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February 18, 2013Paul Chryst made a pair of long-awaited staff appointments and one notable staff addition on Monday when the Pitt head coach announced that defensive backs coach Matt House had been promoted to defensive coordinator, veteran coach John Palermo had been hired to coach defensive ends and linebackers, and former Pitt standout Hank Poteat had joined the staff as a graduate assistant.
House replaces Dave Huxtable, who left Pitt in December to join Dave Doeren's staff at N.C. State as defensive coordinator.
House joined the Pitt coaching staff last year when Chryst was hired as head coach. He served as interim defensive coordinator for the Panthers' 38-17 loss to Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Chryst said that the bowl game and the preparation leading up to it were not a trial run for House; rather, Chryst's experience with House over the last year set the table for his candidacy.
"You see guys in how they deal with the day-to-day of work and preparation and interaction," Chryst said via conference call Monday morning. "And certainly the knowledge base; he has been around some great guys, so he had a good base of knowledge. And just getting a chance to be with him for the whole year and seeing him work in different situations, that's what leads me to feel not only comfortable but excited about what he can bring in that role."
Still, Chryst put House through the interview process, but he said that House stood out among the four candidates who were considered.
"We certainly knew going into it that Matt was going to be a candidate, but we wanted him to feel that if it did go his way, he earned it," Chryst said. "It wasn't something that was given to him, but something he earned.
"Matt was a guy that I interviewed and I felt like he set the bar pretty high. Matt became the one guy that (other candidates) had to beat out. I think Matt is certainly ready for it and I'm excited for our players, I'm excited for our defensive staff, and I think it will obviously be good for our program."
The promotion of House ends a 64-day search for Huxtable's successor, but Chryst said the last two months weren't spent exclusively on finding a new defensive coordinator.
"We were going to get through the bowl game, and while we were doing that, I was going to start talking to people, but nothing really more than that. Just kind of gathering information and finding out if certain guys had interest, on the phone more than anything. There was a window after the bowl where we interviewed guys for the coordinator job, and once we did that, we finished out recruiting and while that was finishing up we started compiling a list of guys that would be good fits in the assistant role.
"I made some inquiries and talked to people, but we really wanted to give as much as we could to the bowl. I knew [Matt] was going to interview, but I didn't want him to have to get ready to interview for a job and do the necessary work for bowl prep.
"We wanted to finish out the season the best we could. We didn't feel like we were going to get anybody in that was going to impact recruiting anyways, so that's why there wasn't a strong push to try to get someone in at that time."
2012 was House's eighth season as a college coach, with time spent at Michigan State, North Carolina, Gardner-Webb, and Buffalo. After coaching defensive backs and serving as recruiting coordinator at Buffalo, House spent four years in the NFL, first as special teams assistant and strength and conditioning assistant with the Carolina Panthers in 2008, and then as a defensive quality control coach with the St. Louis Rams from 2009-11.
Palermo also brings NFL experience to the Pitt coaching staff, but his background is firmly in college. He did work with the Washington Redskins as defensive line coach in 2008 and 2009, but he spent 15 years from 1991 to 2005 on Barry Alvarez's staff at Wisconsin. Overall, he has been in coaching for 38 years, and he will bring experience and a veteran presence to a defensive staff that is relatively young.
"That certainly is a benefit, and I do feel like J.P. will be great in the room with Matt and (linebackers coach) Chris (Hearing) and (defensive line coach) [Inoke Breckterfield] and Hank (Poteat)," Chryst said. "I personally like it when (hiring an experienced coach), if possible, but you're not going to do it just because he's a veteran. He's got to be able to bring things to it. But that is one of the residual benefits to it.
Palermo will coach the defensive ends, although Breckterfield will still coach the entire defensive line. Palermo will also work with the outside linebackers "in certain packages," according to Chryst. Haering will still be linebackers coach.
In addition to his role as coordinator, House will coach the safeties. Cornerbacks will be handled by Poteat, who comes back to Pitt after a 10-year career in the NFL and two seasons as defensive backs coach at Kentucky Christian University. A two-time first-team All-Big East selection at cornerback, Poteat impressed Chryst with his personality, football acumen, and excitement for coaching.
"I knew of him, but I had a chance to visit with him and I think he's got a great bank of knowledge," Chryst said of Poteat. "I was energized to hear him talk about his choice to get into this profession and why he wants to coach. It was impressive and it was energizing to hear him speak. I'm really looking forward to our players being around him and him being able to share knowledge and lessons that he's learned.
"He has certainly walked in the steps that these guys are doing. He's a former player, long enough (ago) that he can have some perspective, but not so long ago that he can't relate to them. He's impressive, and I'm excited for him to get here."