Ryan Manalac is not trying to reinvent the wheel for the Pitt linebackers. He is inheriting a veteran group that possesses multiple players with starting experience. The Panthers defense has been one of the nation’s best in recent seasons, and the first-year head coach is just looking to keep that rolling.
Manalac spoke to the media for the first time on Wednesday since his hiring last week. The former Bucknell defensive coordinator is anxious to work with this veteran group.
“I mean speed’s going to be our calling card within our system here at linebacker,” Manalac told reporters. “The explosiveness, the speed, it’s an exciting group. It’ll be not teaching them how to go, but refining that and being more efficient is what we’ll look to do.”
Pitt is brining back a veteran group highlighted by 2020 third-team All-ACC pick SirVocea Dennis, who finished second on the team with 57 tackles from a season ago. His 14.5 tackles for loss put him tied for the team lead in that category. Also back is Cam Bright, who finished with 53 tackles, and a pair of ‘super seniors’ in Phil Campbell III and Chase Pine, with plenty of starting experience.
Both Pine and Campbell and using the extra year that was granted by the NCAA to all players to return for an extra year. Manalac is looking to lean on the experience of those guys as he transitions into his new role.
“The challenge that I put before them is to make sure they’re leading and showing the younger guys the right ways to do things and using that experience for the betterment of the whole group,” Manalac said of his senior leaders.
Manalac has the experience of playing under Pat Narduzzi during his stint at Cincinnati. He also worked with him on the staff at Michigan State. The familiarity was there, and getting a third opportunity to connect with the Pitt coach was big for Manalac.
“I think that work ethic thing is something that really drew us together,” Manalac said of his new boss.
In addition to coaching up the linebackers and impacting the defense as a whole, Manalac will have a big role in recruiting. He talked about which areas he will be approaching on the recruiting trail. Manalac cited his home state as priority number one.
“It’s a place, Ohio, that has good football and has over the years as far as the number of talented guys to come out of there,” he said. “So that first and foremost is where I’ll be deeply vested. And then linebackers all over the country and a little bit of Atlanta. So that’s what I’m looking to do.”
For a younger coach, Manalac has worked in many different roles at different levels, whether it be playing for a Big East Championship team at Cincinnati, working as a graduate assistant at Michigan State, coaching at the Division-II and FCS levels. He believes all the different roads can help him in his new job at Pitt.
“Schematically, being able to see some different answers with different personnel and being able to apply that coming back to this system,” Manalac explained. “I think will be an added thing I think I can help with the defensive staff in what were doing in game planning and that perspective.”