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February 14, 2014

Chryst makes more staff changes

The offseason has been an interesting one for Paul Chryst.

After a supposed-to-be-quiet run-up to Signing Day became unfortunately active when Wade Freebeck reneged on his Pitt commitment the day before signing his Letter of Intent, Chryst shortly found himself looking for three new coaches.

The first spot to become publicly open was that of the receivers coach when Bobby Engram left Pitt for the same position with the Baltimore Ravens. And as of this weekend, that's the one remaining position Chryst has left to fill.

Since news of Engram's departure became known, Chryst has hired defensive backs coach Troy Douglas and running backs coach John Settle, despite not having openings at either position. The room for Douglas and Settle - two veteran coaches with extensive resumes - came from two places: the resignation of quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger and the return of the ninth assistant spot to an on-field position.

Desmond Robinson previously held the ninth full-time assistant position, serving as running backs coach in 2012 and moving to an off-field position as Director of Player Personnel, a position that allowed him to go on the road recruiting during the season. It was a unique approach by Chryst and one that appears to have little or no precedent in college football, and while he acknowledged on Friday that Pitt is "further ahead in recruiting," regaining a ninth full-time assistant in an on-field capacity became a priority.

"You get nine positions, and how do you best use it?" Chryst said during a teleconference Friday. "An area where we needed to improve was special teams; I wanted a guy that could completely focus on that. That's where Chris Haering's going to do that and still have some time to help with the outside linebackers.

Pitt's special teams needed an improvement, to be sure. The most glaring example was the loss to North Carolina game, when the Panthers gave up a pair of punt returns for touchdown - including a game-changing score in the second half - but the coverage units were suspect all season.

While Haering was more or less an uncredited special teams coordinator in the past, Chryst expects the reassignment to a titled position - as well as the de-emphasis of Haering's role as a primary position coach on defense - to lead to more focus on the coverage and return units.

"I think it was a way to make sure that we've got a little bit more attention to some of the details (in special teams)…I think we can get better there," Chryst said. "It's an area where we needed to get better and wanted to get better, and we needed to devote some more resources to it."

With Haering shifted from linebackers to special teams and outside linebackers, Chryst moved defensive coordinator Matt House from the secondary to linebackers and hired Douglas to coach the defensive backs, filling one of the openings and giving Pitt five coaches on defense.

But he also had two spots to fill on offense. One was the receivers position, but the other was an opening created by Bollinger's resignation. Chryst said that Bollinger's decision was one that had been growing for some time.

"I've talked about this with him for five years, six years; he loves the coaching part, but also there's a part of him that wants to sink deep roots into a community and really be a part of a community," Chryst said. "As a coach you can be involved in a community, but I think he's wanting to make that their home and kind of be there forever."

After Bollinger left, it was a no-brainer that Chryst would take over the coaching of the quarterbacks, since he served that role for six years at Wisconsin. That left one offensive coaching position open in addition to receivers, and for that he turned to Settle, who had coached with Chryst at Wisconsin from 2006 to 2010.

"I'm excited for our players to get to know him and I'm excited for Set to get to know our players. That room is in the state of mind where they're eager to continue to learn, and I think Set will do a great job of building on what they have. He's a really good, knowledgeable person who cares about and enjoys seeing guys develop and grow."

Now all that's left is for Chryst to hire a receivers coach. He said Friday that he hopes to have that hire made soon but is still interviewing candidates.




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