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Chryst, Panthers looking to build momentum

August 5, 2013

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Paul Chryst understands the notion. He just doesn’t agree with it.

Entering his second year at Pitt, Chryst brushes aside the suggestion that with a season under his belt the Panthers have started to evolve into “his” program.

“I have a hard time saying that,” Chryst said. “This is the players’ program. They’re the ones taking ownership of it. It’ll be our program, my program, when it’s the players’ program.”

It’s a destination Chryst believes his team is closer to reaching now that the revolving door to the head coach’s office has finally stopped. When the Panthers begin training camp on Monday, it will mark the first time since 2010 they’ll do it with the same guy running the show as the season before.

They’ll also do it with a true sense of urgency. Pitt endured an uneven 2012, going 6-7 in its final year in the Big East. The program’s “lame duck” status before joining the ACC provided an unwelcome distraction.

The long — and expensive — breakup is over. The ACC awaits when the Panthers open the 2013 season against Florida State on Labor Day night. And while Chryst isn’t one to throw around motivational phrases or use props, there is an electronic clock inside the team facility counting down the hours until the next era of Pitt football begins.

Chryst is diplomatic when discussing the slow exit from the Big East. The move was planned long before he was hired. Yet he felt a distinctly different buzz while in North Carolina last month for the ACC’s annual football media day.

It wasn’t just the number of cameras and tape recorders in his face. It was the number of other schools in the room. Jumping from the eight-team Big East to the super-sized ACC will be both a step up in quality and quantity.

It’s a test Chryst thinks the Panthers are well-equipped to take. He spent a large portion of his first 12 months as a head coach figuring out which players were ready to be caretakers of the program.

“We had to find out who really likes football,” Chryst said. “We had to find out who liked getting hit, who liked being a part of this team.”

That group didn’t include freshman running back Rushel Shell, apparently. Shell, the team’s second-leading rusher a year ago, asked for a release from his scholarship in the spring and eventually transferred to West Virginia.

At one point in the process Shell reportedly made overtones to the Pitt staff about returning. Chryst declined to speak specifically about it and doesn’t believe he “sent a message” by not allowing a player thought to be the linchpin of the offense walk back into the locker room.

The message Chryst would rather send is the one that he preaches on a daily basis. While it’s not written down for all the world to see, Chryst does have a Ten Commandments of sorts on what he wants this players to stand for.

The most important one is “respect the game.”

“That’s where it really starts for us,” he said. “If we can do that, if we can respect the game and understand that we’re caretakers of Pitt football, we’re in a good spot.”

Shell’s departure will have no effect on the way Chryst does his job. He helped build Wisconsin into a national power as the team’s offensive coordinator behind a bruising line that opened up gaping holes for the backs to churn through. There are no plans to change it even if quarterback Tom Savage — who begins camp as the starting quarterback — hands off to Isaac Bennett instead.

“So much more goes into the running game than who has the ball,” Chryst said. “It’s really all 11 guys working together. It’s a team thing. And we’re committed to it just like we’re committed to a lot of things here.”

Making a splash in the ACC — the right way — among them.

“We like what we’ve seen, we like where we’re headed,” Chryst said. “But we know it’s not going to be given to us. We’ve got to go out and earn it.”


Follow Will Graves at www.Twitter.com/WillGravesAP

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