Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has been the target of many Pitt football fans this season. After the Panthers enjoyed an explosive offense in 2016 under Matt Canada, Pitt’s offense has been a work in progress this season under Watson.
But while Pitt fans might not have thought Watson has done a good job, head coach Pat Narduzzi feels differently. And according to him, Watson will be back next season.
“He’s done a really good job, in my opinion. … And Shawn’s not going anywhere, so I don’t have to worry about losing him,” Narduzzi said. “In the offseason, in December, that’s something I know I don’t have to go find an offensive coordinator because he’s a loyal guy, and we’ve talked, so I think that’s gonna make it better for the future.”
I’ve basically had three main thoughts on Watson this year. In no particular order, here they are.
I know a lot of folks aren’t happy with Watson but the reality is that he’s working with a completely different offense than Canada had last season. Canada had an NFL quarterback, NFL running back, and two NFL linemen at his disposal. Pitt’s offense could eventually send some guys to the NFL but aside from Brian O’Neill on the offensive line, I don’t know how many more there are. Pitt’s offense is completely retooled this year.
It always comes down to the players. Look at a guy like Jim Chaney, for example. Chaney left here and bombed in Georgia last season. Fans were calling for his head, too, and it looked like he didn’t know what he was doing. They kept him and this year, the Bulldogs have had five 40-point games. In a four-game stretch, they hung an average of more than 45 points on Florida, Tennessee, Missouri, and Vanderbilt. Looks kind of silly now to want him gone, right?
Coaches don’t simply forget how to coach. Some guys, of course, aren’t good coaches. but coaches that have had some success don’t just usually stop being a good coach. I’ve always been convinced that 90% of it is all in the players you have and my guess is that if you give Watson Pitt’s roster last year (or even a healthy Max Browne), more points would be scored. Give any coach a backup quarterback to work with and trouble follows quite a bit.
Continuity Doesn’t Always Matter
One of the things Narduzzi mentioned in that article was that continuity would be a good thing for the team. While I agree that it’s helpful, I think it’s less important in Pitt’s case. Pitt could have a third different starting quarterback to begin the season for the third year in a row next season and I’m not sure the continuity is as important when you’re replacing the primary part in the offense that often.
I do think it always helps when you can have the continuity so I’m not downplaying its value entirely. But unless a coordinator and quarterback are working together for a few years, it’s hard to know how much it matters if those positions are constantly changing as they have been. I think there could be value in it if Ben DiNucci remains the starter at quarterback next season but we all know that’s a big ‘if’ right now. At this point, I definitely wouldn’t be holding onto Watson primarily for the sake of continuity because it’s less valuable if the quarterback continues to change.
The playcalling under Watson has been, at times, baffling. It’s not always that way but there have certainly been times when I simply didn’t get the play call - especially if it didn’t work, obviously.
Here’s the thing, though. Tell me the last time a coordinator hasn’t been questioned. Pitt fans all herald Matt Canada as some kind of genius but take a look back at past game threads and you can see that playcalling is almost always questioned. Even against Penn State where Pitt put 42 points on the board, there were still some calls that had fans upset.
It’s the nature of the beast. No matter who the coordinator is, there are always going to be complaints about some play calls.
Overall, I’m mixed on this. I generally only think you should replace a coach if you’re ending up with a better one so I’d need to know who would be available. But do I place all of the blame for the offense on Canada? Nah. And it looks like Narduzzi isn’t, either.