When you start talking about Pat Narduzzi the conversation likely turns to other great coaches.He’s Pittsburgh’s 36th coach, which puts him on a list with Pop Warner, Jock Sutherland, Johnny Majors and Jackie Sherrill, to name a few.
He came from Youngstown, Ohio, which lumps him in Jim Tressel, Bo Pelini, Mark Mangino, Bob, Mark and Mike Stoops and several others. He was an assistant at Miami, Ohio, known as the Cradle of Coaches.
But when his first season at Pitt begins in a few weeks, it’s an opportunity to create an identity all his own. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect fit of coach and program. Narduzzi grew up an hour outside of Pittsburgh, watching the great Panthers teams of the 1970s.
He comes in wanting to establish a tough defense and ball control running game and just happens to inherit a back in James Conner who carried 298 times for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns last year. Narduzzi moved into the dorms with the players for the start of training camp. If there’s a place in the ACC where his blue collar, bring-your-lunch-pale attitude is going to be welcomed with open arms, it’s Pittsburgh.
Narduzzi has been patient waiting for this opportunity. He was an assistant under Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati and wanted the Bearcats job when Dantonio left for Michigan State in 2007. Instead he followed Dantonio to MSU where they successfully completed a rebuild job similar to the one he faces at Pitt.
The Panthers, who have finished 6-7 three of the past four seasons, are a sleeping giant in the ACC, which lacks coaching luminaries. Florida State and Clemson, under Jimbo Fisher and Dabo Swinney, respectively, have re-established themselves as national powers in the Atlantic Division.
But in the Coastal, where Pitt resides, Frank Beamer is in the twilight of an amazing career at Virginia Tech. There’s room for a program such as Pitt to emerge. But it will take continuity the Panthers haven’t experienced in a long time. Narduzzi is the fourth head coach at Pitt since 201o. Even with the personnel he inherited, it will take some time to establish the systems he wants to put in place.
It could take even longer to win over a fan base that’s been burned so many times in recent memory.
Of course, Narduzzi’s defense will be just fine. He didn’t develop a reputation as one of the top defensive coordinators in the country for nothing. The Panthers will use their tremendous size up front — nose tackle Tyrique Jarrett checks in at 6-3, 335 lbs — to stop the run and play an aggressive man-to-man in the secondary.
On offense, Pitt will ride Conner, the reigning ACC Player of the Year, as far as he can take them with wide receiver Tyler Boyd and quarterback Chad Voytik offering some balance in the passing game for a unit that returns eight starters.
Improving on last year’s 6-7 record could be a challenge with an schedule that features games at Iowa, Virginia Tech, Duke and Georgia Tech and a home game against Notre Dame. But 2015 should be a season that begins to establish a new era at Pitt, and begins to give Narduzzi a coaching identity all his own.