Whipple, 61, has more to give
Pitt’s new OC likes players’ attitudes
Pat Narduzzi invited Mark Whipple into a makeshift interview room to sit down with Pitt’s quarterbacks, the players he would be coaching once he was named offensive coordinator.
Whipple sat down and asked the million-dollar question:
“What do we need to do to get Clemson?”
“Coach, we’re not that far away,” they told him. “We beat them two years ago.”
It was impressive enough to Whipple that his future pupils took the time for that part of the hiring process, and he was even more pleased with that answer. There’s little doubt that while winning the ACC Coastal Division for the first time and reaching the conference championship was a feather in the cap for the Panthers, their season left a bit of a bitter taste by ending with a three-game losing streak.
The midpoint of that skid was a 42-10 annihilation at the hands of the eventual national champs, and with Whipple now here to bolster an offense that was the largest hole in a ship that sank in the final stretch of 2018, there’s something to be said for raising the bar even higher.
“These guys have got a look in their eye like they’re ready to make a next step,” Whipple said Wednesday. “You don’t know that till you meet them.”
The first few weeks on the job have been something of a whirlwind for Whipple, trying to balance his time between hitting the road recruiting, getting to know his new program and, of course, preparing a slew of offensive players for a spring camp that will be crucial for learning his system.
That’s not to say he isn’t enjoying it. The former Steelers quarterbacks coach who now is 61 had a chance to see some old faces around the local high schools last week, when the temperature was below zero but the welcomes were warm — even if not everyone remembered his three-year tenure here from 2004-06.
“Well, they acted like they did,” Whipple admitted with a chuckle. “But I acted like I knew them, too. That’s just part of the game. … It is proud to wear the Super Bowl ring in recruiting. That’s always an asset.”
On the recruiting trail, Whipple said he’ll preach the pro-style offense he runs as a benefit for those hoping to reach the next level, which is to say, just about every prospect Pitt would offer a scholarship. Whipple learned plenty in his stops with the Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles, where he worked with big names from Bill Cowher to Ken Whisenhunt to Bruce Arians to Pat Shurmur to Andy Reid.
The best evidence he can give for that? Whipple will point to three players he helped develop the past five seasons as offensive coordinator and head coach at Massachusetts: Tajae Sharpe, a fifth-round draft pick who has become a starting wide receiver for the Tennessee Titans; Andy Isabella, a receiver whose biggest offer was Massachusetts but led Football Bowl Subdivision in receiving last year; and Adam Breneman, a Penn State transfer who blossomed into one of college football’s best tight ends before injuries sent him to a pre-draft retirement.
“I think I’m a better coach than I’ve ever been,” Whipple said, “but you’ve got to have a guy who can throw the ball, talent-wise.”
For returning starter Kenny Pickett, Whipple has “watched every throw Kenny’s had, and he’s got ability.” But while the offensive numbers didn’t always reflect that last season, Whipple was adamant that there’s no need for Pitt to overhaul things on that side of the ball.
“I mean, they ran the ball unbelievably,” Whipple said. “I think there’s some spacing issues, some things that way.”
Narduzzi already is seeing “a change in how we do it and what it’s possibly going to look like” with a coordinator who has “had success everywhere he’s been throwing the ball.” Four-star quarterback Davis Beville, already on campus to learn the ropes, mentioned that every chat with Whipple always comes back to the same goal.
“His biggest thing that he’s broken down every time is just touchdowns,” Beville said with a smile. “I mean, you’re going to win if you score points.”
That’s precisely what Whipple was brought here to do. After a “mutual” parting in November with Massachusetts, Whipple was playing a lot of golf near his home in Arizona. He “had some things going on” as far as options for his next stop and received a gentle push back to college football’s big leagues from PGA Tour pro-turned-analyst Gary McCord.
“Hey, you’re not good enough to play this game,” McCord informed him. “Get coaching.”
Whipple acknowledged there are questions about his age but points out he’s younger than Nick Saban and Bill Belichick, just to name a couple.
“My wife told me, and I believed it,” Whipple said, “I have a lot more to give.”
Mark Whipple coached at Massachusetts the past five seasons.