Losing offensive coordinator Matt Canada, it was going to be difficult to find someone that would fully appease the fanbase. Canada's offense for Pitt was unreal this year and to say he will be a tough act to follow is putting it mildly.
The Panthers finally made a hire after losing more than a month and a half ago in bringing aboard Shawn Watson. The connection is that he worked previously with head coach Pat Narduzzi at Miami of Ohio. Watson will also serve as the team's quarterbacks coach.
The good news is that Watson brings a ton of relevant/similar experience. He was not only a head coach for a few years at his Alma Mater Southern Illinois, but he was an offensive coordinator for nearly 15 years. Not only that, but he has been at some high-profile schools in that capacity, including Colorado (2000-05), Nebraska (2007-10), Louisville (2012-13), and Texas (2014-15 - assistant head coach for offense). Those few gaps he had in between weren't years of unemployment. Rather, he was a position coach for some of those seasons. His stops as a position coach include Illinois, Miami (OH), and Northwestern. Last year, he was at Indiana as a quality control coach (not a typo, I swear).
Watson had success at Louisville in developing Teddy Bridgewater and helping to turn him in an NFL signal-caller. He also did quite well at Colorado despite not having great quarterbacks, helping the Buffaloes to win four Division titles and one conference title.
One thing I always like about potential hires is finding guys at high-profile schools in the same position they are being hired for. They know what it takes to win at the P5 level and the job isn't going to be something out of their comfort level. Big time recruiting, etc., isn't going to be brand new to him. That's not to say Watson will work out here only that he's not going to come here and be completely out of his element. At the very least, he shouldn't be in over his head (i.e. see the Matt House hire).
The bad? His teams' successes have been a little mixed. Watson was run out of Texas and lost his playcalling responsibilities in his last year there. He was fired by Nebraska. In other words, this wasn't a guy leaving for greener pastures.
About that Texas gig, the last time he really served as an offensive coordinator wasn't pleasant. And if there's any reason to let the air out of balloon, it's from what he did there. His offense managed just three points in a 38-3 blowout loss to Notre Dame in 2015 and he was officially stripped of playcalling duties after just one game. But to be fair, it was more than that game that cost him. His 2014 offense with the Longhorns was nothing great, either. Texas put up only seven points against BYU. Only seven against Baylor. They were shut out by Kansas State. And the team managed only 17 combined points against TCU and Arkansas to close out that season. He had some success, but as you can see, almost half a season of complete dogs mixed in there.
Reviews on Watson are understandably somewhat mixed. This writeup talks about how things went downhill at Nebraska, but says it was in part to an injury at quarterback. Probably the easiest way to sum him up is that he has a lot of experience but only limited success.
So what type of offense will we see from Watson? Well, good luck with getting much of a handle on that. Here's a look at how others have described his style - sort of a blend between west coast offense and a spread, relying heavily on running backs. Despite the idea that that offense sounds pass-heavy, Watson is pretty clear that the running game is essential in that linked article above. That, of course, jives with how Narduzzi views the running game, too.
How Watson is able to utilize Pitt's numerous backs and also speedsters like Quadree Henderson and, part-time, Jordan Whitehead, on offense will be big. Does Pitt go back to a more predictable offense as they had with Jim Chaney? I doubt it but it will be up to Watson to keep defenses on their toes. In transfer quarterback Max Browne, big-play receiver Jester Weah, young but super talented tight ends, a solid offensive line, a killer fullback, and as many as five running backs that could probably start for other D-I teams, he has weapons.
I know a lot of people won't like the hire because he was run out of Texas in his last stint as a major offensive leader. But don't forget, Canada was also let go by North Carolina State before Pitt scooped him up and revitalized his career. That doesn't mean Watson will be due for the same type of success but Canada led Pitt to a lot of points this past year immediately after he was dropped by the Wolfpack. Just food for thought. The difference, of course, is that Canada's offenses didn't have nearly the kind of struggles that Watson's did at Texas.
One unnerving thing is that Watson apparently didn't impress too many folks after he was let go in Texas. That wasn't a huge surprise, I suppose, with how his offense performed there. Still, to end up doing quality control at Indiana for a guy with that much offensive coordinator experience at some bigger programs is a bit of a head-turner. Full disclosure here - I don't know if Watson perhaps had other opportunities and turned them down, etc. But, on paper, that is quite a drop in assignment. And while his resume officially says he coached quarterbacks there, he literally only did so for a single game as Indiana was prepping for a bowl game. At any rate, he went from being an offensive coordinator at one of the biggest programs in the country to a QC guy for a lower-level P5 program.
I'm not going to get all bent of shape about this being a bad hire, etc. You would like to think with the kind of money Pitt was reportedly throwing around to try to keep both Chaney and Canada that there were some funds available to help them make a bigger splash. But perhaps this late in the game, there simply weren't great options available. But again, while the move might seem a little questionable on paper, I don't recall a ton of optimism around the Canada hire, either. I do think folks were probably a little more on board with that one but no one could have anticipated the amazing job he did here, either.
All hires have a wait and see attitude around them but that seems even more appropriate here.