Let’s not kid ourselves here – there was an flung wide open door for Josh Conklin to walk through on his way to Wofford College. A Defensive Coordinator at a Power 5 school doesn’t jump down in professional status unless there is a pressing need to do so. Make no mistake about it, dropping to the HC position in the FCS Southern Conference isn’t a bright spot on any coach’s resume’ in this day and age.
As anyone who has been in the position of firing an executive knows there are many ways to do it so the departing can save face. One way is to sit him down and say ‘Look, it isn’t working here so find a job ASAP so we can say you left on your own volition, if not we’ll let you go in 30 days” (or whatever). In college ball that is usually done before all the National Coaches Conferences are held as those are the meet and greet venues for job hunting for staff and assistant coaches.
And truth be told it should have happened at least a year ago; I would have preferred before the 2016 season if I had my choice – which I don’t, but as you all know I was damned vocal about wanting it to happen. I believe the ‘pat on the back and thank you for your service note’ to Conklin was done for two reasons…
First because Pat Narduzzi realized that lightning only strikes few and far between and he had that happen with an amazing record-setting offense in 2016. Put that in perspective – Tony Dorsett, Dan Marino, Curtis Martin, etc… were all great offensive players at Pitt yet we set offensive records in ’16. It was a once in a career year for some head coaches.
That happened because after his initial season as HC at Pitt, and coming of a truly not so bad defense he had the pieces in place, especially at QB with Nate Peterman, at RB with James Conner returning and a very talented and experienced offensive line to make some serious points show up on the scoreboard.
Following his initial 8-5 season, which is a great start for any HC let alone a Pitt HC, he was poised to possibly break the double-digit win ceiling – as long as his defense progressed to learning how to stop the other team from also scoring huge points. But that didn’t happened and Conklin’s defense dropped to the horrible level.
It was as big a missed opportunity as I have seen in all the years I have been following Pitt football.
Secondly I believe Pat Narduzzi has taken a long hard look at what his offense is going to be like in 2018 and found it wanting. That doesn’t mean it will be terrible, but there are a whole lot of big question marks at very important positions on offense going into spring practices starting with the QB.
I love the incumbent starter Kenny Pickett and have since I watched him play last spring. But I also realize that he’s a true SO coming of just a few full quarters of play at the D1, Power Five level and may not yet be a strong enough QB to toss the offense on his shoulders and win football games with his arm. He may well do, but it’s certainly not a given.
That possibility, matched up with a rebuilt OL (which I’m not excited about at all) and serious questions at the running back and receiver positions looks like it will be a major rebuilding year on offense for the Panthers. The fact that we lost LT Brian O’Neill and WRs Jester Weah and Q. Henderson – along with Jordan Whitehead’s offensive contributions – doesn’t help matters there either.
Our offense last season was ranked 97th overall. That is scary enough as it is but when you look at the changes it is going to have going into next season it is true cause for concern.
So – Narduzzi knows he has to have a much stronger defense in ’18 than last year’s to keep the scores low enough for us to win games. It is going to be that simple. And as much as Pitt fans want to believe that the defense made great strides last season it really didn’t. It progressed sure, but not as far as close to being where it needs to be.
Of course when stacked up against the two previous seasons when our defense was at the bottom of the FBS barrel in so many ways it shone by comparison… but the truth is it wasn’t even an average defense when all is considered.
|Passing Yards Allowed||105||254.2|
|Team Passing Efficiency Defense||88||136.42|
|3rd Down Conversion Pct Defense||82||0.406|
Yes, we held Miami to a low score to win in that upset (the fact that Miami scored an average of 13.6 ppg over its last three matches explains some of that), and we played decently the week before against VT to almost win that game – but against VT we still gave up 375 yards, over 200 yards passing and 157 yards rushing and 20 points… and we lost the game.
But it was better at the end than the beginning, so that’s something.
The fact is that in our seven losses we gave up an average of 35 points to the victors. It is heartening that our defense played better at the end of the season than the beginning. And we did play better last season than we did the year before – all good things.
On the flip side in our wins we only scored 29 ppg – 42 of those points were against Rice – and we beat the lesser teams on our schedule save one. That has to improve and while it looks like it should (maybe) there is no guarantee.
The name of the game in college football is scoring points, and of course holding the opponent to fewer points than you score. We didn’t do that last year and lost seven games because we had an offense that couldn’t get out of its own way. This 2018 schedule is stronger and harder that ’17’s was so Narduzzi realized changes had to be made on defense or there was a distinct possibility we’d have the same thing present itself again.
And he can’t afford that to happen and keep his job. That is it in a nutshell. Forget about that seven-year extension on his contract – it means less than the paper it’s printed on. Either party can get out of that at the drop of a hat. He can’t afford two losing seasons in a row especially when the bulk of the lineup will be his recruits with substantial years in the program this season.
Narduzzi has to right the ship and fast, there is no disputing that and he finally realized that the one thing that was truly dragging him down was his totally ineffective defensive coordinator. It isn’t enough to hope that, after a full three seasons, his lame ass coordinator was going to finally get adequate enough to field a good defense. Not just an average defense but a good one.
He needed to do his best to ensure it happens. Thus sayonara to Conklin.