The hires of Pat Narduzzi's football staff at Pitt are starting to break and as JD mentioned a little earlier, per SI and Football Scoop, the next defensive coordinator of the Panthers will reportedly be Florida International's Josh Conklin.
Assuming that these hires all get made, the theme with Narduzzi's staff is that, so far, he is hiring guys with past experience in their roles - obviously a novel concept. The positions of Strength and Conditioning Coach and Special Teams Coach aren't as important as the roles of the two coordinators, but with those reported hires of Dave Andrews and Andre Powell, Narduzzi added two guys with significant experience doing those very things. And as I wrote about in that post, that was something we didn't see with Paul Chryst.
Conklin has four years of experience as a defensive coordinator, sandwiching a year as Tennessee's safeties coach in 2012 with DC gigs at The Citadel (2010-11) and, most recently, Florida International (2013-14).
A lot of people are praising the Conklin hire and calling him somewhat of a 'next big thing' type of deal, which is always good. Here's a little more.
One good thing that Pitt fans should be excited about other than the defensive coordinator experience is that he has quite a bit of work with secondaries. He had the year as safeties coach at Tennessee and was also in charge of secondaries/defensive backs from 2005-2009 at South Dakota State and Wofford. If there's anything the defense needed last year, it was help improving the secondary. Conklin, one would think, should be able to help there.
Conklin's defenses have also done some good things. Last year, they were fourth in takeaways and 35th in total defense.
Still, there are some things I'm not so crazy about, too.
For one, Conklin doesn't have much experience at big-time programs. The single year at Tennessee is really it, and to go from that to a defensive coordinator at a P5 school, seems like a big jump. The argument, of course, is that Conklin didn't need as much seasoning working as a position coach for many years like others did before they landed their first defensive coordinator gig. It can reasonably be countered that the four years as a coordinator he had make up for the several years as a position coach that he could have earned at bigger programs. There's still something to be said, however, for working at major-conference programs and dealing with guys that have significantly more talent. The fish bowl is bigger and the microscope a lot more intense.
And while, I liked his experience with secondaries, his teams' pass defenses weren't great. In his three years at Wofford, their best pass defense ranked 83rd in the nation. FWIW, his units fared better in his previous stop at South Dakota State, but it appears that the pass defense during his three years at Wofford was a mess. Even the bio on his FIU page (which, if you know college coaching bios, they reference everything) completely glosses over his time there, barely mentioning it.
Another thing I noticed is that, while his defense was 35th last year in total defense, that was beefed up against some pretty weak teams. I get that FIU was only 4-8 this season and, therefore, didn't have many cupcakes on their schedule. But two of those games, where they allowed only about 450 yards combined, were against FCS teams in Wagner and Bethune-Cookman. A respectable 313-yard performance came against a 4-8 UTSA team that ranked near the bottom of the FBS in offense. A solid 266-yard game was against a terrible 4-8 North Texas team.
Those are easy ways to boost statistics, boys and girls.
They also even struggled against a bad team, giving up nearly 400 yards (admittedly, though, with only ten points) to a 3-9 Florida Atlantic team. And things, of course, weren't any better against the good teams on their schedule. They gave up 42 points to Pitt, 45 to Marshall, 34 to Louisville, and 38 to a 6-6 Old Dominion team.
And for as good as things were this year at FIU, the defense was a train wreck there in 2013, his first season at the helm. It's hard to put too much of that on him since that was his initial year there, but they ranked 94th in the FBS in 2013.
Also, consider this. Pitt's defense, by our standards, was a complete dumpster fire this year, right? The Panthers, against better competition, were 34th in total defense - two spots ahead of FIU. Goes to show you how much the total defense stat can be overrated. Pitt, like FIU, built up its numbers earlier this year against weaker opponents, but were torched later in the year.
Overall, if you're asking me if I like this move, it's really a wait and see. I know I preach that quite a bit, but it's especially true here. I'd feel more comfortable about it if I didn't think the stats of his defense this season was so inflated. The thing I'm willing to do, however, is trust Narduzzi (a pretty good defensive mind, obviously) and that he knows what he's doing. As the SI article mentions, Conklin is also well-regarded by people whose opinions certainly matter more than mine.