Nine starters return to Pitt’s defense this season, but new coordinator Matt House said he expects change.
House, who was promoted from secondary coach Monday two months after Dave Huxtable resigned, wants stricter adherence to fundamentals, better tackling and multiple alignments that may look unfamiliar and confusing to fans and foes.
“I hate to streamline and say we are going to be this or we are going to be that,” House said when asked if he will retain the 4-3 scheme. “Without tipping too much off, we want to have a little bit of an element of surprise.”
House’s appointment created further movement in the defensive staff. John Palermo, a 38-year coaching veteran who was assistant head coach at Wisconsin from 1991-2005, was hired to coach defensive ends and linebackers. Former Pitt and Steelers cornerback Hank Poteat will serve as graduate assistant and work with the cornerbacks. Defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield and linebacker coach Chris Haering’s duties are unchanged.
House, 34, was one of four candidates interviewed for the coordinator’s job by coach Paul Chryst, who refused to name the other three.
“He set the bar pretty high,” Chryst said of House, who has been in coaching since 2001 but will be a first-time coordinator. “Matt is ready for it. Just getting a chance to be with him for the whole year and see him work in all different situations made me feel not only comfortable, but excited about what he can bring.”
House was hired last year after four seasons in the NFL, including one year as a special teams and strength and conditioning assistant with the Carolina Panthers and three as a quality control coach of the St. Louis Rams.
He also has worked at Michigan State (as a graduate assistant at his alma mater), North Carolina, Gardner-Webb and the University of Buffalo.
Chryst said he started the interview process before the BBVA Compass Bowl and resumed it while finalizing the recruiting class. House and Haering shared coordinator duties during bowl preparations that ended in a 38-17 loss to Ole Miss, but Chryst said it was not an audition.
“I didn’t think it would be an accurate picture or a fair picture if we said, ‘Here is your trial run.’ We wanted to finish out the season the best we could and didn’t feel like we were going to get anybody who was going to impact recruiting, anyway. That’s why there wasn’t a strong push to get somebody in at the time.”
House said he will stress fundamentals. “Even more so than we did last year. We want to be simple enough that kids play fast and can execute those baseline fundamentals, but appear complex enough that we put pressure on the offense.”
Pitt finished 17th and 20th, respectively, in the nation in total and passing defense last season.
“If we just become a better tackling team and get more hats to the football, we will improve tremendously,” House said.