Paul Chryst likes to see his players compete. If there was one message the Pitt head coach stressed to his team in spring camp, one that he has returned to time and again in training camp, it was that word:
But Chryst does draw a line when that competiveness could potentially hurt the team, and that was the case Wednesday morning when redshirt senior receiver Cameron Saddler and freshman cornerback Jahmahl Pardner engaged in a little post-play activity.
That activity drew Chryst's ire, and he sent both players off to run laps around Pitt's indoor practice field.
"If you fight, you're out of the game," Chryst said after practice. "So we can't reward them with playing; playing's a privilege, and they've got to know that it's self-control.
"It doesn't matter what happened, what started it; you've got to have enough self-discipline to not do that to your team."
That applies to everyone, including veterans like Saddler. The redshirt senior seems to have earned the respect of the coaching staff for his consistency and leadership, but Chryst and the assistant coaches won't tolerate actions that can hurt the team in a game. The foundation for games is laid in practice, so a screw-up in practice is handled like a screw-up in a game.
"I love competitiveness, love all those things; you've got to walk the fine line," Chryst said. "The best way you can coach consistently is coach within the rules and teach them.
"If you choose to do something after the whistle, there are choices-decisions-consequences. It doesn't matter where you're at, between the lines or outside the lines."
Pardner has been working at nickel-back in recent practices, so he often draws the assignment of covering Saddler in the slot. The two have had some good battles this week, and while Saddler usually "wins" the reps, the freshman has had a few "wins" of his own.
"They put a freshman on me, and I felt a little disrespected," Saddler said on Tuesday. "I had to let him know I'm still the big dog around here."
Ever loquacious, Saddler naturally took a few opportunities to verbally express his displeasure with Pardner's play. That back-and-forth led to Wednesday morning's dust-up. Chances are probably pretty good that the tensions between the two drop down a few levels following Chryst's response.
Still, the settlement of the Saddler-Pardner dust-up wasn't unique in training camp. The coaches have little tolerance for on-field lapses in judgment, whether they come in the form of post-whistle activity, contact during a no-contact period, or blown assignments and dropped balls. Punitive up-downs are frequently handed out in Paul Chryst's training camp, and all with one goal:
To get the players to be competitive, but to do it properly and consistently. Everything serves the team and the success of the team, and that begins in practice.