by Frank Laspin
If I were to tell you that Pat Narduzzi has put together one heck of a coaching staff that can bring the Pitt football program to future glory, would you believe me? I could write some catchy lines highlighting the massive amount of experience some of these coaches possess. I could mention the fact that the younger leaders on this staff have an incredible amount of upside. It would probably be beneficial to my argument to name-drop some of the talent that these coaches have worked with in their careers. Drew Brees, Le’Veon Bell, C.J. Spiller, and Brandon Marshall are just a few players who can claim they have been coached by a member of this Pitt coaching staff. But the question is do Pitt fans have the belief that this university is capable of putting together a respectable program again?
All signs point to Pat Narduzzi’s staff as a group of aggressive, social-media-savvy recruiters who will always be “on the prowl,” especially in the state of Pennsylvania. After just a couple weeks, this group has been the most active program on social media in the country. This is certainly a different environment than the previous coaching staff, who was incredibly mute when it came to promoting this university. The new coaching regime realizes that recruiting is the lifeblood of any program, and in order for the Pitt football program to become relevant, they must win not only on the field but also in the world of recruiting.
Ask any coach in the country. They will tell you the number one priority of any school must be to dominate your state in recruiting. Some coaches say it, the good ones do it. Penn State, excluding the last few, embarrassing years, has traditionally been able to out-recruit Pitt in Pennsylvania. After only a few weeks though, it seems as if David is fighting Goliath again. A Twitter war has already sparked between a Pitt coach and a member of the evil-empire’s coaching staff in State College. The temperature of this Panther program is starting to rise, and that should bring them out of the frozen, lonely desert of mediocrity.
Meet the Coaches
Pat Narduzzi-Head Coach
Hometown: Youngstown, Ohio
Playing Career: Linebacker/Youngstown State (‘85), University of Rhode Island (’87-’89)
1990-‘91: Graduate Assistant, Miami (OH)
1992: Wide Receivers, Miami (OH)
1993-’97: Linebackers, Rhode Island
1998-’99: Defensive Coordinator, Rhode Island
2000-’02: Linebackers, Northern Illinois
2003: Defensive Coordinator, Miami (OH)
2004-’06: Defensive Coordinator, Cincinnati
2007-’12: Defensive Coordinator, Michigan State
2013-’14: Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator, Michigan State
-He was the architect of the most dominant defenses in the country during the past decade at Michigan State.
-He was named the 2013 Frank Broyles Award winner (nation’s top assistant coach).
-He won National Coordinator of the Week by Rivals 4 times (2010, 2011, twice in 2013).
-He has coached 62 All-Big-Ten honorees, 12 different first-team All-Big-Ten selections, five first-team All-Americans.
-He has coached eight players who were drafted into the NFL, including 2014 first-round selection Darqueze Dennard.
-Since 2011, M.S.U. is one of two schools (Florida) to finish in the top 10 of total defense every year
-He coached the only rush defense to finish in the top 10 for the past four years.
Josh Conklin-Defensive Coordinator
Hometown: Gillette, Wyoming
Playing Career: Linebacker/South Dakota State (’99-’03)
2003-’04: Graduate Assistant, South Dakota State
2005-’06: Secondary/Special Teams, South Dakota State
2007-’08: Defensive Backs, Wofford
2009: Defensive Backs/Special Teams, Wofford
2010-’11: Defensive Coordinator/Safeties, The Citadel
2012: Safeties, Tennessee
2013-’14: Defensive Coordinator, Florida International
“Josh Conklin oversaw an incredibly disruptive unit at FIU, they were among the top five in the country in takeaways and defensive touchdowns. We want our Pitt defenses to have an attacking, opportunistic mentality and Josh will help us achieve that.”-Pat Narduzzi
With this hire, it seems that Pat Narduzzi will influence a lot of what the Panther’s do defensively for a few years. Although Josh Conklin has only 1 year of experience as a coach in power-5 football, he ran Pat Narduzzi’s trademark 4-3 over, quarter coverage defense at Florida International. In 2014, FIU lead the nation in fumble recoveries (19) and was 2nd in defensive touchdowns (6). Coach Conklin was a 2014 Broyles Award nominee, which is given to the nation’s top assistant coach, an award that Pat Narduzzi won in 2013. His familiarity with the system should allow for a relatively easy growth process for him as a coach, and I anticipate he will fully take the reigns’ as defensive coordinator by year 3.
