LINCOLN — Mark Whipple, one of Nebraska’s top offensive coordinator targets, resigned from his position at Pittsburgh on Tuesday and won’t coach in its bowl game.
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi announced the abrupt resignation of the 64-year-old Whipple, who had been the Panthers’ play-caller for the last three seasons and developed quarterback Kenny Pickett into a Heisman Trophy finalist.
“He did a tremendous job transitioning us from a heavy run attack to one of the best passing games in the entire country,” Narduzzi said in part. “His great work with quarterbacks was obviously on full display, given the outstanding year Kenny Pickett has enjoyed.”
Whipple chatted with Nebraska on Sunday about the open job, according to a source, before he conducted an in-home recruiting visit with Florida State transfer Chubba Purdy. The longtime coach has been near the top of NU’s list, especially among stakeholders who want a seasoned veteran who can take over play-calling while Scott Frost — who has called Nebraska’s plays since arriving in 2018 — moves to more of a CEO role.
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Whipple reportedly made $476,450 at Pittsburgh. Former NU offensive coordinator Matt Lubick made $500,000. Frost fired Lubick and three other coaches on Nov. 8.
Frost pointed to experience as a necessary component of the offensive coordinator job.
“If I'm going to turn it over to somebody, I just need somebody that's done it and that I can trust to put our heads together and put the best of what they do with the best of what we do and let him run with it,” Frost said in mid-November, adding he wants "fresh ideas" too.
Whipple has plenty of those.
Pitt averaged 503 yards and 43 points this season, compiling an 11-2 record. Pickett, the senior quarterback, had a spectacular season, completing 67.2% of his passes for 4,319 yards and 42 touchdowns. Pickett is in his fourth year as a full-time starter, and his third under Whipple, who has a quick wit and preference for trying to keep the sport in perspective.
“It‘s a joy when those guys come in at night and during the day,” Whipple told reporters in mid-October. “You get attached to the guys that way. You try to make it fun. It’s still a game. There has to be a balance. It can’t be all grind.”
Whipple and Pickett grew so close over three seasons that Pickett leaned on Whipple’s guidance when deciding on whether to enter the 2021 NFL draft. Whipple chose to come back for Pickett’s final year, and Pickett chose to do the same.
“If he left, I was definitely leaving,” Pickett told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette earlier this year. “He’s like family now. His opinion, I mean, if he told me to leave, I would’ve left. He’s a guy who’s seen it all and done it all.”
Whipple’s career has been a grind though.
He was a starting quarterback and shortstop at Brown University in the late 1970s, and was a teammate of current Husker football staffer Ron Brown.
Whipple then started his coaching career at Division III St. Lawrence. His second head coaching job was at his alma mater, Brown, from 1994-97. In 1994, his inside linebackers coach was former Houston Texans and Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien, currently the offensive coordinator at Alabama.
Aside from a one-year stint in the USFL with the Arizona Wranglers, Whipple worked almost exclusively in the Northeast, including six seasons as Massachusetts’ head coach (1998-2003).
He won a Division I-AA national title in 1998, when the No. 12 Minutemen rattled off four straight wins for the crown. UMass made the playoffs two more times in Whipple’s tenure.
He joined the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2004 as quarterbacks coach for Ben Roethlisberger, who won a Super Bowl in 2005. After Steelers head coach Bill Cowher retired in 2006, Whipple moved on to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008, the Miami Hurricanes in 2009-10, the Cleveland Browns in 2011-2012, then back to UMass as head coach from 2014-18. He's been on the staff at Pitt for the last three seasons.
With few exceptions, Whipple has plied this trade east of the Ohio River.
Other top candidates to replace Lubick include Virginia offensive coordinator Robert Anae and USC offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Graham Harrell.