Graham not counting on pit stops while getting Pitt to top

by | Senior Writer

PONTE VERDA BEACH, Fla. -- Todd Graham doesn't believe in rebuilding seasons. He doesn't believe in needing a lot of time to implement his philosophy.

He wants -- no demands -- results fast. Even faster than his high-powered, high-octane units that led the nation in total offense two of the past four years at Tulsa.

And he's also not shy about his expectations in his rookie season at Pittsburgh.

"Anything less than winning the Big East and we will be disappointed," Graham said.

Todd Graham expects to win right away at Pittsburgh. (US Presswire)  
Todd Graham expects to win right away at Pittsburgh. (US Presswire)  
That's a change in attitude from former coach Dave Wannstedt. Last season when the Panthers were picked by the media to win the league, Wannstedt said he preferred not being tagged as the favorite.

Wannstedt's inability to deliver Big East championships ultimately led to his dismissal at Pittsburgh.

Graham spoke to athletic director Steve Pederson about the job. And was turned down.

Pederson opted for Mike Haywood, but the former Miami, Ohio, coach was fired 2½ weeks later because of his arrest on a domestic violence charge. Pederson then reached out to Graham, who was hired eight days after Haywood's dismissal.

"His innovative, creative and energized approach to football makes him an exciting leader for our program," Pederson said. "He has a proven track record of success at all levels of football and his wealth of experience on both sides of the ball gives him a unique set of credentials."

Even if Graham wasn't the first choice, he doesn't mind. After all, he frequently tells friends he's just a high school coach who happened to get a break.

"I believe things happen for a reason, I'm meant to be where I'm at," Graham said from the Big East's spring meetings. "I'm blessed to be in a place -- I've worked over 25 years -- to get to a point where you have a chance to compete for a national championship, a BCS bowl championship and a Big East championship. I'm extremely motivated."

A 1987 graduate of East Central (Okla.) University, Graham was defensive coordinator at his alma mater for three seasons before becoming head coach for six years at Allen (Texas) High School. His break into the FBS ranks came in 2001 when he joined Rich Rodriguez's staff at West Virginia as linebackers coach.

A year later, he was promoted to WVU's co-defensive coordinator. He then spent 2003-05 as Tulsa's defensive coordinator before being named Rice's coach in 2006.

The year before Graham arrived at Rice, the Owls were 1-10. Under Graham, they went 7-6, earning the school's first bowl berth in 45 years.

He returned to Tulsa the next season as head coach. In his first season at TU, the Golden Hurricane went 10-4, two wins better than the previous season. Graham has a career coaching record of 43-23, including 36-17 at Tulsa.

Last year Pittsburgh went 8-5 and don't be surprised to see Graham surpass that win total in his first season.

"At this level you can't afford to have rebuilding years," Graham said. "You have to produce. Our goal will be to win championships. We expect to be competing for the Big East championship. That's our goal. We're trying to win every one of them and get to the national championship game. That's our focus and goal.

"I'm not going to ask kids to work like we ask them to work and not have our goals at the very top."

The Panthers return 14 starters, including eight on a defense that ranked eighth nationally. But on offense Pitt must replace running back Dion Lewis, wide receiver Jon Baldwin and fullback Henry Hynoski, who all left early to the NFL.

The Panthers do return Ray Graham, who Todd Graham (no relation), calls "one of the more dynamic tailbacks in the country" along with receivers Mike Shanahan and Devin Street.

Ray Graham is the only tailback the Panthers have on scholarship, Todd Graham said. Last season Ray rushed for 922 yards, including 277 yards against Florida International, the second-best total in school history.

"We have some young guys ready to come in and provide some depth," Todd Graham said. "We're also looking at [quarterback] Tino [Sunseri's] leadership. He has gotten better and better every day.

"We also have three guys returning up front [left guard Chris Jacobson, left tackle Jordan Gibbs and right tackle Lucas Nix]. I have a lot of confidence in the offensive and defensive lines.

"I have a great feeling about this team and these kids," Graham said. "We have enough talent. Do we have enough talent to run our system? Well, no. We'll look a lot different three years from now than we do right now. We have some tough, physical players on both sides of the ball. But we have enough skill players to feel confident about.

"Bringing in this offense we've got to make sure we don't go from 'A' to 'Z' -- 'A' to 'M' or 'A' to 'G' and adapt to the skills and talents of the players. I feel good about this football team."

Graham said he wants to utilize the same fast-paced attack that led the nation in total offense in 2007 and 2008 and ranked fifth in 2010. And Graham wants his quarterback to snap the ball every 15 seconds.

"To win championships, you have to play championship defense," Graham said. "We're going to put an emphasis on our defense. We're a no-huddle, high-octane, fast-tempo football team. Whether it's offense, defense, special teams. We want to do a lot of the same things we did at Tulsa."


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