Some of this stuff is covered in my story in today’s paper, but let’s go into a little more depth as to exactly how Matt House was hired as Pitt’s new defensive coordinator yesterday, and just what the Panthers’ defense could look like going forward under House.
Over the past day, Pitt and Paul Chryst have received plenty of criticism from within the fan base for how long this hire took, ending in just a promotion from within the staff.
The first issue at play was the unusually late date of Pitt’s bowl game (though playing on that date is certainly not unusual for Pitt). It’s understandable that Chryst would want to wait until after the bowl game to start the formal interview process for a new defensive coordinator. Had the Panthers been in a mid- to late-December bowl game, the normal timeframe for bowl games, they would’ve had an extra two weeks to get the interview and hiring process going.
On top of that, I do believe Chryst when he said House set the bar very high in the interview process. I think that after interviewing House, he went about the rest of the process knowing he could be very selective because he felt House would make a great coordinator, and he was already on the staff.
One thing I have heard from several sources is that money was not an issue for why Chryst chose not to make an outside hire. If it had worked with the right guy, he would’ve been able to make the hire.
Chryst did have contact with Teryl Austin and Jim Tomsula, both guys who were coaching in the Super Bowl, but it’s my understanding that neither of those talks advanced as far as a formal interview.
It sounds like Chryst made the final decision on promoting House either just before or just after signing day, Feb. 6. After that, it was mostly dotting i’s and crossing t’s on the hiring of John Palermo and Hank Poteat, so Chryst could announce all the hirings in one fell swoop. And that’s where we are today.
One of the biggest reasons I tend to believe Chryst when he says he honestly things Chryst is the best person for the job is that he knows that his reputation and job security are tied to House’s. If House struggles as a young coordinator, that’s just as much on Chryst for putting him in that position. Chryst knows that, and I think he trusts that House will grow into the role quickly.
Now, let’s take a look at what to expect from a House-led defense for Pitt in 2013. Under Dave Huxtable in 2012, Pitt’s defense was almost exclusively a 4-3 base with man-to-man coverage on the outside. House said he anticipates mixing that up more next year.
You could already see the start of that in the BBVA Compass Bowl, when the Panthers started working some zone coverages into their schemes.
Especially with the proliferation of spread offenses, being able to play good zone can help a team a lot, and Pitt will see plenty of spread offenses in the ACC next year.
“We’re going to be multiple,” House said. “There’ll be some parts of both [3-4 and 4-3]. I hate to streamline and say, 'We’re going to be this, we’re going to be that.' Realistically, that’s not really what we are. I’d like to say we’re going to be multiple and go from there.”
Barring a repeat of 2012 where it seemed like every linebacker on the roster got injured, Pitt will have plenty of linebackers to work with in 2013 when they do decide to go with a 3-4 look. That would also allow them to move Aaron Donald around the line a little bit, creating good matchups for Pitt’s best defensive player.
House admitted that, when you’ve got a player like Donald up front, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to get too blitz-happy, since Donald is so good at creating pressure by himself.
“We’re going to be aggressive, there’s no question about it, but we’re going to be aggressive manipulating matchups and taking advantage of Pitt’s personnel,” House said.
The biggest thing House stressed when he spoke to reporters yesterday was improving the fundamentals of Pitt’s defense. You hear it from most defensive coordinators, to an extent, but it’s very true. Solid tackling and disciplined positioning will make up for a lot of deficiencies on any defense.
“If we just become a better tackling team and get more hats to the football, we’ll improve tremendously. I think when you come out to practice, that’s what you’re going to observe,” House said.
“We’ve got to be simple enough that kids play fast and can execute those baseline fundamentals, but appear complex enough that we put some stress on the offense, too.”
House will continue to coach the safeties next year, and Poteat will be the primary coach for the cornerbacks. The other staff additions shouldn’t change too much. Palermo will bounce between working with Inoke Breckterfield on the defensive line and Chris Haering with the linebackers (Haering split linebackers with Huxtable last year, so no change there).
As for how House will handle the increased responsibilities of a coordinator, he said organization was his biggest strength, and that the admitted “learning curve” he’ll face on Saturdays can be made up for with work leading up to the season and during the week.
“We’ll see going forward, but to me, Monday is as important as Saturday. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, it’s a buildup to Saturday,” he said. “And slimming the gameplan down by the time you get to Thursday and Friday makes it easier on Saturday.”
So now, it’s on to spring practice. Pitt’s first session is two weeks from today, so it won’t be too long before we get to see exactly how the Panther defense looks different with House at the reigns.