Former UMass head coach Mark Whipple will be the next offensive coordinator at Pitt.
Whipple, 61, has a resume of coaching for major teams both in college and the NFL, as he served as Ben Roethlisberger’s first NFL quarterback coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Most recently, Whipple was head coach at UMass (2014-18) before stepping down in November.
Whipple has made his mark in coaching because of his offensive mind and, the in particular, his teams’ ability to throw the football. Now his biggest task is to try and get the Panthers passing game going and to develop the three young quarterbacks on the roster (Kenny Pickett, Nick Patti and Davis Beville).
To get more insight on Whipple and what type of offense he could bring to Pitt, Pittsburgh Sports Now talked with Josh Walfish from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, who covered Whipple and UMass this past season.
The hire of Whipple surprised some people, including Walfish, for a couple of different reasons.
“It surprises me in the sense that I was unsure if a Power Five program would go after him this off-season,” said Walfish. “I could’ve easily seen him going to be an offensive coordinator for a Group of Five school or maybe an FCS or Division II school that needed a head coach all of a sudden. So, I was surprised when I heard the rumblings that he could be a Power Five offensive coordinator because I wasn’t sure also if he would have interest in getting into that type of coaching right away. I wasn’t sure that a Power Five school would go after him and his old-school spread offensive approach, when compared to the new wave of Kliff Kingsbury or Sean McVay type offense.”
When using the term “old school spread offense”, what did Walfish mean by that?
“He’s not going to be someone that’s going to re-invent the wheel when it comes to the spread offense. He has a great system and that system has had a lot of success while at Miami and a lot of success in the NFL and at least offensively, UMass was pretty good the last four years under his direction. His offense isn’t going to have a lot of the new trends and wrinkles and is still a lot of what he’s done the last 7-8 years and has taken the evolution of the modern day spread offenses. It was an offense that was effective, but wasn’t revolutionary.”
Traditionally, a Pat Narduzzi-coached offense is heavy on the run, relies on the short passing game and doesn’t take many chances deep. Will that be a similar blue-print with Whipple?
“They’ll be a lot of moments where Pitt fans are going to be angry at Mark Whipple for not running the ball more,” said Walfish. “He’s definitely a pass-heavy head coach. Late this past season, he was talking about he really needed to find a way to be more balanced on offense and even after that he passed the ball a lot and didn’t find a way to establish the running game a whole lot. However, when they did run the ball, they were very effective, which really confused me. They appeared to have the running backs and didn’t run the ball a lot unless they were winning. It’s going to be a lot of passing and definitely isn’t afraid to take his shots down the field.”
Right now, it’s hard to figure out what type of recruiter Whipple is and could be for Pitt. Since 2004, he’s only attempted to recruit for a Power Five program once and that was at Miami from 2009-10. Since then, he’s been with the Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns and UMass. This could be a similar situation to when Matt Cavanaugh was Pitt’s offensive coordinator and he didn’t recruit a lot and focused a lot on player development and the game plan.
“I will say that recruiting was Mark Whipple’s weakness as a head coach and ultimately why he wasn’t able to take that next step at UMass; particularly on defense, but obviously, he’s not going to have to do that at Pitt,” said Walfish. “He’s not someone that’s going to make his money recruiting. He was obviously brought there to improve the Pitt offense, to make it better and find a way to make it more explosive. The strength of Mark Whipple is his offensive game plans.”