Nebraska coach Scott Frost is closing in on finalizing a pair of critical offensive hires.
Pittsburgh offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple and Chicago Bears assistant offensive line coach Donovan Raiola are both nearing deals to join Frost’s overhauled offensive staff in Lincoln, according to several sources with knowledge of the situation.
Whipple would have the same role has he held the past three years with the Panthers and Raiola, the brother of former Husker offensive line great Dominic Raiola, would be Nebraska’s offensive line coach.
The deals for both Whipple and Raiola were finalized on Wednesday morning.
The major domino fell Tuesday when Whipple, who helped develop Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett into a Heisman Trophy finalist and oversaw an offense in 2021 that ranked near the top of the country in several metrics, resigned from his post in Pittsburgh.
It capped off a wild stretch for the 64-year-old.
On Saturday night, he and the Panthers won the ACC title 45-24 over Wake Forest in Charlotte, North Carolina. On Sunday, he interviewed for the Nebraska offensive coordinator position with Frost in Arizona, according to sources. On Monday, he visited with Florida State transfer quarterback Chubba Purdy, who is originally from Gilbert, Arizona. Then on Tuesday morning, he resigned his post at Pitt and momentum toward a deal with Nebraska grew.
Raiola interviewed with Frost for the offensive line coach job on Friday in Chicago. Frost also interviewed Notre Dame offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, a source told the Journal Star, but ultimately is choosing Raiola, a former Wisconsin offensive lineman who has been the assistant offensive line coach in Chicago for the past three years and before that was a graduate assistant at Notre Dame.
Frost spent the day Tuesday on the road recruiting in Louisiana and New Jersey.
In confirming Whipple’s departure from his program on Tuesday afternoon, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi called him "a great asset for our entire football program. He did a tremendous job transitioning us from a heavy run attack to one of the best passing games in the entire country. His great work with quarterbacks was obviously on full display, given the outstanding year Kenny Pickett has enjoyed."
There had been question about whether the 64-year-old Whipple would actually leave Pittsburgh at this point in his career for another coaching job. He is a Tarrytown, New York, native and has spent most of his career on the East Coast, including two stints as the head coach at UMass. In fact, he hasn’t had a coaching job outside the Eastern time zone since 1984.
The Huskers have also been in contact with candidates such as USC's Graham Harrell, who, like Whipple, interviewed Sunday.
Whipple made $476,450 in 2021 but is most likely in for a substantial raise at Nebraska. Husker offensive coordinator Matt Lubick made $500,000, and before him, Troy Walters made $700,000.
Whipple spent the past three years at Pittsburgh. Over those three years, the Panthers' offense climbed from being one of the country's worst to one of the best. In 2019, Pitt was No. 112 in scoring at 21.2 points per game. In 2020, it climbed to No. 58 (29), and then this fall the Panthers rose all the way to No. 3 nationally at 43 points per game. In total offense, Pitt went from No. 87 to No. 79 to No. 5 this year at 502.9 yards per game.
That rise tracked with the development of Pickett, who has thrown for 42 touchdowns and just seven interceptions this fall and has completed 67.2% of his passes for 4,319 yards.
Pitt threw the ball on 51.3% of its snaps through the regular season and ACC title game. Adjusting for 51 sacks, the Panthers dropped back to pass more than 56.4% of the time. And the offense took off.
It was a big turnaround from a year ago, when Narduzzi was asked after the season whether he'd stick with Whipple after a pair of underwhelming seasons.
Before Pitt, Whipple was the head coach at UMass for five years, compiling a 16-44 record in his second stint for the school, which transitioned to an independent while he was there. He had much more success the first time around when UMass was in the Atlantic 10, going 49-26 over six seasons from 1998-2003. Before that, he spent four years as the head coach at his alma mater, Brown, which he attended at the same time as Nebraska senior offensive analyst Ron Brown.
Whipple also spent three seasons in the NFL coaching Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks from 2004-06.
If the deals with Whipple and Raiola are finalized as expected, that will leave one opening remaining on Frost’s coaching staff. He is likely to use it to hire a full-time special teams coordinator and, as of Monday evening, current NU analyst and Pender native Bill Busch is considered a strong contender for the job. Others, like Virginia’s Ricky Brumfield, have been in the picture over recent weeks, too, but Busch appears to be the favorite at this juncture.
With no further coaching staff attrition, some reshuffling of duties will be required because adding Whipple, Raiola and Busch to the already hired Mickey Joseph (wide receivers) without changing anything else would leave Nebraska without a dedicated running backs coach. Senior offensive analyst and interim running backs coach Ron Brown was on the road recruiting in Louisiana with Frost and Joseph on Tuesday.