Nebraska added Mark Whipple as its offensive coordinator Wednesday. Here are Sam McKewon’s three takes:
A seasoned vet for Scott Frost
Not only was Whipple prolific for Pitt — which played a factor in his hiring — he has 30 years of play-calling experience as an offensive coordinator and coach. Whipple has seen it all.
He won a Division I-AA title at Massachusetts when the Minutemen went into the playoffs as the No. 12 team. He coached NFL quarterbacks such as Ben Roethlisberger and Donovan McNabb. He developed a Heisman Trophy finalist in Kenny Pickett.
He’s won big, lost big, been in a jawing match with Dan Mullen, been suspended for an inappropriate comment that he apologized for and forgot more football than most coaches have learned.
This experience — even the mistakes — is valuable to Frost. Whipple effectively served as the offensive head coach at Pitt while coach Pat Narduzzi focused on the defense, running meetings, game-day operation, all of it. That doesn’t mean Frost will be divorced from the offense — far from it — but Frost alone can be the head coach who snags a kid as he comes off the field and gives encouragement or correction.
Whipple can be a bit of a mentor for Frost in a few key areas, and his connection to current Husker staffer Ron Brown is helpful, too.
The numbers bear out
As NU compiled analytics on potential offensive coordinators, Whipple made the top of the list. So did a few other names you’ve heard of, like Southern California’s Graham Harrell.
Why Whipple? He’s got a strong track record of efficiency, even at smaller programs like UMass, which fired him in 2018 and got worse in a hurry. There are a bunch of numbers we’ll plow through the next weeks and months, but let’s start with something Whipple does really well: Red zone passing.
In his three years at Pitt, the Panthers threw 41 touchdowns and two interceptions in the red zone. Nebraska threw 14 touchdowns and four interceptions in that time. It’s one of the biggest culprits in NU’s lack of success since Frost’s arrival.
Previous coordinator Matt Lubick was brought in to fix some of those issues, and while they got a little better, it wasn’t enough. Husker QBs tossed touchdowns on 4% of their passes in 2021. Pitt’s QBs tossed them on 8.3% of their passes. It took three years for Pitt to get to that efficiency. Whipple won’t have three years at NU. But he’ll have the receivers to get the job done.
Next stop, quarterback
Nebraska will grab at least one from the transfer portal, perhaps two. The Huskers have no choice now that Whipple is in the fold. There’s just no guarantee Logan Smothers can run an advanced passing system, much less Heinrich Haarberg and Richard Torres.
Akron transfer Zach Gibson is a good place to start, and he’s visiting NU this weekend. But Whipple’s success with Pickett — who is now projected as the first quarterback selected in the 2022 NFL draft — will be one heck of a calling card for Nebraska.
Does that attract a guy like Spencer Rattler? Former LSU quarterback Myles Brennan? One of the Southern California quarterbacks destined to leave Tinseltown? And what, if anything, would Whipple think of Adrian Martinez?
Nebraska has its coordinator. Who will spin it for him?