PITTSBURGH — Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi introduced Randy Bates as the newest member of his team’s coaching staff at a press conference at Pitt’s South Side practice facility on Friday.
Bates will assume the position of defensive coordinator that was vacated when Josh Conklin left to take the head coaching job at Wofford College. Bates comes to Pitt after spending the last 11 years at Northwestern, where he was linebackers coach.
The veteran coach comes with plenty of experience, having previously been the defensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech and has been coaching since the early 1980s. Narduzzi got to know and admire Bates from sharing so much time in the Big Ten together when Narduzzi was at Michigan State.
“The reasons that we talked through the years when he was at Northwestern and I was at Michigan State was that we were always so similar,” Narduzzi said.
When Narduzzi evaluating opponents of Michigan State’s, he always made sure to include cut-ups of the Northwestern defenses, because of the similarities between the two schemes and it seems clear that through the change in coordinators, the defense will largely remain similar to the one Narduzzi brought from Michigan State.
“There’s a lot more overlap than anything else,” Bates said. “What we’ve talked about is maybe throwing a few little change ups in that I’ve used maybe to make the defense better. … We have very similar philosophies.” Bates added that he will be learning the terminology that is already in place with Narduzzi’s defense rather than teaching the players new verbiage. Shawn Watson did the same thing when he took over as offensive coordinator at the beginning of the 2017 season.
That’s not to say that there won’t be changes or adjustments to Pitt’s defense. They had already started that process under Conklin in 2017 by adding a three-corner nickel package and Narduzzi seemed open to even more changes on Friday.
“We’ve done some good thing, but the game changes every every year and we need to do better things,” Narduzzi said
There could also be changes to the rest of the coaching staff still to come. Narduzzi wouldn’t commit to his other eight assistants returning for the 2018 season and did admit that his staff has drawn some interest. Defensive backs coach Renaldo Hill reportedly turned down an offer to coach at Michigan State in order to remain with Pitt.
Pitt will also have a 10th assistant to hire this year, thanks to an NCAA rule change. Narduzzi remained mum about a position for the coach, but it sounds as if Pitt will either remain with five offensive and four defensive coaches while separating the special teams coordinator position or splitting the staff equally with five offensive and five defensive coaches.
LEANING ON EXPERIENCE
Bates’ countenance is almost professorial, and Narduzzi described him as an extremely successful teacher of the game. That makes sense, since Bates went to Ohio State with the intention of becoming a high school teacher and a football coach.
His ability to teach, combined with his years of experience, should make for a coach that gets the best out of his players. But his experience as a coordinator runs a lot shallower than his time as a position coach. He was coordinator just once at Louisiana Tech and that stint lasted just one season before he departed for Northwestern. Bates said that there were other opportunities along the way, but he never had one where he felt compelled to leave a very tight-knit group at Northwestern. Bates is the first departure from Pat Fitzgerald’s coaching staff in seven years and he’s the first defensive coach to leave Evanston in a decade.
“To be very frank, there’s been other opportunities, but this is one that I believe we can take it to the next level,” Bates said. “Having national championships here, having the facilities and having the passion of the City of Pittsburgh for football just really gets me excited and so this opportunity, I jumped at.”
One of the draws for Bates was the way the Pitt defense came together as a young unit in 2017. The Panthers have lost just one starter to graduation and another to the NFL since the end of the season.
“I got to do a little research on the youth of the defense and how they improved towards the end of the season,” Bates said. “That was probably another big draw to me because I believe with what they’re doing and maybe some things that we’ve done, we can take this defense to the next level.”
I asked Bates and Narduzzi about the importance of recruiting in this hiring process. In particular, I was curious to see if Bates will continue to recruit in Texas, where he had made inroads with the Wildcats. Here’s the response:
Here is the full press conference with Bates and Narduzzi:
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