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Calling all coordinators

Kevin Gorman
| Saturday, Feb. 7, 2009

One candidate to become Pitt's offensive coordinator played at the University of the Pacific and was a head coach at a BCS program.

And then there's Walt Harris.

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt has no shortage of qualified candidates at his choosing to replace offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, who is expected to be named quarterbacks coach of the N.Y. Jets.

One name that has surfaced is Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner, who preceded Cavanaugh as Wannstedt's offensive coordinator with the Bears from 1993-96. Turner, like Harris, played at Pacific and was head coach at Illinois from 1997-2004 before returning to the Bears in '05.

Turner is the brother of San Diego Chargers coach Norv Turner, who coached alongside Wannstedt with the Dallas Cowboys. Turner is also the uncle of Pitt graduate assistant Scott Turner, who is Norv's son.

Harris, improbable as it sounds, could be a candidate to return as an assistant for the man who replaced him. Harris served as Pitt's head coach from 1997-2004, and led the Panthers to a 52-44 record and six bowl games in eight seasons before leaving to become head coach at Stanford.

Harris, a highly regarded offensive mind, has been living in the Pittsburgh area since being fired after two seasons at Stanford. When reached this week, Harris would neither confirm nor deny an interest in returning to Pitt.

"You'd have to ask Dave," Harris said of Wannstedt. "It's not really my place to talk about anything. Dave's the head coach. That's his call."

Close call
Although Pitt's offense produced better single-season numbers in three categories in Walt Harris' final four seasons than it did during Matt Cavanaugh's four-year tenure, their overall statistics are startlingly similar:
Matt Cavanaugh
Year Rushing Passing Total Offense Scoring
2008 139.1 (65th) 203.4 (68th) 342.5 (77th) 27.1 (50th)
2007 141.4 (71st) 178.1 (104th) 319.5 (108th) 22.8 (91st)
2006 123.0 (78th) 249.3 (20th) 372.3 (37th) 31.8 (14th)
2005 116.8 (93rd) 219.0 (67th) 335.8 (85th) 24.3 (73rd)
Totals 130.1 213.5 342.5 26.5
Walt Harris
Year Rushing Passing Total Offense Scoring
2004 97.8 (105th) 260.1 (24th) 357.8 (72nd) 27.1 (48th)
2003 117.5 (95th) 288.2 (14th) 405.7 (34th) 29.9 (35th)
2002 143.1 (64th) 215.1 (59th) 358.2 (78th) 25.5 (70th)
2001 123.4 (84th) 221.3 (56th) 344.6 (82nd) 23.8 (79th)
Totals 120.5 246.2 366.6 26.6

Wannstedt said Wednesday that Pitt would continue to run a pro-style offense, and Harris spent three seasons as quarterback coach of the Jets. He ran a vertical version of the West Coast offense with resounding success that produced Biletnikoff Award winners Antonio Bryant and Larry Fitzgerald.

While Harris is available and affordable, Pitt's chances of landing its choice of offensive coordinator candidates could come down to the price tag.

Other potential candidates include:

• Chan Gailey: The former Steelers assistant and Dallas Cowboys head coach was Wannstedt's offensive coordinator with the Miami Dolphins from 2000-01 before coaching at Georgia Tech from '02-07. He spent this past season as offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs but is available now that they fired Herm Edwards and hired Todd Haley.

• Alex Van Pelt: The former Pitt star, who still holds several school passing records, is the quarterbacks coach for the Buffalo Bills. Van Pelt, a disciple of former Pitt coach Paul Hackett, is well versed in the West Coast scheme, but he has little experience coaching in college or calling plays.

• Noel Mazzone: A former offensive coordinator at Ole Miss, Auburn, Oregon State and North Carolina State, he has experience calling plays and working with quarterbacks. He has spent the past three seasons working with the Jets' receivers. Mazzone has no Pitt ties, but neither did defensive coordinator Phil Bennett before Wannstedt hired him.

• Charlie Taaffe: A former head coach at The Citadel and of the Montreal Alouettes and Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League, Taaffe was Maryland's offensive coordinator from 2001-05. He spent the '06 season as an offensive assistant at Pitt and has a good relationship with Wannstedt. Taaffe, however, was hired last month as Central Florida's offensive coordinator.

• Brian Angelichio: The Pitt tight ends coach is the top in-house candidate and would provide a seamless transition, as he worked closely with Cavanaugh the past three seasons. Angelichio has play-calling experience, spending six seasons as offensive coordinator at Ithaca College, but none working specifically with quarterbacks.

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