Tom Sims-Defensive Line Coach
Hometown: Detroit, Michigan
Playing Career: Defensive Lineman/Western Michigan (’86-’87), Pitt (’88-’89), Kansas City
Chiefs (’90-’92, ’96), Indianapolis Colts (’93-’94), Minnesota Vikings (’95)
1997-’99: Defensive Line, Western Kentucky
2000: Defensive Line, Eastern Michigan
2001-’05: Defensive Line, Minnesota
2006-’08: Defensive Line, Illinois
2009: Defensive Line, Kansas
2010-’14: Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Line, Youngstown State
“I’m thrilled to bring Tom back to his alma mater where he was a tough defensive lineman, he is going to bring a ton of enthusiasm and knowledge to our defensive line room. Tom’s experiences as a Pitt and NFL player will be highly valuable to our players and coaches alike.”-Pat Narduzzi
Tom Sims experience in the NFL is the most attractive quality of this hire. He can instantly walk into a recruit’s home and say, “I know what it takes to get to the next level, and if you come to Pitt, I will teach you how to become a professional.” While at Illinois, his defensive line was part of a unit that broke the school record for sacks (40) in 2007, and led the Big Ten in sacks per game (2.7) the following year. Ironically, during the 2012 campaign in a game against Pitt, he helped secure Youngstown State’s first victory ever against a BCS school with a 31-17 victory at Heinz Field. As stated before, Coach Sims played at Pitt during the 1988 and 1989 seasons’, so he has a level of familiarity with the school. Additionally, he has played and coached the defensive line his entire career, so it is safe to say that Tom Sims eats, sleeps, and breathes in the trenches. This is a solid hire by Pat Narduzzi.
Rob Harley-Linebackers Coach
Hometown: Elmhurst, Illinois
Playing Career: Safety/Ohio State (’02-’05)
2010-‘11: Linebackers/Defensive Backs/Assistant Special Teams Coordinator, Ohio-
2012-’13: Graduate Assistant, Michigan State
2014: Linebackers, Florida International
“Rob Harley and I worked together at Michigan State for two years, he is a very impressive recruiter and coach. Rob is a self-starter with a tremendous work ethic. Rob worked with our new defensive coordinator Josh Conklin at FIU this past year. Their experience together will be an immediate asset for us.”-Pat Narduzzi
This is one of those inexperienced, but high-upside coaching hires. Rob Harley played his college ball at Ohio State and was a member of the 2002 National Championship team. It is interesting to note that after graduating from Ohio State in 2006, Coach Harley worked for the media as a member of the Big Ten Network and ESPN. He served as a coach at Ohio-Dominican University in Columbus, Ohio, for 2 years, then joined the Michigan State staff as a graduate assistant. He is familiar with the defensive system and helped contribute to the aggressive defense at Florida International last year. His personality and work-ethic will complement his growth as a coach and recruiter.
Renaldo Hill-Cornerbacks Coach
Hometown: Detroit, Michigan
Playing Career: Cornerback/Michigan State (’98-’00), Arizona Cardinals (’01-’04), Oakland
Raiders (’05), Miami Dolphins (’06-’08), Denver Broncos ‘(09-’10)
2012: Graduate Assistant, Wyoming
2013-’14: Cornerbacks, Wyoming
“Our corners are really going to love Renaldo, I got to know him at Michigan State and he is a great person and excellent teacher. Having a former defensive back who played 10 years in the NFL on our staff will be invaluable.”-Pat Narduzzi
The addition of Renaldo Hill is underrated, yet truly a grand slam. Like Tom Sims, Coach Hill has a good amount of NFL experience that should translate into increased productivity among Pitt cornerbacks. This, paired with Pat Narduzzi’s defensive genius, should help with the development of a defensive back group that was arguably Pitt’s weakest link last year. After a disappointing collegiate career thus far, look for Woodland Hills product Lafayette Pitts to have a breakout year under Coach Hill’s guidance.
