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Pat Narduzzi’s interesting history with his two new coaches

Jerry DiPaola
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New Pitt offensive coordinator Mark Whipple was Ben Roethlisberger’s first quarterbacks coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2004-06.

When an otherwise successful season ended with a three-game losing streak, Pat Narduzzi moved swiftly to fix the problem.

He fired two coaches — the first time he did it with more than one assistant in the same off-season – and hired Mark Whipple as offensive coordinator and Chris Beatty to lead the wide receivers. They replaced Shawn Watson and Kevin Sherman, who had been with the team for two and four seasons, respectively.

“To me, he had a way with quarterbacks and a passing game,” Narduzzi said of Whipple. “And with the way our run game was, my job was to really fix our passing game and bring someone who can really change and make an impact in our receivers and our quarterbacks.”

Narduzzi’s experience with Whipple dates back three decades.

Pitt’s coach was a linebacker at Rhode Island in 1987 when New Hampshire, with Whipple as offensive coordinator, defeated the Rams, 28-14.

When Whipple was head coach at Brown and UMass, Narduzzi coached against him six years in a row from 1994-1999. Whipple won five, including in 1999 when UMass won a national championship.

“As a defensive coach, you know who’s hard to defend and who you respect,” Narduzzi said. “The one thing I always thought stood out about Mark Whipple, every quarterback he touched turned to gold. Every year, they lost a quarterback, (Rhode Island coaches said), ‘We’re going to get him this year,’ and all of a sudden they have another guy.”

Beatty is another coach who got the best of Narduzzi and parlayed it into a Pitt job.

“I’ve known his name for a long time. He’s a well-respected recruiter, one of the best,” Narduzzi said. “He’s beaten us on a couple kids in the past and (we said), ‘Who was that?’ The masked man was Chris Beatty.”

‘Just hang with us’

Former Pitt great Aaron Donald has no need to hold out of training camp after signing a six-year, $135 million deal with the Los Angeles Rams.

But Narduzzi joked that Donald doesn’t need training camp, anyway. He can hang out at Pitt’s training facility as long as he wants. That’s what Donald did the past two summers during his contract holdouts, and he’s now found himself getting ready for the Super Bowl.

“I told him, the (Rams’) ownership doesn’t want to hear it, there isn’t any reason he should ever go back to training camp,” Narduzzi said. “He should have training camp with (Pitt strength) coach (Dave) Andrews and hang out here at the University of Pittsburgh at the Duratz Center.

“He’s had two phenomenal years back-to-back and doesn’t go to camp. He’s around (Pitt) more than guys we’ve coached.”

Narduzzi, who never coached Donald, said when he sends a text to Donald after games, he gets an immediate response.

“He’s probably still in the locker room with his shoulder pads on and he texts me back,” he said. “I told him don’t text back. You have more important things to do.

“There’s a reason he’s great. He’s not good, he’s great. It’s because he’s a good person. He has no reason to text me back, but that’s who he is as a person.”

Narduzzi also said … 

— Pitt’s defensive coaches did not breathe a sigh of relief when Paul Johnson retired at Georgia Tech, meaning Pitt won’t have to worry about the triple option any longer.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “We had a pretty good game last year (a 24-19 victory). We won three out of four years.”

— Opening against an ACC team (Virginia) for the first time since 2013 is a good idea.

“It gives our kids something to work a little harder for during camp. It’s not like you’re opening up and having a breeze,” he said. “I can see why ESPN wants that.”

— Most injured players will be ready to go for spring ball starting in March.

“Ninety-eight percent will be healthy,” he said.

Four players were scheduled for post-season surgery, and he identified one of them as freshman running back Mychale Sallahuddin, who was on crutches at the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31.

— Defensive backs Paris Ford and Bricen Garner, who did not make the trip to the Sun Bowl, have returned to the team. Ford missed for family reasons and Garner was disciplined, Narduzzi said.

— The spring game is scheduled for April 13 at Heinz Field.

— Former Pitt running back Qadree Ollison has been invited to the NFL Combine.

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Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.