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December 10, 2012Several elements of Paul Chryst's personality have emerged in his first year as Pitt head coach.
Chryst is smart, with an inclination toward dry humor and sarcasm. He is level and maintains a fairly steady demeanor despite the wild inconsistency of the Panthers' 6-6 performance in 2012. He is empirical, seeing football as a game without the extraneous trappings that often create distractions for players and coaches. And Chryst is not, under any circumstances, a salesman.
It's not that Chryst's personality prevents him from engaging in "sales" as that term is commonly defined in college sports; rather, he has a philosophical opposition to the concept, and he made that abundantly clear several weeks ago when asked, prior to Pitt's home finale against South Florida, how the players had bought in.
"To me, getting guys to buy in means you're trying to sell something, and we're not trying to sell anything," Chryst said. "We're in a process of creating a culture and we're here to help players be the best players they can be and to represent this University with the best football team it can (be) and do it the right way. But I never felt like we had to sell anything or get them to buy in."
For Chryst, the key to affecting real change in the players is not through convincing them or persuading them; it comes from a personal choice made by the players. The players have to decide for themselves, Chryst believes, if they are truly going to commit to an ideal.
"Guys can see [that he's not selling], and that's where the respect comes from," redshirt junior receiver Devin Street said. "We know his heart's in it, and he definitely just wants to teach and coach, and he's definitely not selling anything. He comes in and tells what we need to do and we go to work. Guys will see it if you are a salesman, and I don't think guys see him in that way."
Chryst's non-sell isn't limited to the players on the current team. He also follows that approach in recruiting. It's not a "soft sell" or a passive approach; rather, Chryst believes a coach should provide express his interest in a recruit, provide information about the school, and let the prospect make his own decision. Only then, in Chryst's opinion, is a recruit truly committed to a school when he makes a decision.
"I think your job as a recruiter is to identify and then inform," Chryst told Panther-Lair.com. "They should pick the best place for them, and I've never thought that coaches should tell someone what's best for them. Our job is to inform, paint an accurate picture of who we are, how do you fit in; I think there's that. But I think it truly is, you have to inform them of who you are and what you are, and they need to know who you are and what you're about, and I think they then pick.
"I don't want to say that's the purest way, but I think it's done right when people are picking it because it's the best fit for them. Our job is to let them know everything, who and what is Pitt."
That's the approach Chryst took this past weekend, when he hosted six uncommitted top targets for official visits. Among the recruits were Cincinnati (Oh.) La Salle cornerback Jaleel Hytchye and Deland (Fla.) running back Jojo Kemp; each is at the top of Pitt's recruiting board at his position, and each heard the same points from Chryst on the visit.
"He said he's really confident in Pitt and the coaching staff, but you have to do what's right for you," Hytchye said. "So he said if I have to take more visits, then go ahead and do what's right for me. But he wants me to come to Pitt."
"He wants me to make the best decision for me," Kemp said. "He wants me to visit the other schools so that when I pick them, I do it because I want to do it, not because they forced me."
Whether that approach is effective with Hytchye and Kemp remains to be seen. So far, Chryst has pulled in 19 commitments for the class of 2013, including four-star quarterback Tra'von Chapman, who appreciated the Pitt head coach's style during an unofficial visit last June.
"We talked for a long time, and he wasn't pushing me at all," Chapman told Panther-Lair.com after that visit. "He was saying that he wants the best decision for me. He's not the kind of guy to say I had to commit right then; what he said was, 'You're the key; if you come here, other guys can join in.' That meant a lot to me, but I didn't feel pressure at all."