Starkey: Pitt offense in good hands
The least we can do, before we start correcting his play calls, is get to know Calvin Magee a little better.
First, know this: Contrary to popular perception, Magee, Pitt's new offensive coordinator, has indeed been calling plays for the past five years — plays that reached the quarterback without modification, that is.
Seems there has been some confusion about that.
Magee was the offensive coordinator under spread-option guru Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia and Michigan, so people assumed Rodriguez exercised his veto power more than the past 10 U.S. presidents combined.
"Everybody wonders that," Magee said Friday after practice on the South Side. "I called the majority of the plays for the last five years. I've never said that because I don't care what people think, you know• All head coaches have veto power. Rich and I had a great relationship, but people would want to know, would he (veto) plays• No. We'd go into games knowing what we were going to do."
One reason for the perception was that Magee worked from the press box.
"Out of sight, out of mind," he said, laughing. "No, I'm kidding. That's why the appearance has been there, because I've never been seen. But I know what I do. Everybody who works for me knows what I do, and God knows what I do. The reason I'm answering it now is just to clear it up."
Magee, 48, will continue to work from the press box and will relay calls to co-offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, who will signal to quarterback Tino Sunseri. Ideally, Pitt wants to run 80-plus plays per game at a rate of one every 10 to 12 seconds.
From this vantage point, getting Magee was a coup, though it's reasonable to wonder how he will fare with neither Rodriguez's daily influence nor an elusive running quarterback. Pat White orchestrated West Virginia's record-setting offenses when Magee was calling plays (2005-07), and Denard Robinson ignited Michigan's Big Ten-leading offense last season.
In Magee's first two years at Michigan, before Robinson emerged, the offense sputtered. It finished last in the Big Ten in 2008, as Rodriguez and Magee engineered the massive culture change to the spread option. Magee said the transformation won't be so painful at Pitt, where he will combine elements of the spread option with Graham's hurry-up, no-huddle system.
Pitt will run the ball plenty, even if Sunseri isn't Denard Robinson.
"You use people's strengths," Magee said. "That's the good thing about this offense. It's very flexible. We've done it without a running quarterback."
As for getting to know Magee ...
» He grew up among five siblings in a two-bedroom home in New Orleans' 3rd Ward. "My mom raised us in church," he said. His coaching roots formed when, as a high school player, he coached the local sandlot team.
» Hurricane Katrina crushed Magee's old neighborhood. His family was in Mississippi the day the storm hit, attending Magee's mother's funeral. Most of them, including his father, did not return to New Orleans for three years. His old high school, Booker T. Washington, was wiped out.
» Magee was a star tight end at Southern University and played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1985-88. He caught Steve Young's first touchdown pass. He also was a teammate of Pitt legend Hugh Green, who hailed from Natchez, Miss., the hometown as Magee's wife, Rosie. (They have three children.)
» Magee retired in 1989 because of a knee injury that still leaves him limping. He enrolled at South Florida to finish his studies and joined the school's first coaching staff in 1996 under Jim Leavitt. The group included current Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops and Youngstown State coach Eric Wolford — and it worked out of trailers.
"We'd pull names out of a hat — 'OK, you have to sweep the trailer,' " Magee said. "It was fun. It was a school I was very proud of at one time."
So was West Virginia, but Magee now considers himself a Pitt man through and through.
"I'd always seen this place from afar — when I was at the other place — as the place that could dominate the Big East," he said. "With the recruiting base and facilities and tradition, I always thought that. So, when I got the call, I was like, 'That's a no-brainer.' "
Calling plays is easy, too, or so everyone seems to believe. Just ask Bruce Arians. I didn't need to tell Magee that nobody — not even head coaches — are second-guessed more than offensive coordinators around here.
"I'm not concerned about that one bit," he said. "I'm going to do my job."
And do it well, I'm guessing.
But if he ever needs any help ...