As it continues to go through its coaching search, familiarity with the Pittsburgh area is crucial for Pitt’s next hire. One coach who has Pennsylvania roots, and spent considerable time coaching in the area as a member of Bill Cowher’s staff with the Pittsburgh Steelers, is North Carolina State defensive coordinator Mike Archer.
Every stop Archer has been at has a strong case to suggest that he’d be viable option as a head coach. He told Panther Digest on Monday that Pitt is a job he wouldn’t mind being considered for.
“Number one, I know the area,” Archer said. “Another thing, Pitt is coming into the ACC. I feel that’s an advantage for me, because I’ve coached in the league for the last five years. I know all about western Pennsylvania, and I know you can be successful if you recruit western Pennsylvania with eastern Ohio. I can still go into Miami. Florida is still big with Pitt.”
Archer is a native of State College, Pa., and went on to star as a defensive back at the University of Miami, where he graduated in 1976. He started his coaching career the second he graduated. He started off as a graduate assistant for the Hurricanes, then became a full-time assistant in 1978, spending six seasons, where he coached the defensive backs. That familiarity with western Pennsylvania was crucial then, as the Hurricanes were able to recruit quarterback Jim Kelly out of East Brady.
Archer then went to LSU, where he spent seven seasons with the Tigers, including a four-year stint as head coach from 1987-90. He was only 34 when he took over as head coach of the Tigers, and guided them to a 27-18-1 record over the four-year span. Though it’s been over 20 years since he had an opportunity as a head coach, Archer feels there’s still some certain things that are the same that he can apply.
“I enjoy doing it, I’ve been in that pressure cooker, it hasn’t changed that much,” Archer said. “Of course, we didn’t have the internet and blogs back then, but you still have your daily periodicals and call shows. I’ve been there. LSU is a pretty pressurized job. I was there when I was 32. I’ve been through the wars.”
After a two-year stint at Virginia as an assistant, Archer spent five seasons as an assistant at Kentucky, where he accelerated to assistant head coach in 1995. It was then that Cowher selected him to serve as linebackers coach from 1996-2002, where he would spend the next seven seasons in that capacity. During that stretch, Archer had an impressive array of talent that included Greg Lloyd, Levon Kirkland, Earl Holmes, Chad Brown, Jason Gildon and Joey Porter.
Archer returned to the college ranks, going back to Kentucky for four seasons as defensive coordinator under head coach Rich Brooks. He was hired away from Kentucky in 2007 to be N.C. State’s defensive coordinator, a role he has been in since then. If it’s one thing that Archer has proved throughout his career, it’s been success through longevity. His only two stops less than four years. One was his first stint at Kentucky of three years, before he joined the Steelers. The other was his two-year stint at Virginia, where he was with current N.C. State head coach Tom O’Brien.
Archer, having lived in Pittsburgh for seven seasons, is familiar with the western Pennsylvania mentality because of just living here, but also had his son Jeff be a part of it an all-state linebacker at North Allegheny. He went on to play both football and baseball at Kentucky.
From a culture standpoint, Archer feels that Todd Graham’s “high-octane” approach was something difficult to buy into for a lot of high school coaches in western Pennsylvania.
“Western PA is known as a hard, tough, physical, smash mouth football,” Archer said. “You can’t come in there with a wide-open attack. You can’t change the culture of western Pennsylvania football. I don’t care who you bring in, you have to understand the mentality of the people there. (Graham) didn’t understand it. I don’t care who you bring in. you have to understand mentality of people who went there.”
Archer has been recruiting western PA as a member of Tom O’Brien’s staff the last five years As defensive coordinator for the Wolfpack, his 2010 defense held two opponents to negative rushing yardage in a game. Overall, the unit ranked second in the ACC in run defense and sacks. Since he’s been in Raleigh, he’s sent Nate Irving, DaJuan Morgan, Demario Pressley and Willie Young to the NFL.
N.C. State is in preparation for its third bowl during Archer’s time there, as the Wolfpack will play Louisville in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte. Despite a solid tenure there, he says if considered for the Pitt job, there’s a lot of things that make the Pitt job an attractive one.
“I don’t think you have to build anything,” Archer said of Pitt. “You just have to improve upon it. You have Heinz Field there, impressive facilities, and you can get a good education. I had never been on campus there until I came to the Steelers. High school football, that’s what people live for on Friday nights in the fall.
“Right now with the situation at Penn State, you can come in and dominate recruiting; same thing with the Ohio State situation, to an extent. This is the time for Pitt. This is the time for the next head coach to take advantage of a great opportunity.”