by Joe Lawrence aka JoeL
A SIMPLE EXPLANATION
A lot has been made of the Mark Whipple departure in the past two days. When ensuing public statements don’t provide enough details for mass consumers of college football news, speculation runs rampant. And there are missing pieces in this story for sure. Twitter and message boards are rife with all sorts of thoughts, many of which tend to draw on the negative. Not surprisingly, Pgh radio personalities have been quick to pounce on theories that paint the program in the worst light. Not a surprising move as negative Pitt news gets Pitt fans upset and makes other fans happy – which draws listeners. It’s a business in the end after all.
One comment I read cited Occam’s Razor, which suggests that “the simplest explanation is usually the best one”. A good comment IMO.
Below is my take on the “simplest explanation”.
To begin, it’s important to have some of the background preceding this season in order to have a rounded perspective on Mark Whipple’s role in Pitt’s success this season.
Duzz brought Whipple in as OC specifically because of Kenny, who he saw as a pro prospect. Kenny needed to be developed and showcased – even if a pass first offense would not be Duzz’s preferred scheme. This is how I recall it going down and believe that is how Duzz and others around the program described it.
Going into this past season, Duzz and Whipple both understood that an extension for the OC was not planned. Whipple may have considered his options and perhaps even concluded that at age 64, it was time to hit the links and spend more time at home with his Mrs. in Arizona.
Kenny develops further not only under Whipple, but also with the help of his personal coach Tony Raccioppi. Other than Kenny himself, Racioppi is responsible for the QB’s footwork improvements. It is also well-known that Kenny is driven and self-develops as well. (Perhaps Ken, Sr. gets DNA credit for those attributes).
At the same time, two other things helped with the offense: the re-emergence of TE talent on the roster and the arrival of Coach Marion to coach the WR’s. The former was brought in by Tim Salem, not Mark Whipple. The latter was brought in by Duzz, not Whipple. Marion worked to get the WR’s to run better routes and buy into the value of blocking skills. Meanwhile, the OL developed with improved personnel replacing those who departed.
The offense came together as a unit due to the collective efforts of many people and put up amazing numbers. Games were won. The stature of Kenny grew and along with it, the Mark Whipple brand developed cachet. People who overlooked him for years watched the success of Pitt’s offense and attributed quite a bit of it to Mr. Whipple.
But Whipple neither singlehandedly built Kenny into an NFL-caliber QB, nor did he singlehandedly build the offense into the high performance it’s been this season. It’s a team sport played and coached by many people. Whipple has played his part for sure, but that should be kept in perspective.
During this rise in stature, Whipple refused to run the damn ball to close out games… irritating most fans and Duzz as well. Be honest… you questioned the wisdom of the play-calling when Whipple would not give Izzy and Hammond the rock to finish things. Despite the unit’s overall performance, perhaps it cemented Duzz’s view that the right person to run the post-Kenny Pickett offense and recruit another top QB was not Mark Whipple – who had not demonstrated recruiting chops in his time at Pitt.
Approaching the end of his contract, Whipple headed to AZ, presumably to see his wife and family for a short bit. While home, he is asked to visit nearby portal prospect Chubba Purdy on behalf of the Pitt program. Some will recall that prior to the Chubba visit, Whipple was not actively involved in fall recruiting; another sign that he was winding things down.
Meanwhile, Scott Frost not only needed an OC for the Cornhuskers, but one that will get the fanbase excited. Given the glam of the Pitt offense, he reaches out to Whipple’s agent to see if there might be any interest. Whipple accepts the offer to talk – it costs him nothing to do so and Frost will come to him. They speak and Frost offers Whipple $1 MUSD/yr, which catches his attention to say the least.
Intrigued, Whipple says “maybe” to his agent, thinking that level of salary (and possibly severance) would nicely feather his retirement nest. Agents being what they are, the offer is shared with Pitt to counter, who are understandably caught off guard. The optics of a Whipple recruiting while interviewing scream conflict of interest and Duzz and Whipple have a “come to Jesus” meeting to discuss the pickle that Whipple has placed them in. All parties agree that if Whipple wants to take the Cornhusker job, he cannot represent Pitt and should resign. The decision to not coach in the Peach Bowl is mutual.
That’s my take on it. The planets aligned and a bright light was shown on Mark Whipple. Right place, right time combined with a buyer under intense pressure to make a splash hire. It certainly lacks the sensation that sports fans crave and program haters like Ron Cook want to sell but is perhaps closer to the truth than what some others are selling.
Best of luck to Coach Whipple and even better luck to Coach Narduzzi as he looks for a new Offensive Coordinator.