After the fanbase had a collective stroke after the offensive performance during the Sun Bowl, the vast majority of Pitt fans were calling for Shawn Watson’s figurative head.
Many fans (including your’s truly) were warning that any possible excitement to next season would be severely tempered by keeping Shawn Watson as OC. Whether this was truly his own decision alone, or if he got some pressure from other places, Pat Narduzzi decided to fire both Shawn Watson and wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman
Pitt head football coach Pat Narduzzi announced today the Panthers have parted ways with offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson and wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman.
Watson was Pitt’s offensive play caller the past two seasons. Sherman served four years (2015-18) overseeing the Panthers’ receivers.
“I want to thank Shawn and Kevin for their efforts and dedication to our program,” Narduzzi said. “Certainly we wish them and their families the very best in their future endeavors.”
I think the story on Shawn Watson, and his time with Pitt is fairly well documented at this point. Kenny Pickett showed little to no development over the course of this year, and while the offensive lines pass protection abilities certainly didn’t help, it never felt like Pickett was given plays that played to his strengths. Several people described Watson in I think the best way possible: he’s put a drive together that looked great, utilized the right talents, and showed good balance. He would then promptly never recreate it again the rest of the game. It often felt like Watson was just picking plays out of a bag. Nothing seemed to flow into each other or transition well to the next play. Pitt was 96th out of 129 in total offense, and 120th in pass offense. Pitt’s running game was phenomenal, but I think it was more because of the talents of Ollison, Hall, and the line’s run blocking than any specific play calling strategies.
Watson is also pretty much entirely responsible for the absolute death of the tight end position at Pitt. From current players who left to recruits, it was clear that the extreme lack of passing plays to tight ends was frustrating everyone. Pitt’s tight end coach, Tim Salem, has been drawing some ire from fans as well for this. It’s important to remember that the tight ends did pretty well when Watson wasn’t play calling, and Salem has been a pretty good recruiter for Pitt especially in New Jersey.
Watson’s also almost refusal to call pass plays inside the hash marks became a meme by the end of the season.
Watson's field diagram for play calling. pic.twitter.com/JBoLhEFt9p— JD (@Sta7ic) December 31, 2018
Fans from other programs (Louisville, Texas, Nebraska) all warned that Watson simply was a bad choice for offensive coordinator.
Kevin Sherman’s firing might be a bit of a surprise to more casual fans, but it’s almost welcome by those that follow the team closely. There has certainly been a lack of development from the WR position. There have been a few standouts such as Mack (though he is a transfer), Ffrench, Weah (2016 at least) and Araujo-Lopes showed some great flashes this season. Aaron MathewsD is another guy that did really really well in blocking, but didn’t have much to show in receiving with only 9 catches for 120 yards. How much of that was attributed to the bad offense style/quaterback play/play calling? It’s unclear, but Pitt’s wide receivers really didn’t stand out much. Pitt’s had a couple of wide receivers leave the program as well that seemed have good potential out of high school like Ruben Flowers and Darien Street
So where does Pat Narduzzi go from here? It will be very interesting to see the kind of names that pop up as part of the search. Pitt’s defense seemed to get noticeably better this season, and to finally have both position groups be decent would be a first for Pitt in quite a few years. Don’t expect anything like an air raid or super wide open offense, but I also hope Narduzzi realizes college football is moving away from super run heavy offenses. Having nice balance between the two will be key. Pitt’s 2016 offense is the likely not repeatable model to go after. (Spoiler: There’s close to 0% change Matt Canada comes back either despite being unemployed right now)