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Pat Narduzzi Recognizes What He Has At Pitt

By Dave Holcomb
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The Panthers and Narduzzi are both good for each other. Fortunately for each side, it’s not going to take departing for either to realize it.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown continued his apology spree this week, posting on Instagram he “never realized how good I had it” with Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. In other words, Brown is running out of money and is looking for another chance in the NFL.

Fortunately for the other team that plays home games at Heinz Field, regret won’t be part of their story to begin the 2020 season. That’s because Pat Narduzzi kept his word and didn’t leave for Michigan State.

According to reports from PGH Sports Now, Narduzzi considered the Michigan State head coaching vacancy last week when Mark Dantonio suddenly announced he was stepping away from the program. But Narduzzi confirmed on National Signing Day he wanted to be at Pitt, and with the Spartans reportedly hiring Colorado coach Mel Tucker on Wednesday, Narduzzi will remain at Pitt for the foreseeable future.

Even with a noticeably better recruiting class than last year, that’s the best news Pitt could have received this offseason. It was the right choice for Narduzzi as well.

If there’s any Power 5 program that knows first hand how difficult it is to lose a head coach, it’s Pitt. Since Pitt alum and Pittsburgh native Dave Wannstedt resigned as head coach after the 2010 season, the Panthers have seen two coaches leave for other head coaching opportunities -- Todd Graham and Paul Chryst. In Graham’s case, he only stayed one season before running to Arizona State.

That doesn’t even include the very brief stint of Mike Haywood as the Panthers head man. Pitt fired him two and a half weeks after his hire because of an arrest on a domestic violence charge. While Pitt saved face by acting so quickly to move on from Haywood following his arrest in Dec. 2010, it was still a public relations disaster in large part because the Haywood hire seemed so rushed in retrospect.

It was an embarrassment -- a huge stain on the Pitt athletic department, as was Graham leaving after one season. Those events happened over the course of 12 months.

With Narduzzi staying, Pitt won’t have to go through that this offseason. More than likely, the Panthers won’t be changing head coaches again for a long time. If Narduzzi isn’t leaving to coach at Michigan State -- a place where he spent eight seasons as defensive coordinator -- then it’s probably going to take the absolutely perfect opportunity or a lot more money for him to leave Oakland, PA.

Narduzzi comes with his faults. He sometimes does silly things like kick field goals at the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter on the road against in-state rivals. Pitt has yet to surpass the eight-win total in his five seasons. The Panthers have reached the eight-win mark three times in his five seasons, so the fanbase is ready for more.

But the Pitt fanbase should also keep in mind the Panthers have won more than eight games just three times since Dan Marino left. They’ve won 10 games just once, and that came in 2009 when the Big East was close to the end as a football conference.

Pitt should appreciate its eight-win seasons. Athletic director Heather Lyke certainly does, but the fanbase should too.

Everyone involved in the Pitt program should be especially appreciative this year that Narduzzi didn’t leave for Michigan State. His departure this late in the offseason would have been a disaster. The signing days have passed, and there’s only about one month until spring practice starts. Now is not the time to replace a head coach.

Just ask Michigan State how things are going on that front. They probably had to fork over a large sum of money for a coach with one year of head coaching experience because in the game of coaching musical chairs, the music stopped weeks ago.

As much as the Pitt fanbase should appreciate Narduzzi, though, he should be just as thankful of Pitt, especially when comparing the Panthers to the Spartans right now.

Dantonio left Michigan State not only at the wrong time of the offseason but during a tumultuous time for the program. The Spartans went 7-6 last year and finished 10th in the Big Ten in recruiting during the 2020 class. The program is also going through a plethora of off-the-field issues, including former staffer Curtis Blackwell sueing Dantonio, former athletic director Mark Hollis and former university president Lou Anna Simon.

Pitt football isn’t sexy, but it’s stable, especially right now, as it enters Narduzzi’s sixth season. If he stays through the 2022 season, the Panthers would have to go back to John Michelosen in the 1950s and 1960s to find the last head coach who had a longer tenure than Narduzzi.

The Panthers and Narduzzi are both good for each other. Fortunately for each side, it’s not going to take departing for either to realize it.