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Panthers: Todd Graham Interview

Posted By Michael Waterloo On Apr 23 2011 @ 1:57 pm In Pittsburgh | No Comments

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With all of the success that the Pittsburgh sports teams have had in the past few months, it can be easy to get lost in the mix.  Arriving as a new Pittsburgh resident during a time that the Steelers were heading to their eighth Super Bowl, the Pitt basketball team was dominating the Big East Conference and the Penguins were jockeying for position for the playoffs, was new Pitt football coach Todd Graham.  It was a lot for him to take in.  Pitt had their spring game last week and the torrential downpour didn’t stop the Pitt faithful from going out and catching a glimpse of their new football coach and his high-tempo, explosive offense.  Coach Graham held an interview this past Wednesday with the 93.7 The Fan afternoon show – Seibel, Starkey and Miller – to assess the spring practices and to field other questions that the hosts and callers may have had.

While in attendance, I wanted to see how the Coach was in person.  Coaches are like politicians in that they are trained to come off as the good guy in front of the cameras, but behind the scenes, their true colors come out.  From the moment that Graham walked in, his demeanor stayed the same throughout, and I can attest that Pitt hired a true, genuine man that practices what he preaches.  When talking about spring ball, Graham said he is excited and the players, though out of shape, are picking up the system quickly, but they still have a lot of work to do.  Graham is bringing a whole new look to the Pitt team, especially on the offensive side of the ball as they transition from a pro-style offense under Dave Wannstedt, to a high-speed, no-huddle style under Graham.

“The only other team in the Country that runs our system is Auburn.  Well, you see the success they had with it with Cam (Newton) last year”, said Graham.

Graham’s plan is to have Pitt run more than 80 plays a game and, unlike other spread offenses that are based on the pass, has said that his offense is a run/play-action type look.  On 68% of the plays, they utilize two backs in the backfield.  However, as Graham said, there is still work to do.

“You can’t get from A to Z just like that.  We are at about G right now, and hopefully will be at about M by the time the season starts.  And three years from now, we will be a whole lot better than we are now as we recruit more of our type of players in here”, Graham stated.

Graham referred to three years down the road twice in the interview and perhaps it was a subliminal message to fans to temper their expectations.  Every coach wants to come in and win right away and Graham is surely no different.  Pitt fans are going to be quick to judge the new coach, but with a switch in regime and style, as well as the players needing time to learn the system, it’s only fair to give Graham the three years he refers to before the fans demand a winning product.

According to Graham, in order to have a successful team, you need to have a championship quarterback and for that quarterback to be a leader, a player-coach on the field.  All signs point to Pitt’s starter last year, Tino Sunseri, to take the helm of the offense once again this year.

“Tino’s doing well so far and has 12 games under his belt as a starter.  Tino is ahead of the curve right now and manages the offense accurately”, Graham said of his quarterback.

Along with Sunseri, Graham expects players like Mike Shanahan, Myles Caragein, Chris Jacobson, Jordan Gibbs, Lucas Nix, Jarred Holley and Chas Alecxih to provide the leadership for this team in the “Pitt Way”.  The Pitt Way, Graham went on to explain has four components: on the field, off the field, in the classroom and in the community.  Speaking of the community, Graham said that he is enjoying Pittsburgh so far and all the people are down-to-earth, but admitted that it was a difficult move for him and his family.  He is excited about the success of the sports teams and wants to bring Pitt football into that group as well.

While the coaching search was going on, Pitt fans wanted their new coach to continue to recruit and own Western Pennsylvania.  Graham said that he is going to recruit Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Texas, Michigan and pick and choose from up-and-down the East Coast – especially Florida – as well.  That brought up the question by a caller of why Pitt doesn’t yet have any recruits committed for the 2012 season.  Graham handled himself very gracefully when put on the spot with his reply.

“We are going to be competing with the Penn States, Ohio States and Michigans of the country for the top recruits.  The recruits that we are going after aren’t going to make their decision right away,” Graham answered.

Coach said that he is looking to recruit the quarterback of the future, as well as linebackers, cornerbacks and linemen as the most important needs going forward.

After the interview was over, I asked Graham what he was going to do with Brandon Lindsey, whether he was going to stay at defensive end or move to linebacker in the new system.  Coach Graham said that Lindsey was going to be the “Panther” linebacker, where he is going to play a role similar to Lamaar Woodley for the Steelers.  He will rush in and get to the quarterback, which he wants the whole team to do, and also drop back on certain downs.  I love what Coach Graham is doing with Lindsey as his athletic ability will be showcased in this role.  It was also asked who a player to keep an eye on would be this year and without hesitation, Coach Graham smiled and said Corey Davis.  Davis was a running back at Gladewater High School in Texas and Graham said, “That boy is fast”. ( Corey Davis Highlights [2])

A player that I look to stand out for the Panthers this season is redshirt sophomore receiver, Devin Street.  I asked Graham what he thought about Street and Coach said he is looking good – out of shape, but looking good.  He continued to say that Shanahan and Street looked the best out of the wide receivers in spring practice and that they are both poised for big seasons.

While the season is 5 months away, Coach Graham has made quite an impression on Pittsburgh so far.  At the end of the interview, he thanked everyone and in true Pittsburgh fashion, his final words were “Hail to Pitt and Let’s Go Pens”.

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[2] Corey Davis Highlights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_CLxYBmxFw

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