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Vukovcan: Changes Need To Happen At Pitt

Vukovcan: Changes Need To Happen At Pitt

A fan base that watched their team play in the ACC Championship Game for the first time should feel better than Pitt fans feel this morning.

But that’s not the case, thanks to an ugly three-game losing streak to close the season, including Monday’s frustrating 14-13 loss to Stanford in the Sun Bowl.

Following their win over Wake Forest that clinched the Coastal Division, it looked as though Pitt had a legitimate chance to win 9 games for the first time since 2009 but instead they finish with a disappointing record of 7-7.

Although they won their division and qualifed for a bowl game, there was more optimism at the end of the season last year despite a 5-7. That’s a sad, but unfortunately true statement.

The 2017 season ended with an upset of then-No. 2 Miami and the fans were excited by the thoughts of Kenny Pickett quarterbacking the team for the next three seasons.

Those feelings have changed and although some are frustrated by the quarterback position, the vast majority of the anger goes towards offensive coordinator Shawn Watson.

Most times, fans’ anger towards coordinators is misguided but not in this case. To borrow a phrase from Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, Watson’s performance has been below the line.

Quite frankly, Watson’s two years as Pitt’s offensive coordinator have been awful.

In an era of football where everyone seems to be able to throw the football, under Watson, Pitt hasn’t shown the ability to have a legitimate passing game and has employed one of the more boring and arcaic offenses in the country.

Common sense would say that an offense that has two 1,000 rushers in the backfield should have plenty of opportunities to pass the ball. With defenses gearing up to stop the run, Pitt should’ve been able to take advantage and make plays through the air.

Very rarely was that the case this year and it begs the question: was that because of the quarterback or the offensive coordinator?

After entering the season carrying unrealistic expectations, no one can disagree with the fact that Pickett struggled this year. Whether it was the pressure or his first year as a starter, the bottom line is that Pitt needs better production from the quarterback position.

That raises the question and seems to be another black eye against Watson. Despite having the reputation of a great quarterback coach, no Pitt quarterback under Watson has gotten any better as the year progressed and that’s troubling.

The other worriesome angle to this is the reputation Pitt’s offense is getting and that is of a boring, unimaginative system that’s geared to the running backs. The only exciting plays that the wide receivers seem to get to make are on the jet sweep and opposing defensive coordinators have caught on to that play which has become a staple in Pitt’s playbook.

In their last few recruiting classes, Pitt has brought in some receivers that had the reputation of being playmakers but haven’t been put in a position to do that at Pitt.

Who’s fault is that?

I’m going to pin that on a play-caller that runs very few deep vertical or deep crossing plays and instead relies on wide receiver screens, 5-yard outs and a zillion jet sweeps.

Simply put, Pitt’s offense is predictable, the passing game is something from 1980 and can’t be very much fun to play in if you’re a wide receiver or tight end.

Tight ends? I’m not sure Watson knows what one of those are.

PSN was told Monday night that “the players’ confidence in the offensive staff is at an all-time low” by someone close to the program. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few offensive players announce that they’ll be transferring in very near future.

That’s a problem and is something Narduzzi needs to address. The question is, will the strong-minded Narduzzi do it and admit that a change is needed and that hiring Watson was a mistake?

That’s not exactly Narduzzi’s style. He seems to only want people around him that he’s comfortable with and that follow his orders without question. Clearly, Watson fits that bill.

I find it hard to believe Narduzzi will get rid of a good friend and someone he’s referred to as a mentor. The next question becomes what happens if Heather Lyke steps in and asks him to do something? Lyke isn’t blind and will no doubt be hearing from many disgruntled season ticket holders and influential people at Pitt.

Randy Bates did a solid job as defensive coordinator and has a bunch of talented players returning next season. The defense appears to be in a good place but the same can’t be said for the offense.

The question now is will Narduzzi admit they have a problem and if so, what will he do about it?


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Bill Schroeder

I couldn’t agree more. I still feel Narduzzi can lead Pitt to bigger and better things but this will be a real test for him. If he sticks with Watson then my view will change and I will wonder if he really is the right coach. H2P!


Pitt controls the assistant coaches because they are under contract to Pitt, not Narduzzi. Heather can fire whomever she damn well pleases and she can “suggest” to Narduzzi or she can pull rank and fire herself. If Narduzzi isn’t man enough to accept either option then he has proven himself unworthy of the job. His last two years he is 12-14 with his own players and his own staff. That won’t cut it. The team is disorganized and in an odd way reflects the sometimes flippant attitude of it’s head coach. Candidly, I see him gone after next year. He… Read more »

Ron Weber

If he doesn’t react and make the change it will cost him his job next year! Also, there’s not a great tight end in the country that wants to come here. Why, they will never see the ball in Watson’s offense. Under Watson they run the same ten (conservative) plays the whole game. unfortunately Borbely has done a super job, but he’s a very close friend of Watson does this play into the discussion?


George Aston under Canada = do it all back, Aston under Watson = extra blocker

Rob Lewis

This isn’t a fair statement. There’s no comparison to who was on the OL in 2016 versus the 2018. The 2016 OL didn’t need help opening holes for Connor, et al and pass blocking. This year’s line’s struggles are well documented. Plus QB play was light years better in 2016.

Rob Lewis

I don’t think Pat will fire Watson because he’s too stubborn. He also Probably feels safe because of that asinine extension he signed last year and that the athletic department is still smarting from Stallings’ buyout. Personally, I’ll be shocked if he ever has a 9 win season here.

Terrence Otoole

if it comes down to lyke telling narduzzi that watson needs to go and he refuses then narduzzi needs to be fired cause that just tells me he’s clueless


Article is spot on but Pickett shares some blame.

I admit I was excited to see him play in 2018 after his pwrformance vs Miami in last year’s finale but he’s very inaccurate. His decision making is lousy. Im not sure how much bettee the passing game would be with a new Off Coord because Im not sure he can produce.

With that said, Davis Beville could be the QB who brings Pitt’s passing game up to present day standards.

Eric Payne

Losing 3 straight to end the seasonal any progress arsonist,but be real. We lost to Miami because we lost a starting centre and it effected 2 positions. Don’t think Miami’s defensive line dish’ t take advantage of that. We ALL know what a great chance we had against Clemson. We won everything except the game against Stanford. Had we played the same schedule as Syracuse, the results would have similar. People forget who you play when you go 9-3. Our next non conference schedule should be less formidable,but even if it isn’t,you only get better by playing better competition.

Terrence Otoole

eric ,i get what your saying the schedule was tough but it doesnt excuse the fact that the passing game was horrific and next season thotse 2 1000 yd rushers will be gone so regardless with a lighter schedule if there isnt changes next season could be worse

Richard Johnson

If you look at Watson’s work before he came to at Texas he was relieved from play calling for the same thing we are seeing. I have said from the beginning and now it was a bad hire.

Pat adonizio
Pat adonizio

The most needed change is to stop bringing-in QB transfers and develop your recruits, thereby establishing depth, continuity and confidence that coaches have your back!

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