PITTSBURGH (AP) - New Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham hasn’t coached a down with the Panthers yet, but he’s already put his stamp on the program.
From the flatscreen televisions on the walls, to the secretary’s desk outside his office, Graham is embracing the job with such zeal, it would make the host of a home renovation show on HGTV blush.
The former Tulsa coach sees the facility as an extension of the energy he’s trying to bring to the Panthers. And he sets the tone the moment a player walks through the front door.
Two steps inside the facility a rope hangs from the wall, a reminder to his players that they’re in this thing together.
“He wants us to hold that rope, to know that if someone is hanging off the cliff we need to hold on and help them,” said senior defensive lineman Myles Caragein. “He’s about teamwork and holding each other accountable and sticking with them.”
It’s a message that resonates well at Pitt, which is emerging from a bumpy breakup with former coach Dave Wannstedt, who was forced out last December after six uneven seasons, leading to a chaotic month that saw the Panthers have three head coaches.
Pitt initially hired Miami (Ohio) coach Mike Haywood, but he was fired after being on the job two weeks following his arrest on a domestic violence charge. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett coached the Panthers to a win over Kentucky in the BBVA Compass Bowl before Graham was hired on Jan. 10.
During his first team meeting, Graham promised the seniors he would focus on winning now. With the talent on the roster, he didn’t see a reason to wait.
“The key for us winning the championship are the guys that are returning starters, the core,” Graham said.
He ended up giving each of his players a T-shirt with the phrase “pay the price” on the front and “keep the change” on the back during spring drills, a reminder to them that he’s here for a reason: To help a program, that always found a way to fall just short of expectations, take the final step toward Big East prominence.
“We don’t want to revert back to old habits,” Graham said. “We want a different result … and that’s a championship.”
To get there, Graham is bringing along the up-tempo offensive system that helped make the Golden Hurricane a perennial contender in Conference USA. And this is a roster dotted with skill players that were just out of his reach while he was at Tulsa. So, Graham can hardly contain his glee about the possibilities.
Running back Ray Graham proved to be a capable complement to star Dion Lewis, rushing for 922 yards and eight touchdowns last year. Lewis was then drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles.
So, Ray Graham knows it’s his turn to lead the legacy that stretches from Lewis back to LeSean McCoy, Curtis Martin, the late Craig “Ironhead” Heyward and Heisman Trophy winner, Tony Dorsett.