I remember the night North Carolina State announced it had hired Dave Huxtable to be its defensive coordinator. It was Dec. 14, less than two weeks after Pitt’s final regular-season game and more than three weeks before the BBVA Compass Bowl.
(The announcement interrupted a nice dinner I was having with my wife and some friends, but that’s another story.)
Pitt coach Paul Chryst was not sorry to see Huxtable go, even though an inexperienced Pitt defense overachieved at times, frustrating an undefeated Notre Dame team for three quarters and allowing a total of only nine points against Rutgers and South Florida.
But there were defensive disappointments that were more significant than those high points:
– Giving up 31 points and 204 rushing yards to Youngstown State
– Allowing 34 points and too many big plays to Cincinnati.
– Losing a 21-17 halftime lead to Louisville, which scored three touchdowns in 10 minutes of the third quarter (with the help of a botched punt snap by Pitt).
– Falling behind Connecticut, 24-0, at halftime six days after almost upsetting the Irish. (Special teams share part of that blame, too, surrendering an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown.)
Huxtable was/is a gruff presence, and he was not shy about voicing loud displeasure toward individual Pitt players. But he was/is a hard worker who refused to take shortcuts. He slept in his office during training camp and stubbornly demanded spotless technique on the practice field.
Because Chryst was not caught looking the other way when Huxtable left (in fact, he encouraged it), it was reasonable to think he had a replacement in mind and would hire one quickly. But Chryst remained focused on the team prior to the bowl game and on recruiting through the month of January. He should be lauded for having his priorities in order.
But now it’s been two months, and spring (actually, winter) practice begins March 5. Asked about the hiring process a week ago on signing day, Chryst said with a smile, “We are going to name one.”
Gotta love his sense of humor.
Chryst said he has spoken to candidates and would be able to spend more time finding a coordinator with the 2013 recruiting class secured.
“We have to get going on this defensive coordinator thing so we have one for spring ball,” he said.
There have been a few names connected to the job by fans and Websites:
– Former Pitt defensive back Teryl Austin (who served as Urban Meyer’s DC at Florida in 2010 and is now the secondary coach of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens).
– Former North Carolina State defensive coordinator Mike Archer, a career coach who was head coach at LSU and Steelers linebackers coach under Bill Cowher.
– Central Catholic graduate Todd Orlando, who was the DC at Florida International before head coach Mario Cristobal was fired at the end of the season. Orlando played at Wisconsin where he was a roommate to Pitt offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph.
– Also, Atlanta Falcons secondary coach Tim Lewis, a former Pitt cornerback and Green Bay Packers first-round draft choice, probably wouldn’t mind reviving his career as a coordinator (he served the Steelers and New York Giants in that capacity.) Lewis, whose nephew Ryan will be a redshirt freshman cornerback next season at Pitt, was an assistant under Johnny Majors in 1993 and 1994.
– It’s also possible Chryst could promote secondary coach Matt House or linebackers coach Chris Haering.
Of course, Pitt fans are worried that the delay in hiring a coordinator is an indicator of a bigger problem. Is Pitt offering enough money? Is Pitt not an attractive job for good, ambitious coaches? Is Chryst lacking in contacts?
I don’t buy most of their concerns, although no one really knows what salary is being offered. If Chryst hires the right man and the defense continues to develop, no one will remember or care that Pitt had no defensive coordinator for these past two months. For now, he deserves the benefit of doubt. He knows a lot more about hiring a coach than any fan criticizing him.
But if the defense struggles, fans will blame the coordinator and the length of time Chryst took to hire him.