Pitt tight ends coach Tim Salem has been a fixture in the college football landscape since he was a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Arizona State, in the 1985 season.
Salem has risen through the ranks as an offensive assistant during his three decades as a college coach, reaching the pinnacle of offensive play-calling with Phoenix College in the 1980s, Purdue in the 1990s and Eastern Michigan and UCF in the 2000s.
After a stint as special teams coordinator at Illinois from 2012-14, Salem joined new Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi as the tight ends coach at Pitt for the 2015 season.
In seven seasons at Pitt, working exclusively — serving as the interim offensive coordinator in the 2015 Military Bowl — as the tight ends coach, Salem has guided his players to program records, conference honors and been the steady hand in the offensive room through Narduzzi’s entire tenure.
And with Pitt needing an offensive play-caller for the 2021 Peach Bowl after Mark Whipple’s exit earlier this month, Narduzzi turned to a familiar face on a staff with plenty of offensive play-callers. Despite plenty of offensive play-callers capable of calling Pitt’s final game of 2021, it’ll be Salem who will hold the play sheet.
“We’ve got a bunch of coordinators on our staff,” Narduzzi said. “So, I trust everybody. But Tim Salem has been with me for seven years. Our players have a lot of trust in him. It’s just — it left right where it took off. We’re going to do what we do offensively. And, again, guys have a lot of faith. So, we’re going to find out on Thursday night how good it is. And I think we have a great game plan right now and we’ve just got to get to the game.”
One of Salem’s biggest benefactors, Lucas Krull, pointed to the parallels between backup quarterback Nick Patti and Salem stepping up when needed for the Peach Bowl, filling large shoes tremendously.
“(Salem’s) a guy been doing this a long time, knows how to do it,” Krull said. “That’s what we know as an offense, we haven’t skipped a beat with Patti, and Turbo stepping up. It’s just another day, and we’re getting back to work, working out things that we have always needed to work out, and improving all things on and off the field. So, Turbo is a great leader, and everybody respects him. We love him to death. And so we’re going to play our hearts out for him, and we know he’s going to give us his best too.”
Salem has helped Scott Orndoff and J.P. Holtz to highly productive collegiate careers at Pitt and chances at the NFL — with both signing NFL contracts. He’s also helped Matt Flanagan and Nakia Griffin-Stewart to the next level from Pitt.
With Lucas Krull and Gavin Bartholomew forming a potent one-two punch for Pitt this season, providing the redshirt senior and true freshman dynamic, both have learned under Salem’s watchful eye.
And Krull can’t speak highly enough about not just the tutelage that Salem has provided on the football field but the lasting bonds off the field as well.
“I can’t say enough about Turbo and the things he does for me and the tight ends as a whole and, really, just the team,” Krull said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a tight end or you’re a defensive back, he’s always energetic, always knows who you are, knows your parents, knows your family. If you’ve got a girlfriend, he knows everything.”
With the bond built between coach and player not always amounting to a positive relationship, Krull lauded Salem’s approach to connecting with Pitt’s players — and the impact that he’s had on Krull’s life on and off the field.
“That’s what you appreciate as a coach, as a player,” Krull said. “Sometimes you don’t get that. And that’s something that I’ve appreciated. And I’ll never forget just being here and being with him and the things he’s done for me on and off the field, whether it’s confidence-wise or just working out and getting plays in and out. So, it’s something I love about him, and I’ll cherish forever.”
While it’s unlikely that Salem is named Pitt’s permanent offensive coordinator after the Peach Bowl, stepping back into his position as the tight ends coach and a key recruiter, Salem’s impact on Pitt’s football program cannot be overstated — even going beyond the tight ends.