Monday, May 06, 2013

Interview with Pitt Blather's Chas Rich

Welcome to the third installment of my Pittsburgh Sports Blogger Interview Series (I think I need a cool logo for this!) featuring Chas Rich of Pitt Blather, the amazing blog covering the University of Pittsburgh's sports. Pitt Blather is celebrating its 10th birthday this summer, making it one of the oldest continuous blogs covering Pittsburgh sports. As a fan of Pitt sports, Pitt Blather is a must read for me before, during and after Pitt football and basketball games. Enjoy my "conversation" with Chas.

How did you start Pitt Blather?

Well, I had already done some general blogging for about a year. Between seeing an increasing creep of posting on Pitt-- especially from Pitt's coaching search that led to hiring Jamie Dixon and the first ACC raid of the Big East -- and the e-mails I kept firing off to my friends regarding Pitt, it just seemed like a good idea to make a separate blog.

It was originally expected to be a group blog with the rest of my friends from Pitt who I e-mailed stuff during the week. Most of them lost interest or just got a little freaked after a while when they realized that other people were reading.

Have you ever received feedback about Pitt Blather from the University of Pittsburgh or Pitt's athletic department? Do they ever offer you free tickets or a chance to write from the media area?

A couple years after starting, Pitt's Associate AD E.J. Borghetti reached out to me. We e-mail or talk a few times a year. But that's about it as far as communication from Pitt.

I do have a standing offer to get a media pass for football games. Reed did that last year, and I think I will be doing that this year.

Do you get tired of writing about all of the conference realignment (essentially the business of college sports) or do you find that this brings more discussion/visitors to your blog?

The eyeballs don't matter to me. If they did, I would do nothing but recruiting stuff.

There are points where realignment gets tiresome, but I find it fascinating. Which is why I do write about it.

I don't get the delusional speculations -- where people construct ridiculous scenarios in order to get the endpoint they want.

As an aside, prior to the dissolution of the Big East this year, a small contingent of Villanova and Georgetown fans were providing some amazing logic contortions to create a situation where the ACC would invite them. The difference between them and stories concocted by certain WVU message boarders was that they admitted that they were just trying to figure out how to get to that point.

But what I really find interesting about expansiopocolypse is how it lays bare the issue of money in college sports. That what this is all about -- specifically the TV money.

It is so clear how important the money is to sustained success or simply the opportunity to have sustained success in college athletics.

That understanding began, thanks, in no small part, to the shift in conferences that the ACC started with their first raid on the Big East. That's when everybody started waking up to it. The ACC's ill-fated first attempt to put themselves on par with the SEC. Suddenly everyone was aware not only of the idea of conference supremacy, but the money tied into being in the right conference.

For the years afterwards, Pitt fans were focused completely on getting to the Big Ten. Mainly because twelve seemed the magic number for conference size -- and that one opening in the Big Ten. Now fourteen works, while everyone waits for someone to go all the way to 16.

Since we're on the topic (and I know that you're written about this in the past), what are your thoughts of Pitt joining the ACC?

Overall, positive simply for the stability and security for Pitt that it brings. For the life of the blog, Pitt has lived under fear of the conference instability. The idea of not having to worry about the money or the conference imploding will be comforting.

And I can't wait to see what Pitt fans collectively choose to fill that void of angst.

With four head coaches in just a few years, Pitt football has certainly been, well, interesting. What are your thoughts on the state of the football program?

I just don't know. The program has been in such a state of flux that has been able to do little more than tread water for the last few years.

I want to believe in Paul Chryst. That he is the guy to bring the program out of the malaise. Not simply stabilize things at the head coaching spot, but make myself and others believe that the football program can do great things.

That said, I don't know. I don't know exactly how the adjustment to being a head coach is proceeding. It was a mixed bag last year as he learned on the job.

We still don't know what kind of recruiter Chryst will be in the long-term. How well he can develop talent -- besides at the QB spot. It's still one huge question mark.

Although this probably applies to football more than basketball, as a college sports blog, you almost have to write about recruiting. Is it tough or tiresome writing about the recruitment of 16 and 17 year-old kids and their unpredictable nature?

There's no choice, but I find it uncomfortable. More because the reaction by people -- and not just Pitt fans and readers.

It seems every kid's decision is treated as a referendum: on the coach, on the school, on the kid's very moral fiber, on the self-esteem of the fans.

Everyone understands that recruiting is the lifeblood of a program. Yet, it is disturbing to be how emotionally worked up people get about the decision making of a high school kid. No matter the talent, potential or what not. At the end of the day, they are still kids trying to decide where to go college in pursuit of their future (athletic and academic).

I had a hard enough time with that decision without multiple grown men being paid hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars actively recruiting me (aside from my dad gently pushing Penn St) and people talking about me on blogs and message boards; and sending me tweets telling me where I should attend.

Then people turn around and complain about how these same kids have such overinflated egos and are me-firsters.

Switching to basketball, there seems to be a good number of Pitt fans that want to see Jamie Dixon go because of the team's lack of success in the NCAA Tournament. What do you think about Dixon's performance as head coach?

I'm still a huge Jamie Dixon fan. Even with the disappointments in the NCAA Tournament, by any metric he has been the best coach Pitt has had since Doc Carlson.

No City. No school. No program. No facility is "entitled" to success. Not Notre Name. Not USC. Not Alabama. Not UCLA. Not Penn State. Not Kansas. Not Kentucky. Not Pitt.

You can expect it. Want it. Desire it. But it is not entitled.

Pitt rebounded from a disastrous year in terms of injuries, transfers and chemistry. They were not even a pre-season top-25 team. The big transfer that was expected to help this team (Zeigler) didn't pan out. A very limited offense.

Yet this team managed to go 12-6 in the Big East for 4th place. They started two freshmen and aside from losing to Rutgers their only losses came to NCAA Tournament caliber teams.

The NCAA Tournament is a huge issue. Without question. The way they got completely hammered by Wichita State left such a sour taste in people's mouth. That left everyone feeling a lot of rage.

But the other thing I think that has a number of Pitt fans thinking about getting rid of Dixon is the unwavering belief that with a snap of the fingers Sean Miller will leave Arizona for the Pitt job.

That Sean Miller is the better coach and recruiter. That the pull of the alma mater and hometown will do the trick. (Yet if Paul Chryst had gone home to Wisconsin...)

And I'm not down on Miller. He is an excellent coach, and if Pitt had to replace Dixon then Sean Miller is the first call that gets made. I simply don't think it is the slam dunk that he would come back to Pitt.

He's already making excellent money at Arizona (thanks in no small part because coaches like Dixon turned down the job and forced the money to rise). He has huge support from the administration. He's in a major conference but it isn't exactly loaded as far as the other teams. Plus Miller has shown that he isn't a coach that just leaves a program quickly.

Coaches aren't just up and leaving these days. The money is just damn good, and it takes a lot to pry a blue-chip coach from a good situation.

Finally, The Original Hot Dog Shop: Great or amazing? (I guess you can have other options if you'd like.)


Thanks again to Chas for participating in this interview. Make sure to follow Chas on Twitter and read Pitt Blather regularly.

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