You’re doing it wrong, Pitt. You release bad news — or at least controversial news — on a Friday sometime around 5pm Eastern. Especially on a holiday weekend. You don’t do it on that Monday. And certainly not when there is a big basketball game slated for national TV and rather than have the Pitt fans fired up for the game, they are debating the long-awaited hire of a new defensive coordinator.
By now, almost everyone is aware, Pitt has promoted Matt House from secondary coach to the defensive coordinator position.
House, who will narrow his positional focus to the safeties this season, joined Chryst’s staff last year after working with the NFL’s St. Louis Rams (2009-11) and Carolina Panthers (2008). He previously held collegiate coaching posts at Michigan State, North Carolina, Gardner-Webb and Buffalo.
“I was very impressed by Matt’s work last year in the secondary,” Chryst said. “He has been a great fit for our program as a coach, recruiter and teacher of the game. His experiences and work ethic have more than prepared him for this opportunity to be a coordinator.”
It was a move that had been rumored for the past month in some form or another. House is not yet 35 and what makes this move subject to many questions is his paucity of experience. He started out at his alma mater, Michigan St., as a grad assistant for two years. Then it was two years as a “defensive assistant” at UNC. A year at Gardner-Webb. Then two years at Buffalo. Never beyond a position coach.
Before Coach Chryst hired him as the secondary coach he was working in the fringes of NFL coaching for four years. Heck, last year getting the job at Pitt to coach the secondary was reasonably considered to be his biggest break to date.
This makes the promotion to be the DC something of a shock. And definitely a bit unnerving. Coach Chryst said he interviewed at least 3 other people for the job as well as House. Naturally the names were not identified. Chryst also downplayed the length in naming a DC — especially when merely promoting from within — by saying that they really didn’t start looking at possible hires until after the BBVA Bowl.
The promotion of House ends a 64-day search for Huxtable’s successor, but Chryst said the last two months weren’t spent exclusively on finding a new defensive coordinator.
“We were going to get through the bowl game, and while we were doing that, I was going to start talking to people, but nothing really more than that. Just kind of gathering information and finding out if certain guys had interest, on the phone more than anything. There was a window after the bowl where we interviewed guys for the coordinator job, and once we did that, we finished out recruiting and while that was finishing up we started compiling a list of guys that would be good fits in the assistant role.
“I made some inquiries and talked to people, but we really wanted to give as much as we could to the bowl. I knew [Matt] was going to interview, but I didn’t want him to have to get ready to interview for a job and do the necessary work for bowl prep.
“We wanted to finish out the season the best we could. We didn’t feel like we were going to get anybody in that was going to impact recruiting anyways, so that’s why there wasn’t a strong push to try to get someone in at that time.”
Apparently Chryst isn’t real big on multi-tasking. Need to finish the bowl prep first. Then the end of recruiting. That DC thing will keep.
Honestly, the whole recruiting stuff for the class of 2013 is such a load of crap. No one was really worried about the loss of Huxtable as DC costing Pitt anyone from the class. Huxtable’s presence was neutral for recruiting. I wasn’t even concerned with its impact on the 2014 recruiting.
The issue was simply that it was taking 2 months to make a call on the hire. That the hire finally came with a little more than 2 weeks before spring practices begin. And now, that it took 2 months just to promote a guy with very limited experience to the job. And why? Because Coach Chryst was familiar and comfortable with him.
Citing familiarity, Matt House gets promoted from defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator. Veteran coach John Palermo joins staff as linebackers and defensive ends coach. Former Pitt standout Hank Poteat (1996-99) on board as graduate assistant.
Just two weeks prior to the start of spring practices, Pitt head coach Paul Chryst promoted defensive backs coach Matt House to defensive coordinator. House fills the vacancy after Dave Huxtable was tabbed as N.C. State’s defensive coordinator on December 14.
Chryst said he interviewed four candidates for the job, but felt most comfortable promoting from within, despite House not having experience in a coordinator role. Chryst declined to announce who the four interviewees were, or if House was among those four or in addition to those four.
“Matt was a guy I interviewed, and he set the bar pretty high,” Chryst said. “He earned it. Matt is certainly ready for it.”
Look, every coordinator is an eventual leap of faith from a position coach. It is that House has all of four years position coach experience — and only one year at the 1-A level that makes this such a questionable thing. It isn’t like House was being widely regarded as a rising star.
The bullseye will be on House. If the defense struggles this coming year, there won’t be much slack cut the new DC. By extension, there won’t be much slack given to Chryst if the defense struggles.
Now the debate will rage. Was Pitt too cheap in what they offered for a coach? Is Chryst’s preference for guys he knows/trusts/has familiarity or some direct trust limiting his choices (or simply leading to those choices)?
I tend to think this is more about comfort than money. Especially when you see a good, experinced DC like Todd Orlando taking the Utah St. DC position. The hiring of John Palermo to coach the defensive backs and linebackers reinforces my sense that promoting House was more about Chryst hiring people he is more familiar/comfortable with than the money. It is more a matter of what Chryst likes.
Palermo is widely regarded as one of the finest defensive assistants in college football. He is a 38-year coaching veteran whose stops include 15 years at the University of Wisconsin, two seasons with the Washington Redskins and this past season with the University of Tennessee.
Palermo (pronounced pa-lair-mo) was an integral figure in helping Barry Alvarez build Wisconsin into a national power. He was the Badgers’ assistant head coach from 1991-2005 and also oversaw the defensive line (1996-2005) and outside linebackers (1991-95). Palermo coached four first-team All-Americans, four Big Ten Defensive Linemen of the Year, two Big Ten Defensive Players of the Year, and a pair of first-round draft selections in Wendell Bryant (2002) and Erasmus James (2005). In 2004 the entire starting defensive line at Wisconsin was selected in the NFL Draft.
Yes, Chryst hired another guy he knew from Wisconsin. It’s also worth noting that Palermo made his rep coaching the D-line. That is what he has been coaching since 1996. That is the position he has always coached aside from the first four years he spent at Wisconsin (1991-1995). At Pitt he is coaching outside linebackers and defensive ends. Chris Haering will focus on coaching the inside linebackers and Inoke Breckterfield will take the defensive tackles.
If I’m Inoke Breckterfield, I work really hard at pulling in some talent this year. That or I make sure Aaron Donald, K.K. Smith have monster years to show some other value. Chris Haering is likely safe with his local ties as a former coach at Mt. Lebanon.
The other hire was Hank Poteat, the former Pitt star, as a grad assistant focusing on the cornerbacks. Frankly, this one is nearly as confusing as promoting House.
While his title is “defensive graduate assistant & cornerbacks”, it seems he’s more the cornerback coach. With House the DC and safeties coach. There isn’t another defensive back coach on the staff.
Poteat would play for five NFL teams over 10 seasons and earned a Super Bowl ring as a member of the 2004 New England Patriots. He retired from the NFL following the 2009 season and spent the past two years as defensive backs coach at Kentucky Christian University.
A native of Harrisburg, Pa., and graduate of Harrisburg High, Poteat earned his bachelor’s degree in social sciences from Pitt.
“We’re really excited to bring Hank back home to Pitt,” Chryst said. “In addition to his experience as an NFL player, Hank has coached on the college level the past two years. His knowledge of the game and of Pitt is going to be a big asset for us.”
I’m assuming “grad assistant” is more descriptive of his pay scale.