In something that’s becoming a yearly ritual, Pat Narduzzi has to replace one of his coordinators.
Unlike the last two years when Jim Chaney and Matt Canada left for lateral positions, defensive coordinator Josh Conklin is leaving Pitt to become the head coach at Wofford.
Conklin had been with Narduzzi since he became Pitt’s head coach in 2015.
Conklin is someone who I feel took a bit too much heat for Pitt’s struggles on defense. Too many people don’t take into account that for his first two years on the job, he was working with another staff’s players.
Despite finishing just 5-7, one of the biggest bright spots of the 2017 was the noticeable improvement of the defense. This year was the first time that Conklin was able to work with the players he and Narduzzi recruited to Pitt.
Rashad Weaver, Amir Watts, Keyshon Camp, Chase Pine, Saleem Brightwell, Elijah Zeise, Elias Reynolds, Dane Jackson, Phil Campbell and Damar Hamlin are just some of the young players that got on the field and showed signs of having bright futures in the Panther defense.
In 2016, Pitt gave up 35 points per game. In the final six games of last season, the Panther defense allowed just 21 points per game.
If he deserved criticism two years ago, Conklin needs a pat on the back for the improvement of his unit. Conklin was part of Pitt’s resurgence and unfortunately won’t be here as it continues to get better.
Considering the defense is losing just two starters (Avonte Maddox and Jordan Whitehead) and will be adding Paris Ford, plus the returning players should improve, Pitt’s defense should be the strength of the team.
For that reason, don’t underestimate the importance of this hire for Narduzzi.
The two obvious choices are to promote from within with either Charlie Partridge or Rob Harley.
While Partridge might have the advantage because of his previous experience of calling plays at Wisconsin, Harley is someone who has been with Narduzzi and knows his defensive system.
There’s something to be said for continuity and promoting someone who the current players and incoming recruits are familiar with.
If Narduzzi hires from within, whoever gets passed over will likely be somewhat disappointed.
I’m sure Harley eventually wants to become a defensive coordinator and would love to do it here at Pitt. If Harley gets the job, maybe Narduzzi gives Partridge a promotion and gives him the recruiting coordinator title and a raise. One potential downside of promoting Harley is that he’s never done it before. Can Narduzzi take a chance of hiring someone without any previous experience?
Keep in mind though that due to his recruiting ability and reputation as a defensive coach, Partridge could be a person in demand. I’m sure Narduzzi realizes this and will take this into consideration.
Regardless of who gets hired, Narduzzi can’t miss on this one because of Pitt’s going to take the “next step” it needs to be led by the defense. This is Narduzzi’s area of expertise and if Pitt has an above average defense, chances are that Pitt will be a winning program.