Pitt tight ends coach Tim Salem brings energy, speaks his mind
Don’t get Tim Salem started.
On second thought, why not ask Pitt’s tight ends coach what he thinks about, you know, anything? You’re sure to get the truth, with as much passion as his sleep-deprived brain can manage.
Mention, for example, the fact his tight ends are targeted more often under first-year offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. The numbers show Will Gragg and Nakia Griffin-Stewart have totaled 16 receptions for 136 yards in four games. Through 14 games last season, the numbers for three tight ends were 10 and 69.
Nice numbers, right coach?
“Unlike, maybe, a lot of other people,” Salem said, “I don’t care. I just care about winning. If we have to run the ball every snap and tight ends don’t catch a ball, who cares? We won the game. If we have to throw it to them 20 times, then you throw it to them 20 times.
“This is a team game. I think sometimes, in the big picture, whether you’re high school kids, college kids, it’s a me, me, me society. ‘Why didn’t you throw the ball to me 20 times today?’ Well, we didn’t. But you have to do this, and we won the game. You ought to be darn happy.”
OK, but how about the smooth transition Griffin-Stewart, a transfer from Rutgers, has made?
“He’s progressed every week like you assume he should,” Salem said. “Of course, I’m anxious. Why not faster, sooner, quicker, now? Some of the catches he made, he’s made first downs, which is a nice deal. He’s blocked above average. Will Gragg has been a nice guy to fit and quietly do things efficiently.
“Can we expect better? Why not?”
Blocking remains a huge part of what Pitt’s tight ends are expected to do. Salem is pleased with how his players carry out those duties, but …
“We’re getting some bodies on people,” he said, almost as if he’s unimpressed. “If you’re being selfish and very picky, you’d like to see guys being knocked into row 114 in the stands and rolled out in the darn tunnel, eating hot dogs in the concourse. That’s what we really want.
“We’ve gotten better. Can you block them better? We can always block them better. That’s what we’re striving to do. We’ve played four games. We got eight to go.”
When Salem was asked if his tight ends are performing better because Whipple is creating more opportunities for them, he deflected credit elsewhere.
“I think the whole passing game (is getting better) because of what Mark Whipple’s doing,” he said. “We’re throwing the ball. We got a variety of passes, short and long, crossing routes. It’s downtown. It’s screens.
“It’s a smorgasbord. It’s like eating at Golden Corral. They have a lot of stuff to choose from, so here we go.”
Pitt safeties coach Cory Sanders said Salem, one of only three assistants who’s been with Pat Narduzzi all five seasons, sets the standard for players and coaches.
“Salem is go, go, go all the time,” he said. “I never have not seen him just rockin’ and rollin’ fast. As a coach you expect energy out of your players. You expect them to practice hard. You expect them to be attentive in meetings. You should be a great example of that.”
Griffin-Stewart said he tries to keep up with Salem’s energy level, but he admits, “It’s hard to match it. That wakes us up and keeps us going.”
Sunday is a crowded work day for college coaches, so Salem didn’t sleep much Saturday night after the victory against Central Florida.
“Why would I sleep? We have another game,” he said of Delaware coming to Heinz Field on Saturday. “There’s just no time to bask in a victory. It’s ‘Oh, my God, we won.’ Take a side breath and go on.
“I had my son from Orlando in town. I had my daughter from Texas in town. I didn’t get home until 9:30ish, eat a couple tacos with them and go to bed. It was family time, and it was very, very short.”
Salem’s oldest son, Taylor, is a Central Florida graduate, but he left town with a suitcase full of Pitt gear.
“Hopefully, he’s wearing it very proudly down there now,” dad said.
In three weeks, Salem will meet up with his youngest son, Landan, who has been Syracuse’s director of player personnel since last year, but was Pitt’s director of video scouting and summer camps.
“We got his little butt in a couple weeks,” proud papa said. “That will be fun.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .