Whip­ple, 61, has more to give

Pitt’s new OC likes play­ers’ at­ti­tudes

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Sports - BRIAN BATKO

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.”

Lake Fong/Post-Gazette

Mark Whip­ple coached at Mas­sachusetts the past five sea­sons.

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