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Chryst stabilizies rocky Pittsburgh program

Allan Joseph | Thursday, November 1, 2012

It seems like the head coaching position at Notre Dame has gone through an inordinate amount of upheaval since the last time the Irish were 8-0, with three coaches in less than a decade. But what Pittsburgh has gone through makes the coaching carousel at Notre Dame seem tame.

Dave Wannstedt served as the Panthers’ coach from 2005-2010 before resigning. Pittsburgh hired former Notre Dame assistant and then-Miami (Ohio) head coach Mike Haywood in December 2010, but fired him just two weeks later following domestic-violence charges in South Bend. Todd Graham bolted for Arizona State after coaching the Panthers for one season, setting the stage for current coach Paul Chryst to take the reins and attempt to restore stability to a rudderless Pittsburgh program.

Yet in just eight games at the helm, Chryst appears to already have restored a sense of control to the program.

“They have clearly found themselves with a new coach,” Kelly said. “It’s amazing what they’ve been able to overcome with three coaches in a very short period of time. It tells you a lot about their players.”

One of the biggest changes Chryst has made was returning the Pittsburgh offense to a pro-style attack from Graham’s spread “high-octane” scheme.

“That was the biggest change everyone was looking forward to here,” said Sam Werner, who covers the Panthers for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “The program and the city have a blue-collar mentality, and they want a physical, run-first offense. That matches the culture and the history of the program here really well.”

The change in offense has sprung fifth-year senior quarterback Tino Sunseri to the best year of his career. After a 2011 campaign in which he completed 64 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, Sunseri is completing nearly 70 percent of his throws this year, earning himself 13 touchdowns against only two interceptions in the process.

“He has really matured as a quarterback, [and] I’m really impressed with his play this year,” Kelly said. “He takes great care of the football … He’s a guy that I think is playing the best football that he’s played his entire career at Pittsburgh.”

Werner said Sunseri’s comfort in the offense has to do with a change in the quarterback’s decision-making responsibilities.

“I don’t want to say he’s asked to do less, but he’s much more comfortable in his responsibilities on any given play,” Werner said. “He’s making far fewer mistakes than he did last year.”

Sunseri’s task against a talented Notre Dame defensive line became much tougher this week when Chryst announced Pittsburgh starting right guard Ryan Schlieper would miss the rest of the season with a foot injury.

Sophomore guard Arthur Doakes, will make his first career start and replace Schlieper, who had started 16 games and appeared in 22. Werner said the coaching instability left the Panthers without the depth they were looking for on the offensive line.

“Todd Graham recruited fairly well here. He got some skill players, but I think the biggest concern is depth on the offensive line,” Werner said. “Rushel Shell is as talented a freshman running back as you’ll find, but the numbers are low on the lines.

“That’s not the situation you want to find yourself in.”


Contact Allan Joseph at ajoseph2@nd.edu