When it was reported that Pitt prized recruit Rushel Shell, the WPIAL's all-time leading rusher, would be leaving the program to transfer elsewhere, it was a feeling of "Here we go again" for Panthers fans who have had to deal with a lot in recent years, from a revolving door at head coach, to numerous player arrests.
For a football program just months away from joining the ACC, it seemed like a rather demoralizing turn of events.
However, last week, it was rumored that Shell was having second thoughts and wanted to return to the football team, and my thought was, "This guy is talented, and Pitt needs all the talent it can get right now." I figured it would be a no-brainer that Shell would be welcomed back to the team with open arms. Turns out, Pitt head coach Paul Chryst not only folded his arms, he closed the door on the possibility of Shell ever returning.
I was stunned, but then when I thought about the quote that I always hear associated with Chryst, "I'm trying to build a program here and not a team," it made more sense.
If that's Chryst's mantra, consider me on board. Fact is, the Panthers have had some pretty decent running backs in recent years--LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis, Ray Graham--but that hasn't gotten the program anywhere other than the Sun Bowl and a few BBVA Compass Bowls.
Larry Fitzgerald and Darrelle Revis, two of the most productive players in the NFL, both played at Pitt within the past decade or so, and the football team still didn't get anywhere near an elite level.
My point is, no one player is bigger than the team, and as the past three decades of Pitt football have shown us, no one or two players is going to get it where the fans have been clamoring for it to get back to since the days of Jackie Sherrill and Dan Marino: An elite level.
College football is all about coaches and recruiting. Chryst proved he could recruit and develop players when he was an offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, and if he can have that same kind of success as the head man, that's Pitt's best bet to finally get to the next level.
Unlike his predecessor, Chryst appears to be a man of integrity. I believe he showed that when he didn't even entertain the thought of taking the head coaching job at Wisconsin (his alma mater and the state in which he was born), and he proved it again with the Shell decision.
The decision to not bring Shell back might not be the most popular move, and it might backfire if Shell goes on to have a stellar college career wherever he ends up, but sometimes, you have to break a few "Shells" in order to make a tasty omelette.
I believe the Panthers finally have the right man doing the cooking for the football program. Hopefully, the end result will be quite delicious.