The Pitt football program has not been a pillar of normalcy or consistency over the past four seasons, and that has shown not only on the football field, but in the practice facility as well.
All the coaching transitions and mediocre results started to wear on players. Not many hung out together or communicated at all. There was no chemistry or unity. Focus wavered from one play to the next, one game to the next. To play like a team, coach Paul Chryst knew he needed to get his players to actually become a team.
So this summer, Chryst invited all his players to his home for some old fashioned cookouts. No word how many pounds of chicken and beef Chryst had to trek home from his local butcher shop, but it is safe to say there was some serious grilling going on in his backyard.
Some serious bonding among players, too.
"That means a lot when a coach invites you to his house," senior receiver Devin Street said. "In all the years I’ve been here, no coach has done that. I think it was needed for us to trust in him and have a bond with each other and truly just show that it is a family type of atmosphere."
Players looked forward to the cookouts, where they spent time talking with each other, with coaches, playing with their coaches' children, swimming and eating. A lot.
In addition, Chryst also put a ping-pong table in the locker room to help foster more camaraderie among his players.
"It’s just a different feeling, being able to communicate," defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. "We’re around each other a lot more as a team. We’re doing things to try to turn the program back to a winning program. We’re trying to having a winning year, and we’re trying to have a winning program."
Chryst realized he needed to win his players' trust. That is why opening his home cannot be viewed as a small gesture. This was a scarred group of young men who just needed somebody to believe in again.
"Some people might say coach inviting us over is a little thing, but the little things are what lead to the big things on the field," Street said. "That’s what leads to success. Little things like that go a long way. When adversity strikes, we can come together and remember how close we were in those picnics and know we have each other’s backs and go out there and just play, not just be individuals but come together and play."