While former Pitt coach Todd Graham was promising fans a high-octane offense this past season, Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst was busy delivering one.
Chryst's Badgers offense finished 2011 ranked No. 4 in scoring offense at 44.6 points per game. His running back, Montee Ball, is threatening Barry Sanders' single-season touchdown record heading into the Big Ten champions' matchup with Oregon in the Rose Bowl, and his quarterback, Russell Wilson, is rated as one of the most efficient passers in the nation.
Given those credentials, it's no surprise that Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is now reporting that Chryst, along with interim Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell, is one of two coaches being targeted for the vacant Pitt job.
For some deeper insight on Chryst's tenure at Wisconsin, we've enlisted the help of John Velhuis, a football reporter for SB Nation's Wisconsin Badgers blog, Bucky's 5th Quarter. He answered some of our questions about Chryst below.
AB: Generally, how do Wisconsin fans feel about the job Paul Chryst has done? Is there a consensus or are there competing opinions?
JV: I'm not sure about competing opinions, but I think Badger fans have a good sense of how important Chryst has been to Wisconsin's success over the last few years. I'd say the general assumption is that he's a great offensive mind, but there are definitely times when fans get frustrated. Will the Badgers miss him when he moves on? Absolutely. But they won't miss those times when the game plan is not working, like for most of the 2011 Rose Bowl against TCU.
AB: Obviously, Russell Wilson and Montee Ball stole the headlines for Wisconsin's offense this year, but could you offer some perspective on what the Badgers' offensive identity has been historically under Paul Chryst
JV: Well, Chryst has been the Badgers' OC for six seasons now, and they've stuck to the same offensive philosophy. Big offensive lines, big running backs, and for the most part they've had game managing quarterbacks that can complete play-action passes if necessary. The addition of Russell has been interesting to watch - his mobility has allowed Chryst to get much more creative with the playbook.
AB: How would you rate Chryst's quarterback development at Wisconsin and why?
JV: Here's the thing, even though Chryst has been at Wisconsin since 2006, the only quarterback we can judge him on is Scott Tolzien. Tolzien was the only multiple-year starter that Chryst recruited, and we haven't seen enough of any of the younger quarterbacks just yet. But if you're judging him on Tolzien, that's not a bad thing. Tolzein started in both 2009 and 2010, and he improved quite a bit from year one to year two. Completion percentage took a big jump, and his QB rating went up from 143.0 to 165.9. And Scott Tolzien was not the most naturally talented guy in the world. So it's a little early to judge, but when he brought his guy through the system, it worked out pretty well.
AB: What is Chryst's role in recruiting, and how well would you say he's executed it?
JV: From what I know, Chryst is not heavily involved in recruiting for the Badgers. As far as I know, Chryst only recruited Bart Houston this year, a four-star quarterback from De La Salle High School in California. And hey, Houston committed, so I'd say he's executing pretty well for them thus far!
AB: What kind of fit do you thing Chryst's offense would be for the Big East? The ACC?
JV: That's tough for me to say. I imagine Chryst's pro-style would fit pretty well in either league. Chryst's offense thrives on imposing its will on opposing teams, and if it's run to perfection, it's super efficient. Chryst's offense can control the time of possession, and wear down opposing defenses late in the game. To a Badger fan, when it's working well it's football at its finest, and with the right personnel I think it could hang with most any defense.
AB: Obviously, stability is a big concern for Pitt fans right now. Do you think Chryst is the type of coach that could remedy some of the problems Pitt has suffered over the last year?
JV: Yeah, I'm not going to lie, that's a rough situation. But I think Chryst would definitely provide some stability if he's hired. He's a committed guy - six years at the same school, and he refused to interview with another Big Ten team (I'm guessing Illinois) until after the Badgers played in the Big Ten Championship Game. I'd be surprised if he pulls a Graham.
AB: Any general thoughts about Chryst and Pitt?
JV: I'll be honest - I don't think he'll end up at Pitt. For all of those reasons I listed above, they're also reasons why he'd stay in Madison as the OC. It's his alma mater (Chryst is a former Badger quarterback), he's paid very well for an OC, and it's always been about family for Chryst. All these times his name has cropped up as a candidate, but something always holds him back. From what I've heard he really doesn't like the idea of uprooting his kids while they go to high school in Madison. If Chryst does end up as Pitt's new coach, they'll have hired a great offensive mind, and have put themselves in a good spot going forward. But I'll believe Chryst is leaving when it actually happens.