Wisconsin’s Chryst benefited from Pittsburgh experience

INDIANAPOLIS — It’s pretty obvious Paul Chryst feels right at home in Wisconsin.

Chryst, whose Badgers are standing between Penn State and the 2016 Big Ten championship, wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire at his previous coaching stop — at Pitt.

In three seasons (2012-14), Chryst was just 19-19 — 6-7, 7-6 and 6-6 — and maybe the Panthers needed more of a dynamic presence.

Or maybe there was enough instability left from Dave Wannstedt’s last couple of years and the subsequent hires of  Michael Haywood and Todd Graham that a Pitt rebuild needed more than three years.

Either way, Pat Narduzzi has provided a positive injection, but consider that sometimes a coach’s body-of-work is not complete until his brake lights can no longer be seen.

Chryst must have left enough of a nucleus to help Narduzzi deliver hallmark-program victories over Penn State and Clemson this season.

While Narduzzi has gone 16-9 in two years, Chryst is an impressive 20-5 at Wisconsin. He’s kept an eye on Pitt, and he feels he benefited from his experience there.

“I am really thankful and grateful for the opportunity I had to spend in Pittsburgh, with that group of players,” he said Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium during a Big Ten press conference and photo shoot. “I loved it.”

He felt Pitt, his first head coaching job, helped further prepare him for the larger stage he’s currently on: The Badgers (11-2) won the Big Ten West and are currently ranked No. 6 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings.

“You hope to grow from all of your experiences,” Chryst said. “I think for me, my first head job, I felt really fortunate to be able to do it at Pitt. Those players mean a ton to me, meant a ton, what they did. I enjoyed that.”

After Gary Anderson bolted Madison after just two years for Oregon State — his last loss was as a 24-point underdog at home to the Bill O’Brien-led Nittany Lions — it didn’t take long for Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez to bring Chryst back.

It’s been an ideal fit as Chryst’s style seems to fit the Badgers, who are known for their massive offensive line and punishing ground game.

Chryst is quite familiar with what’s expected: He played quarterback at Wisconsin (1995-98) and spent eight years on the staffs of Alvarez and Bret Bielema before succeeding Todd Graham at Pitt in 2012.

“I feel really fortunate,” he said. “I felt fortunate as a player at Wisconsin. When I was able to be an assistant coach, felt really lucky. Certainly to be back now as the head coach.”

Chryst caught himself and politely tried to change the line of questioning.

“What I’m most excited for is this group of players,” he said. “This is their window of opportunity. For them to do what they did, to earn the opportunity to play tomorrow (Saturday) night, really proud of them. It’s not about me. But I’m proud to be part of it. I do feel that I am part of it. But it’s more than that. I don’t spend time trying to think about what it means to me. It’s what it means to our team.”

Chryst posed for pictures with James Franklin. The two have yet to meet on the field as the Badgers rotated off Penn State’s schedule after 2013 (and are not scheduled to play in the regular season again until 2018).

“We did a clinic together when I was at Pitt, he just came to Penn State,” Chryst said. “I’m getting to know him — at league meetings — and running across him in recruiting.”

Chryst and Franklin are the reigning Big Ten coaches of the year, Chryst awarded the honor by his fellow coaches and Franklin by the media.

“I’ve known of him for a long time, got tremendous respect,” Franklin said. “Comes from a football family. Kind of the two interesting stories — the fact that he’s from there, grew up there, played there, his dad coached there. It’s an awesome story for him.

“Then obviously my story growing up in the state of Pennsylvania, having an opportunity to come back home, that doesn’t happen very often. So for two coaches to be able to come back home and represent their home states is, I think, pretty cool.”

Regardless of which one wins tonight, both Wisconsin and Penn State are  pointed in the right direction, and, just to bring this full circle, Pitt can claim the same thing.

Rudel can be reached at 570-946-7527 or email at nrudel@altoonamirror.com.