebacker.
9. (On what the ideal running back situation with Ray Graham and Rushel Shell would be): "An ideal would be that they’re both really productive and feeding off each other. I never have gotten caught up when I’ve been a part of situations in the past where ‘so-and-so’ needs to get so many carries and this guy gets so many carries..."
Anyone who saw the game knows that Shell was clearly the best back on Saturday. Is he the better back overall? Man, I don't know, but what I'll say is this: When Shell gets the ball, he seems to hit the hole so much harder right now. Graham has been swallowed up for a lot of short/no gains and Shell seems to pick up four or five every time he gets the ball. In my opinion, Shell should get more carries next week but you simply can't give up on Graham at this point. He's proven too much in the past.
8. "The film didn’t change the result of the game and yet I think it did reveal we played a good team and I thought Louisville in the end made more plays..."
We can cut it any way we want - Pitt played a good first half, Pitt could have won if not for a disastrous third quarter, coaching gaffes hurt, but in the end, Chryst is absolutely right here. Louisville simply made more plays and deserved to win.
7. (On when starting long snapper Kevin Barthelemy will return): "In a week or two...Should be a couple weeks, I’m hoping..."
As evidenced by the botched snap, special teams are indeed still 1/3 of the game.
6. (On where the team has improved since the opening week): "I hesitate a little bit because we’re not putting it together. We just came off a bye and lost two games. To sit there and say ‘boy we’re really doing this really well, I feel great about that.’ I think guys are improving in certain areas. Guys are getting a better understanding of things. There are some good things going on. I’m not discouraged one bit. Actually, through all this I’m encouraged that a lot of things that need to be fixed are fixable."
This is really tough to take as a fan. I get why coaches say these things, but when you're in the middle of a 2-4 year, I'm not particularly all that happy when a coach says he's not discouraged. First, I don't necessarily believe it, but second, it just gives the wrong message to fans. If you're not discouraged by this mess ... by losing to an FCS team at home by a big margin, by getting blown out on the road, by losing to Syracuse (a team Pitt never loses to), I don't know. Chryst is trying to paint the good instead of the bad and that's fine, but 'not discouraged one bit?'
5. (On how he would grade himself midway through the season): "Yeah I’d say it’s (Pitt’s record) two and four so that’s 33%. You know I don’t get into that. We’re not where we want to be. I think that guys are working and I appreciate that, but I’ll leave that (grading) for other people to do..."
I'm not going to try to affix a grade to Chryst right now because that's simply not fair. The season's only halfway through and the team can still get better. But my snap judgment is that he's still learning on the job and knows he has a lot of work to do. He's made mistakes, of course, but just as I've said he needs time to bring his own players in, he needs time to learn the job. When you hire a first-year head coach, these things are to be expected a bit. Not everyone comes in and blows the door off the hinges - sometimes, yeah. Most of the time, though, it's a process.
Speaking of ...
4. (On the difference between being an offensive coordinator up in the box and being the head coach on the sideline and making decisions): "Absolutely there’s a difference. The scenario previously for me, my job was to always have that (play) call and then when he (the head coach) said lets go for it, it was ready to go. Now my job is to make that final call. Absolutely it’s different..."
As I said ... its a process and part of the risk you take hiring a first-time head coach.
3. (On viewing the season as being at a crossroads): "It is the mid-point of the season but I also think it is the time we’re they’re getting tired of me standing up — just the same as probably you guys — and saying we’re doing some good things, we’ve got to put it together…you can’t have the same storyline all the time because that means you’re really not getting better. The time is now and we’ve got to get things going and you play games and it’s a competition and that infers winning and losing..."
Pitt is really in a do-or-die mode of sorts. Losing to Syracuse sucked and dropping the game to Louisville after leading at the half was disappointing. But things will really come off the track if Pitt jobs to Buffalo on the road this weekend. If the Panthers want to get to a bowl, these next two against Buffalo and Temple are really must-haves.
2. (On if he still has confidence in kicker Kevin Harper): "Yeah, I told the guys there is going to come a time where we’re going to need Kevin and he’s going to deliver for us. That’s one I’m kind of second guessing myself after his first kick (50 yarder). I thought he had a heck of a pregame warm-up and he felt good about it. That one got me a little bit like ‘Was that really fair to the kid?’ No one wants to do better and make every field goal like Kevin and as long as he keeps working on it and going then that’s all you can really ask of him."
Chryst kind of avoids the question here. Well, okay, he really avoids it, but if you weren't sure if Chryst has his doubts about Harper, that question was answered in the fourth quarter when, rather than kicking a 39-yard field goal, he opted to go for it on 4th and 8. It's a move I can understand, but wasn't in favor of (as I tweeted shortly before it happened). For someone with Harper's leg, a 39-yarder is like an extra point. But at only 6-11 on the season in field goals, Chryst had good reason to pause when thinking about sending him out there. The verdict? It's pretty clear that Chryst has second thoughts about him right now.
1. (On if he would have made a different call on the 4th down in the fourth quarter): "It’s hard to sit up here knowing the result that we didn’t get it to say that ‘Yeah, I feel great about that.’ .. I don’t feel that’s one where you’re sitting there and say, ‘Geez, if I had to do it all over again I absolutely would do that.’..I’m not trying to be stubborn and say ‘I’m never wrong’, but I’d be the first to admit that."
First, I was surprised the call at the end of the half didn't come up. But you knew that the coaching was going to be questioned before this press conference ended. Now, as straightforward as Chryst appears to be, I lean towards believing him when he says he'd admit a mistake. And of the two questionable calls, both of which I felt were mistakes as I reviewed on Sunday, this one was by far the less egregious. Chryst's problem in this instance is that he was dealt a bad hand. Do you go for it on 4th and long or trust a kicker who's been wildly inaccurate this year? I'd have gone with Harper, but it's hard to second-guess Chryst too much on this one - just a really tough call.