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Pitt: Ladies and Gentlemen, Todd Graham

Posted By Michael Waterloo On Jan 13 2011 @ 7:24 pm In Pittsburgh | No Comments

It seems as if every week for the past month I have been writing about the Pitt Panthers and their search for a new Coach, the candidates for the job, and the embarrassment that the school has faced during this time.  There is no way that after all that transpired that Pitt could come out a winner could they?  As a matter of fact, yes; yes they can, and yes they did.  On Tuesday afternoon, Athletic Director Steve Pederson took the podium as he announced the new football coach, Todd Graham.  That’s right, not Tom Bradley, Rich Rodriguez or any of the other sexy picks, but Todd Graham, the now former head coach of Tulsa.  If you didn’t know who he was before his press conference, he made sure you knew who he was after.

Like many head coaches when they get the position, they say all of the right things, sort of like a politician.  Graham didn’t just seem like he was saying the right things, however; he actually seemed like he meant the things that he said.  If you could grade a coach based on a press conference alone, then Graham would get a 95%.  Having the reputation of jumping at the next opportunity was something that had many Pitt fans concerned when hearing of his hire.  Graham addressed that issue by saying that coming to a school that had a chance to compete for a BCS title was his ultimate goal and Pitt was the right place for him.  Sure the $2 million helped, and if he succeeds here and gets a better job offer will he take it?  More than likely, yes he will.  But is that different than anyone of us would do in our professions?  If he can help get Pitt on the right track and make it a destination for recruits and a winning program, then I have no problem with him using it as a stepping stone.

Graham won people over when talking about his offense as a “no huddle” system.  He made sure to point out the fact that he had a 3,000 yard passer, 1,000 yard rusher and three 1,000 yard receivers while at the helm at Tulsa – the first school to accomplish such a feat.  Joining Graham will be former University of Michigan Offensive Coordinator Calvin McGee, assuming the same role at Pitt to provide a much needed spark to that side of the ball.  Although it may be overlooked that Rich Rodriguez was the true offensive guru at Michigan, McGee will no doubt provide some excitement.  Another interesting part of his press conference was when he talked about saving this year’s recruiting class by saying, “Kids choose coaches, not the schools”.  I interpret that as recruits heading to Tulsa and Michigan may follow Graham and McGee to Pitt, and this would be amazing if it happened.  There have also been premature talks of Denard Robinson coming to Pitt from Michigan, but I’ll believe that when I see it.

How will Graham incorporate his high scoring offense with the current Pitt team?  Well to use a Mike Tomlin-ism, ‘the standard is the standard.’  Until Graham is able to get ‘his guy’ for the system, he is left with Sophomore Tino Sunseri and Freshman Anthony Gonzalez to compete for the starting nod under center.  Sunseri has the arm and Gonzalez has the athleticism needed, so it should make for an interesting battle.  With a change to a high tempo offense from the pro-style that Wannstedt ran, there are two players I look to succeed and benefit more than anyone: Redshirt freshman Devin Street and sophomore Cam Saddler.  Saddler, a Gateway product, was primarily a kick returner for the Panthers, but is electric in the open field.  In the old system, it was hard to find a role for him, but with a more open offense, look for Saddler to play a prolific role.  Street, a Bethlehem native, showed signs last year of being a playmaker and the potential go-to guy in years to come for Pitt.  With his speed and athleticism, Street would excel in the slot or opposite Mike Shannahan on the outside.  Look for Street to be a household name by the end of the 2011 season as he looks to improve on his 2 touchdown, 25 catch campaign.

If you noticed when I graded Graham, I gave him a 95%.  The only negative that I saw is his defense.  He brought along his long-time coordinator and college roommate to run the defensive show at Pitt.  Last year, Tulsa was third in the nation in turnovers with 36 takeaways.  Not too bad at all, right?  Well, in total defense, Tulsa finished 111th in total yards allowed.  When asked about his defense, Graham said that Conference USA has prolific offenses and people look at stats too much.  People look at stats too much?  Isn’t that what he kept drilling in our head about his high scoring offense?  Just tell us that you’ll out score the other team 53-52 and that’s all we need to hear, Coach.  Keeping the same staff is a head scratcher, no matter how good of friends they are.  It’s like loaning lunch money to someone every week and never getting a dime back.  When is enough enough?

Pederson was able to save his job with this hire and save face for the University.  Graham had an immediate impact on those of us who listened to him talk, including his new team as they all stood up and shook his hand after he was introduced as their new coach, far from the reaction Haywood received.  We do judge on what we hear, however.  We criticized Wannstedt for 6 years after listening to him say that he would turn this team into a national title competitor.  So I listened closely as Graham listed his 5 goals for the team (which I love by the way):

1. Produce men of character and integrity – without this goal, all the others can’t be reached.

2. Graduate every single player

3. Win the Big East Championship

4. Win a BCS Bowl

5. Win the National Championship

We will watch closely to see how he does in reaching them.

Welcome, Coach Graham and, as always, Hail to Pitt!

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