I’m going to let go of the decision to promote House to defensive coordinator soon. I don’t like the decision, but I’m not going to spend the next six months angsting over it. And I sure won’t be rooting for it to fail. But it is only fair to try and articulate some more of why I find this a bad decision by Coach Paul Chryst. Not simply reducing it to House’s lack of experience, or whether Pitt was being cheap, or Chryst valued familiarity and comfort higher than experience and past performance.
When I broke down the connections of the staff to Chryst, I also took note of their overall experience. Particularly how there were several very experienced coaches and then very inexperienced coaches. And few somewhere in-between in experience.
Chris Peak at PantherLair had a piece hitting on this issue.
Chryst also added John Palermo to the defensive coaching staff, but despite Palermo having 38 years of coaching experience, he will “float” between positions, spending time with the defensive ends (who will still be under the watch of defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield) and the outside linebackers (who will still work with linebackers coach Chris Haering).
While those two moves may go against the usual hiring practices in college football, they are in line with the design of Chryst’s coaching staff. After all, Chryst named Joe Rudolph offensive coordinator last year after Bob Bostad left for the NFL, and Rudolph had just four years of experience as a full-time assistant prior to 2012 (the same number as House).
And compared to some of the other offensive coaches, Rudolph is long in the tooth. Quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger had one year of coaching experience prior to coming to Pitt, and that year was spent as head coach at Hill Murray High School in Minnesota. And receivers coach Bobby Engram’s coaching experience is contained in one year as an offensive assistant with the San Francisco 49ers.
But Chryst balanced that inexperience with a pair of veteran coaches. Offensive line coach Jim Hueber has 37 years of coaching on his resume, and running backs coach Desmond Robinson started in the business in 1981.
Chryst looked for the same balance on defense when he put together his first staff last year. House, Breckterfield and Haering combined for seven total years of experience as full-time assistants prior to 2012, but Huxtable had been coaching for nearly 30 years. With Huxtable off to N.C. State, Chryst brought in another 30-year veteran in Palermo.
“I think his experience is going to be valuable,” House said of Palermo. “He’s a guy that has seen it all and done it all; in 38 years, you’ve seen a lot of football.”
It’s not a bad idea. In theory. But here’s the problem for me. Start with the head coach. Chryst is an offense guy. He coached QBs. He was an offensive coordinator. There is no question that he was helping a lot more on the offensive side with first year OC Joe Rudolph last year. He also added experienced guys on offense in Desmond Robinson and Jim Hueber. Solid balance with first time position coaches in Bobby Engram and Brooks Bollinger.
Now look at the defense. Last year, the only experienced guy on the defensive side was the DC, Dave Huxtable. Everyone else on the defensive coaching staff had less than 4 years coaching experience at the college level.
That’s not horrible when the experienced guy is the DC. A guy who worked positions. Has been around and is experienced with teaching both players and young position coaches while planning a defense. With Huxtable’s departure to NC State, rather than make sure there was an experienced hand to guide the defense and the coaching staff, Chryst opted to promote a young position coach to the DC position. His solution for the experience issue was to bring in Palermo.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like the Palermo hire. He’s a very good coach and is still considered a solid recruiter, especially in New Jersey. However, he has spent his entire career as a D-line coach. He has not been a defensive coordinator. He has not had to oversee more than one unit (aside from one year as HC at Austin Peay in 1990 where he was 0-11).
How does his experience actually help Matt House as the new DC? Who does House have to turn to for help? How thin does Chryst expect to spread Palermo with the defensive coaches? Heck, with adding Hank Poteat to coach the cornerbacks, the defensive coaching staff has probably gotten less experienced heading into 2013.