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January 8, 2018

Last week was a surprisingly active week for Pitt football. Players left the program and it’s time to find a new coordinator.

After the early signing period, Pitt was over the 85 scholarship player. That meant transfers were on the way. It was just a matter of who and when.

That day came on Friday.

Four transfers were announced.

Kaezon Pugh, Kam Carter, Henry Miller and Malik Henderson have asked for and been granted their releases to transfer, according to sources. Pitt now is two under the 85-scholarship limit heading into February’s national signing day.

None of the players were on the 2-deep at the end of the season. And while Pugh, Carter and Miller might have had a chance come the spring, it seemed unlikely.

The surprise is really that Pugh and Miller never made an impact as expected. Pugh was a 4-star, coveted recruit who never made an impact as a linebacker or at defensive end when he changed position. Given the lack of depth at DE all season, that makes his failure to crack the 2-deep all the more stunning. Also somewhat surprising is that it is reported that he could be heading to California (Pa.) University in Division II.

Miller has size and speed for corner or at linebacker — where he switched to. There’s still potential for him, but there is no clear timetable. Obviously he got tired of waiting.

Kam Carter garnered most of the attention in the offseason, but little in-season. Like Pugh, he played at a position of need for Pitt, defensive tackle, yet still could not consistently crack the rotation. He’ll be looking to hook-up with yet another program after Penn State, East Mississippi Community College and now Pitt.

The other big deal was Pitt losing a coordinator. That, in and of itself, is an admittedly annual event. This time, though, the loss was the defensive coordinator.

For the third consecutive year, Pitt’s coach must replace one of the most important members of his staff after defensive coordinator Josh Conklin accepted the head coaching position at Wofford College. Wofford associate athletic director Brent Williamson confirmed Conklin’s hiring Tuesday morning.

The news leaked and then broke late last Sunday. Conklin was officially introduced on Tuesday. He’s not a local, but he did coach there for a couple years and his in-laws have ties to the school and area.

Conklin, 38, is not coming home — he was born in Gillette, Wyo. — but he was at Wofford from 2007-09 as a defensive backs and special teams coach.

Plus, his brother-in-law, Al Clark III, and father-in-law, Al Clark Jr., were four-year Wofford lettermen in 2002 and 1976, respectively.

“Having worked here as an assistant under (recently retired head coach) Mike Ayers, he has the Wofford DNA we were looking for along with a great depth and breadth of external experience,” Johnson said in a statement.

Conklin’s tenure at Pitt can be described as a mixed bag. He did not exactly inherit a stacked or strong defense. Depth was the biggest issue during his three years. Even as the recruiting on that side of the ball there was always at least two positions where there seemed to be nothing behind the first player on the 2-deep.

His defensive game plans were questioned as they did not do as much as you would hope to cover deficiencies (secondary for the first two year and the D-line this past year). There is room for reasonable debate over the level of culpability, though, as Head Coach Pat Narduzzi had a defensive system he wanted run regardless of the personnel.

The issue now is who takes the DC spot. If Pitt promotes from within, the obvious choice would be defensive line coach, Charlie Partridge. Partridge only served as a DC for one season (co-DC at Wisconsin in 2011), but has a lot of experience and has been a head coach. The darkhorse in-house candidate would be Linebackers Coach Rob Harley. Both Partridge and Harley are strong recruiters on the staff.

If Narduzzi went outside the program, then former Syracuse head coach, friend and nearly killed by a kiwi, Scott Shafer would be a very strong possibility. Shafer has been a very good DC over the years and spent this past season as DC at Middle Tennessee State. For whatever it’s worth, shortly around the news started breaking on Conklin leaving, Shafer started following several Pitt players on twitter (big hat-tip to Justin for this).

The decision on a new DC may be complicated by the explosion in salaries for coordinators this offseason. Beyond the crazy being tossed around by Texas A&M, LSU and the others in the SEC. FSU hired Harlon Barnett from Michigan State (his alma mater), where he was co-DC.

Yahoo! Sports reported Florida State gave Barnett a three-year contract worth nearly $1 million a season. According to a USA Today database of coaches salary, Barnett ranked 137th among assistant coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season at $452,570, while his fellow co-coordinator at [Mike] Tressel made $450,370.

That also, takes away a very likely candidate for the job in Barnett or Tressel, as Tressel will likely take over as solo DC at MSU and get a salary bump.

The good news for whoever does get the DC job, is that the depth and potential on that side of the ball is significantly improved.

Then again, if you follow the team closely, you might believe the situation is more plum for the incoming coordinator than the numbers indicate — especially the 6.0 opponent yards per play that puts Pitt in the bottom 40 of FBS. But only two seniors are gone, one of whom barely played by the end of the year, and those who do return are a balanced blend of game-ready experience mixed with still-untapped potential.

