With Kenny Pickett playing his last game in a Pitt jersey on Dec. 30 in the Peach Bowl, Pitt’s offense was already going to look much different next season. With offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s resignation, well, Pitt is going to have to build a new foundation in 2022.
While Pitt’s Peach Bowl performance likely will not take too much of a hit in terms of offensive game plan and play-calling, the search is likely already underway to find Whipple’s replacement for the bowl game and into the future.
Losing Pickett to the NFL will hurt Pitt’s offense, but there’s a solid foundation of young, exciting position players (a la Jordan Addison, Jared Wayne, Jaylon Barden, Israel Abanikanda, Rodney Hammond Jr., Gavin Bartholomew, among others) that holds potential.
However, no matter how you look at it, Whipple’s departure will shake up Pitt’s offense and coaching staff. With Whipple’s role as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, his impact could create holes on the coaching staff depending on how the search plays out.
There are a couple of choices on Pitt’s coaching staff that could fill the role for Pitt’s bowl game, and they are pretty contrasting options.
The obvious choice is to promote current wide receivers coach Brennan Marion to offensive coordinator. With just a season of Pitt coaching under his belt, he’s a very young option, but his impact upon the offense and wide receivers has been immediate.
Marion has served as an offensive coordinator at William & Mary and Howard (serving as the quarterbacks coach at both locations) and experienced immense success at both locations. He spent 2020 as the Hawaii wide receivers coach before coming to Pitt.
Howard consistently ranked among the top offenses in the FCS level during Marion’s two seasons with the Bison in 2017-18, and Marion completely transformed the William & Mary offense during his one season with the Tribe in 2019, doubling points scored per game.
At just 34 years old, Marion is seen as one of the up-and-coming assistant coaches in college football, and if Pitt doesn’t promote him to offensive coordinator, there will likely be other programs that will.
The other coach on Pitt’s staff with offensive coordinator experience is tight ends coach Tim Salem, who like Marion, did an excellent job with his unit this season. Salem has spent seven seasons with Pitt, serving as a key recruiter and assistant.
Salem spent time as the UCF offensive coordinator between 2004-08, bouncing around the offensive staff at basically every position. He also served as the offensive coordinator at Eastern Michigan, Purdue and Phoenix College during his lengthy coaching career.
Salem’s coaching career spans a couple of years longer than Marion’s entire life, and he’s coached across college football, but he appears to be locked in as Pitt’s tight ends coach to this point.
In looking outside the program, with the madness surrounding the coaching carousel across the college football landscape, there’s a chance that everyone and anyone is an option. The reality isn’t quite the same, but a number of unidentified options could already have begun to be formulated.
However, if Pitt wants to continue to run an exciting, up-tempo offense in the years to come and add a youthful excitement to the program as a whole, Marion would be the best candidate for the job despite his youth and relative inexperience. And what better test than Michigan State in the Peach Bowl?