Jim Chaney-Offensive Coordinator/Running Backs Coach
Hometown: Holden, Missouri
Playing Career: Nose Guard/Cental Missouri (’83-’85)
1995-’96: Offensive Line/Recruiting Coordinator, Wyoming
1997: Co-Offensive Coordinator/Tight Ends/Recruiting Coordinator, Purdue
1998: Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line/Recruiting Coordinator, Purdue
1999-’01: Offensive Coordinator/Tight Ends/Recruiting Coordinator, Purdue
2002: Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line, Purdue
2003-’05: Offensive Coordinator/Tight Ends, Purdue
2006-’08: Offensive Line/Tight Ends, St. Louis Rams
2009: Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line, Tennessee
2010-’11: Offensive Coordinator/Running Backs, Tennessee
2012: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks, Tennessee
2013-’14: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks, Arkansas
“Jim Chaney brings outstanding experience and knowledge to our staff. He has the expertise to run different offenses and tailor game plans to his personnel’s strengths. Moreover, Jim is a brilliant quarterback coach who has tutored some exceptional college and pro players, including a Super Bowl MVP in Drew Brees.”-Pat Narduzzi
Jim Chaney’s hire is extremely significant for multiple reasons. First, he has a large amount of experience coaching in some of the best conferences in college football. While at Purdue, he was in charge of a unit, led by Drew Brees, which was at the top of the Big Ten in passing offense 5 times, total offense 3 times, and was a top 10 total offense 6 times. Additionally, during Coach Chaney’s 3 years with the St. Louis Rams, his offensive line helped Steven Jackson gain at least 1,000 yards rushing every year. This past year at Arkansas, Coach Chaney produced a duo of 1,000+ yard rushers and a 2,000+ yard passer, all of whom contributed to the Razorbacks first winning season since 2011. But the most important reason that this hire merit’s significance is the fact that a successful coach from the powerful SEC was willing to leave, and come to an inferior Pitt program, in the inferior ACC. Jim Chaney was set to begin his final year in a contract that paid him $550,000 annually, and many reports have said that he was close to signing an extension this offseason. What made him come to Pitt? Word on the street is that Arkansas Head Coach Brett Bielema was at odds with Chaney on the direction of the offense, which caused a hostile environment this past year. I truly believe, though, that a big reason Jim Chaney has come to Pitt is the fact that he will be getting a significant pay increase. Chancellor Patrick Gallagher has already said that the football program will be given an increase in funding to hire, and keep, quality assistant coaches, and this could be proof that the culture is changing. Regardless of the reasons, the keys to the car have been given to Jim Chaney, and by looking at his body of work, it looks as if the offense is in good hands.
Andre Powell-Running Backs/Special Teams Coordinator
Hometown: Lockhart, South Carolina
Playing Career: Fullback/Indiana (’85-87)
1988: Student Assistant, Indiana
1989: Graduate Assistant, Indiana
1990: Graduate Assistant, South Carolina
1991: Inside Linebackers, Army
1992: Running Backs, Virginia Military Institute
1993-’94: Running Backs, Rhode Island
1995: Running Backs, Army
1996: Running Backs, Virginia
1997-’99: Wide Receivers, Virginia
2000: Running Backs, Virginia
2001-’03: Running Backs, North Carolina
2004-’06: Running Backs/Special Teams Coordinator, North Carolina
2007: Running Backs, Clemson
2008-’10: Running Backs/Special Teams Coordinator, Clemson
2011: Running Backs, Maryland
2012-’14: Running Backs/Special Teams Coordinator, Maryland
“I’ve known Andre Powell for more than 20 years. In addition to coaching a lot of great running backs, Andre has a tremendous passion for outstanding special teams play. We faced him and Maryland this past season and I was highly impressed by their special teams.”-Pat Narduzzi
With the troubles that Pitt has had in the special teams department the past couple of years, it is encouraging that Pat Narduzzi has hired a special teams coach, let alone a guy who has a recent track history with turning around a special teams unit. During the Chryst-era, Pitt did not even employ a special teams coach and the results reflected that. Andre Powell is tasked with rehabbing this lackluster special teams unit, and judging from his recent work at Maryland, there is no reason why he cannot achieve that. When he took over the special teams at Maryland in 2012, they were ranked 101st in the NCAA. In 2014, they finished 6th. I think that’s all that needs to be said about his ability to coach special teams. Throughout his career as a running backs coach, he has coached such names as Tiki Barber (Virginia), Willie Parker (North Carolina), and C.J. Spiller (Clemson). This is very good news for returning ACC Offensive Player of the Year, James Conner, who could very well leave as the greatest running back in Pitt history.
John Peterson-Offensive Line
Hometown: Middletown, Ohio
Playing Career: Offensive Lineman/Ohio State (’86-’89)
1991-’92: Graduate Assistant, Cincinnati
1993-’94: Graduate Assistant, Ohio State
1995-’98: Offensive Line, Akron
1999-’00: Offensive Line, Miami (Ohio)
2001-’03: Offensive Line/Running Game Coordinator, Miami (Ohio)
2004-’11: Tight Ends/Recruiting Coordinator, Ohio State
2012-‘13: Offensive Line, University of Alabama-Birmingham
2014: Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line, Akron
“John is a tremendous coach and a better person, he is also an unbelievable recruiter and evaluator. We first worked together during our MAC championship season at Miami [in 2003] and I’m thrilled to have him at Pitt.”-Pat Narduzzi
John Peterson brings his passion, knowledge, and 20+ years of experience as a D1 coach into Pitt, to continue the development of one of the better offensive line’s in the nation. In 2003, his offensive line helped Ben Roethlisberger lead Miami (OH) to its first MAC Championship Game victory in school history. At Ohio State, he worked under Jim Tressell as the recruiting coordinator, producing back-to-back top 10 recruiting classes in 2004 and 2005. His knowledge of the game, as well as his ability to recruit Big Ten country, should help Pitt compete with Ohio State and Penn State in recruiting. He inherits an offensive line littered with blue-chip recruits including Belle-Vernon’s Dorian Johnson and Fox Chapel’s Adam Bisnowaty. With Coach Peterson’s passion and knowledge, there is little reason why this year’s Pitt offensive line should not be the best in the ACC.