Figuring out how to deploy the front seven will be intriguing enough for Josh Conklin’s replacement, but what about the back end? It stands to reason there are even more feasible combinations for how the secondary forms around Jackson and what it will look like long-term without Jordan Whitehead for the first time under Narduzzi.

It should hold the possibility of giving the next DC a nice start.





16 comments

Is the glass half full or half MT. I want to believe full. If Pitt was already over scholie limit and we still have some pretty good uncommitted players with offers, something had to give. Transfers to Harvard on the Mon indicates engineered transfer. I think Partridge or Shaffer would be an Improvement over Conklin as Pitt was an apprenticeship for him. Pitt better up all the assistants pay. With the money that’s being thrown around already and a lot of schools looking for that extra coach look out! We can not continue to be 120 out of 140 in pa rank if you want to be a top 25 team.H2P

Comment by Pitt60 01.08.18 @ 11:20 am

Agreed. Pitt really has to start paying up. Get what you pay for —

Comment by ck 01.08.18 @ 12:37 pm

Not too concerned about any of the transfers but disappointed we never got to see what MacVittie could do — seems like he had all the size and tools, and came out of Moeller in Ohio which is a great program…wonder what didn’t work. I’m psyched about Pickett but never hurts to have more talented young QBs around.

Comment by Matt N. 01.08.18 @ 10:49 pm

There have to be many good young/old coaches at lower profile programs who are chomping at the bit for a chance to be DC at Pitt — ala Jim Tressel coming up from YSU or the legion of great coaches to come out of Miami of Ohio over the decades. We need to take our time and get a good one…could be the difference between a 7 and 10 win season.

Comment by Matt N. 01.08.18 @ 10:54 pm

Early 2018 prediction: if Pickett stays healthy, Hall will have a big big year — 1,500 yards or more and be in somebody’s Heisman discussion. Call me crazy, but that kid showed major speed and a quick first cut through the line, and if Pickett can establish a consistently credible mid-range passing game (10-20 yards), look out….or I should say, look ot.

Comment by Matt N. 01.08.18 @ 11:00 pm

Part of the Duzzie’s contract extension provides for increased pay for our fabulous assistants.
“A losing season, lets give everyone a raise.”

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 01.09.18 @ 1:41 am

Don’t forget the academic casualties, there is bound to a handful of those guys.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 01.09.18 @ 1:48 am

Now that the national championship game is over its time to predict Pitt’s win/lose record for next year. (Very early prediction)
Definite Wins:
Albany
Duke
Syracuse
Virginia
Definite losses:
Penn State (Power house)
Notre Dame (this will be bad)
Miami (they were asleep up here in 17)

Toss-ups:
UCF un-defeated in 17 but lost their head coach.
Georgia Tech. We just can never seem to stop their offense.
Virginia Tech- A real toss-up.
Wake Forest – Has turned into a very good team

No more than 9 , more likely 7 wins.
I bet we break last years attendance record with all the pre-season build up of our outstanding program.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 01.09.18 @ 2:04 am

Sorry, I left out North Carolina, its a toss-up.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 01.09.18 @ 2:17 am

unfortunately UNC is not a toss-up but a definite loss. After the past 2 years, I’m convinced we can’t beat them

Comment by wbb 01.09.18 @ 9:12 am

A lot of problems, past and present, can be solved with outstanding QB play. Have some faith. This will be Narduzzi best team! 10-2

Comment by Dan 72 01.09.18 @ 11:48 am

That is true. I don’t have faith but I do dream of a 10-2 season.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 01.09.18 @ 2:29 pm

The right line on next year’s team is 7-8 wins. Set it at 8, I’d be tempted to take the under. Set it at 7… I’d be tempted to take the over. In the end, 7 wins is just about right. Anything under 7 and I really start to doubt that Narduzzi, or anyone, can douse this dumpster fire. I think a lot of people are putting way too much stock in Pickett – I’m not sure how he holds up to an entire season. He was good for what – part of the VT game and the Miami game? And let’s be honest – Miami wasn’t as good as their record indicated, but they were fast asleep for that game and their QB couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn from inside of it. He had open receivers all day and just couldn’t execute. I expect pIckett to struggle some – especially early. Lose one or two of those and it changes the entire outlook on the season.

Comment by 55 01.10.18 @ 6:56 pm

We can give coaching pay raises after losing season and still be paying the rate for a losing season!H2 cheep Pitt.

Comment by Pitt60 01.11.18 @ 6:54 pm

Pitt is not cheap, whatever the Duzzi wanted they gave it to him. And that’s not fake news.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 01.12.18 @ 2:34 am

Is Pitt cheap? According to the POV, Pitt is ranked #60 out of 119 football coaches in pay. And where do we stand in team rank, middle of the pack? You get what you pay for. I still say we aren’t committed to athletics lyke many other schools and never will be. The Posvar philosophy still prevails, investment in academics first. It kills them to pay a coach more than the chancellor. Just the way it is………

Comment by ROC2 01.12.18 @ 8:53 am

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