New Pitt DB coach looking for interceptions, aggressiveness


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When Iowa State defensive backs coach Troy Douglas told Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads earlier this week that he had decided to accept an offer to coach at Pitt, where Rhoads was as the defensive coordinator from 2000-07, Rhoads offered no harsh words about his former employer.

In fact, Rhoads gave Douglas some advice.

"When I told him I was taking the job, he said, 'You might have my old office,' " Douglas said in a conference call with reporters Thursday after a shake-up in the coaching staff.

"He talked a little bit about the sports information department, he talked a little bit about the secretaries and [director of football operations] Mr. [Chris] LaSala there. He talked about all them."

Douglas officially joined the Panthers coaching staff as defensive backs coach Thursday and said he was looking forward to coaching again in the ACC. A Jacksonville, Fla., native, he previously coached the defensive backs at North Carolina (2009-11).

"Coach [Paul] Chryst has this program in an upward cycle," Douglas said. "They're playing very well right now. Plus, it's back in the ACC. The Big 12 is a great league, but this league's a little bit more to my liking because it has some teams in Florida, teams in the Southeast, which is where I'm from."

Defensive coordinator Matt House reached out to Douglas last month after he started putting out feelers that he was looking for a defensive backs coach. House was a graduate assistant at Michigan State in 2001-02, when Douglas coached there, and, as he asked his football contacts about who to hire, signs kept pointing to Douglas.

Douglas, meanwhile, said he was looking forward to coaching a team with a reputation for a physical style of play.

"Pitt has a reputation as a tough-minded football team," he said. "The difference is, in this league, in the ACC, there are a lot of spread teams, there are a lot of finesse-type teams. This program will hit you in the mouth. That's what has me excited."

That identity should mesh well with the vision Douglas expressed Thursday, one which will emphasize ball skills.

Last year, the Cyclones had eight interceptions, 98th in Division I-A, but, in his tenure at North Carolina, the Tar Heels ranked in the top 10 in interceptions each of his first two seasons.

"Pass breakups, they're nice, and a lot of times they're needed, especially on big third-down plays," Douglas said. "But interceptions, that's what gets the pretty girls. Everybody likes those picks, but you've got to teach it in practice and you've got to throw them a lot of balls."

He said every drill the defensive backs do in practice will involve a football, and he'll recruit players who played offense in high school and are used to handling a football.

"Our job as a defense is to get the ball back to our offense," Douglas said. "We will attack the football. There's no such thing as a defensive back that can't catch."

Douglas' hire was one of a number of moves Chryst announced Thursday. To make room for Douglas, House will move to coaching inside linebackers. Chris Haering will coach outside linebackers and take on the added role of special teams coordinator this season. Desmond Robinson, who coached running backs in 2012 and was the player personnel director in 2013, is no longer a part of the staff.

Chryst still lacks a wide receivers coach, but he likely will that spot in the next few days.

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NOTE -- Former USC quarterback Max Wittek, reportedly interested in Pitt, plans to visit Texas this weekend.


Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.

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