Kevin Sherman-Wide Receivers
Hometown: Radford, Virginia
Playing Career: Wide Receiver/Lees-McRae Junior College (’87), Ferrum College (’88-’89)
1991: Student Assistant, Ferrum College
1992-’93: Wide Receivers, Methodist College (NC)
1993-’97: Recruiting Coordinator/Running Backs/Quarterbacks/Wide Receivers
Virginia Military Institute
1997-’00: Wide Receivers, Ohio University
2000-’05: Wide Receivers, Wake Forest
2006-’12: Wide Receivers, Virginia Tech
2013-’14: Wide Receivers, Purdue
“Kevin Sherman is a veteran teacher of wide receiver play. He is very familiar with the Atlantic Coast Conference and its various recruiting areas. I’m thrilled to bring a great person and an experienced professional like Kevin to Pittsburgh.”-Pat Narduzzi
Kevin Sherman adds to a massive amount of coaching experience that already exists on this staff. His knowledge of the ACC, including a 6 year stint at Virginia Tech where he coached future pro’s Eddie Royal, Josh Morgan, and Jarrett Boykin, will be a valuable addition to this program. Coach Sherman has big-game credentials on his resume, coaching in 3 Orange Bowls and 1 Sugar Bowl while at Virginia Tech. His familiarity with the ACC, paired with the fact that he is regarded as one of the best recruiters east of the Mississippi, should help Pitt compete with other east coast schools in recruiting. He is tasked with maximizing the production from one of the best wide receivers in Pitt history, Clairton’s Tyler Boyd, who surely will be going to the NFL next year. Because defenses will be deploying double-coverage on Boyd, this young group of receivers must develop into viable options for quarterback Chad Voytik.
Tim Salem-Tight Ends
Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Playing Career: Quarterback/Minnesota (’80-’82), Arizona State (’83-’84)
1985-’86: Graduate Assistant, Arizona State
1987-’88: Offensive Coordinator, Phoenix College
1989-’90: Running Backs/Special Teams Coordinator, Colorado State
1991-’93: Quarterbacks, Purdue
1994-’96: Offensive Coordinator, Purdue
1997-’00: Quarterbacks, Ohio State
2003: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks/Kicking Coach, Eastern Michigan
2004: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks, Central Florida
2005: Offensive Coordinator/Tight Ends, Central Florida
2006: Offensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers, Central Florida
2007-’08: Offensive Coordinator/Running Backs, Central Florida
2009-’11: Tight Ends/Special Teams Coordinator, Central Florida
2012-’13: Running Backs/Special Teams Coordinator, Illinois
2014: Special Teams Coordinator, Illinois
“Tim brings so much experience to Pitt. He has been a coordinator and coached virtually every position on offense. Tim will be a great sounding board not only for Jim Chaney but also our entire staff.”-Pat Narduzzi
Once again, Pat Narduzzi has hired a coach who has a ton of experience coaching in the college ranks. Tim Salem has a vast amount of experience coaching almost every offensive position at the Division 1 level. He has not been a tight ends coach since 2011 while at Illinois, but his overall knowledge of how offenses work should help him develop a deep group of tight ends lead by Shaler’s JP Holtz.
Dave Andrews-Head Strength and Conditioning Coach
Hometown: Washington Court House, Ohio
Playing Career: Tight End/Ohio State (’00-’02)
2003: Student Intern, Ohio State
2004: Graduate Assistant, Cincinnati
2005-‘07: Assistant Strength Coach, Cincinnati
2008-’12: Head Olympic Strength and Conditioning Coach, Cincinnati
2012-’13: Associate Football Strength and Conditioning Coach, Illinois
2014: Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning, Notre Dame
“Dave Andrews is a highly disciplined coach who adds immediate toughness to our entire team. As a former player at Ohio State, he knows what it takes from a physical preparation standpoint to be successful in major college football. I know he is excited to get our players started with our offseason program.”-Pat Narduzzi
Although the strength and conditioning coach does not coach players on the field, it is one of the most underrated positions in a football program. Dave Andrews is a registered by the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCA). He is also a level one sports performance coach, certified by USA Weightlifting (USAW). Coach Andrews was a letterman tight end on the 2002 National Champion Ohio State Buckeyes. He has worked with every sport throughout his career, including the Olympic sports teams at Cincinnati. I believe Dave Andrews experience with quality football programs, including Notre Dame’s this past season, is crucial to the development of this program. Hopefully, under his guidance, Pitt can keep up with the top teams in the ACC, develop a blue-collar toughness, and eliminate the late-game lapses that we have seen all too frequently as of late.