Written by Patrick Williams
This week the University of Pittsburgh football program saw arguably its most talented player come crawling back after he decided to transfer to UCLA this spring. Sophomore halfback Rushel Shell let it be known that he would like to come back to the Panthers and Pittsburgh after presumably changing his mind about going out west. Not too long after that news broke came word that second year head coach Paul Chryst was not receptive to allowing Shell to return to his Panther squad. Which leads me to wonder, yet again, what in the world is going on at Pitt?
On the surface, this is almost a no-brainer to me. A five-star skill position player wants to play football at your university that has struggled, to put it kindly, to find any kind of sustainable success over the better part of the last 30 years and they tell him “no way”? Something doesn’t add up here. The details surrounding this entire story are fishy at best and have been from the beginning. Let’s review, shall we?
• Rushel Shell walks out on Pitt during spring ball
• Shortly after, Shell asks for time away from football to straighten some things out
• Pitt states that Rushel Shell will be leaving the program and blocks his transfer to Arizona State and Arizona because of potential conflicts with former coaches
• Shell declares that he is going to UCLA
• Shell has a change of heart and states that he wants to be in Pittsburgh with his twin daughters
• Shell is denied a return to the Pitt football program
Now with just that information to go off of, there are just as many questions left as there are answers. Questions such as; why did Shell leave in the first place, was there a conflict with the coaching staff, a lack of effort from the running back? Was his intention to go to ASU to play for the coach that recruited him to Pitt, Todd Graham? Is that why his potential transfer to the Sun Devils was blocked? Did UCLA not want Shell? Or, did he decide that wasting a year of potential playing time was detrimental to his overall development and future draft stock? And, how bad did he burn his bridges that Paul Chryst wouldn’t take him back with a bare cupboard of talent in the backfield at his struggling program that is entering their first year in a much more competitive conference?
These are all questions that we may not get answers to anytime soon, but as a fan of the program I certainly would be demanding them. To me, Rushel Shell not only gives the Panthers the best overall opportunity to win now, he also gives them the best chance to win later. Showcasing what talents he may possess on a national stage, which starts off with being initiated into the ACC by Florida State, at Heinz Field, on national television, is perhaps the best way to place Pitt back on the recruiting map. As someone who got to see FSU play in person last year, I can tell you they have speed on their roster at nearly every position which the Panthers probably have never seen before, or at least since Miami and Virginia Tech were relevant in the Big East. And as someone that held season tickets for over a decade at Heinz Field to watch Pitt struggle in a subpar conference and lose to teams that were not even Division 1-A material, I can say that I wouldn’t blame anyone who wouldn’t want to pay to see the product they are putting on the field of late.
So my question remains, what did Rushel Shell do that was so bad that coach Paul Chryst and his staff have decided that the 19-year-old is not worthy of a second, or even a third, chance? I have seen kids break the law, accept bribes, struggle with academic eligibility, and be downright divas during their school days and be allowed back with open arms into their programs. I cannot fault Chryst for taking charge and putting his foot down, except that I am doing just that and will be faulting him with every three-and-out and every goal line stand the Panthers get stuffed on the next three seasons, because to me there was no reason that we know of that justified this decision. As a new head coach that is struggling to put a stamp on your legacy at a school where nobody knows who you are, Paul Chryst is rolling the dice in a major way and he better know just what he is doing or else this may be someone else’s mess to clean up before long.