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Two key factors in Narduzzi's newest hires

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An improved passing game and a boost on the recruiting trail - these were the factors behind Pat Narduzzi’s two most recent hires.

Since the 14-13 loss to Stanford in the Sun Bowl on New Year’s Eve, Pitt’s head coach has replaced two of his staffers. Gone are offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and receivers coach Kevin Sherman; replacing them are Mark Whipple and Chris Beatty, respectively.

In Whipple, Narduzzi is looking for better production from a passing game that was historically unproductive in 2018. As a team, Pitt gained 1,985 passing yards, the first time the Panthers have thrown for less than 2,000 yards in a season since 1996 and the lowest passing yards-per-game average since 1993.

Those struggles were a big reason why Pitt was held to one or zero offensive touchdowns in six games last season - all of which turned into losses - and a primary motivation behind Narduzzi’s offseason moves.

“I think with the way our run game was, my job was to really fix our passing game and bring someone who could really change and make an impact on our receivers and our quarterbacks,” Narduzzi said Friday morning. “That’s what went into that decision.”

Narduzzi has seen Whipple up close before. The two never worked on the same staff, but they coached against each other, and that gave Narduzzi plenty of exposure.

“I’ve known Mark for a long time,” Narduzzi said. “I’ve never worked with Mark, but I’ve spent time with him, really socially more than I have in a coaching setting. But I’ve followed him from afar because I’ve coached against him for so many years. When he won a national championship at UMass, I was at Rhode Island. When he was the head coach at Brown, I’m at Rhode Island.

“So as a defensive coach, you know who’s hard to defend and who do you respect, and the one thing I thought always stood out about Mark Whipple was, every quarterback he touched turned to gold.”

That other part of Whipple’s duties - coaching quarterbacks - is crucial as well. Pitt will have junior Kenny Pickett as the returning starter at quarterback, but he didn’t seem to make the expected development in 2018. Narduzzi and Whipple will have several options at that position, but Pickett will enter spring camp as the presumptive favorite - and Whipple will be tasked with getting the most out of him.

For Narduzzi’s other hire, he turned to Chris Beatty, a veteran coach with a decade of experience at the Power Five level. Beatty was most recently receivers coach and associate head coach at Maryland, but when new Terrapins head coach Mike Locksley didn’t retain him, Beatty went onto the open market.

“I’ve not known him quite as long as I’ve known Mark Whipple, but I’ve known his name for a long time,” Narduzzi said of Beatty. “He’s a well-respected recruiter out there, one of the best. He’s beaten us on a couple kids in the past where you’re going, ‘Who was that?’ The masked man was Chris Beatty.

“So we’re excited to have him here as well. He brings a wealth of experience, he’s been on some different staffs, he’s worked with people I know personally…so you call around and you look into him and, you know, he’s a class act in every way.”