PITTSBURGH — It’s senior week as the Pitt Panthers get set to host the Syracuse Orange in the season finale on Saturday afternoon. As such, Pat Narduzzi’s weekly press conference was focused on the role of the senior class and the future of the program. Here’s my five takeaways.
If Matt Canada’s name hasn’t been floated for a higher profile job yet, it’s only a matter of time. The first-year Pitt offensive coordinator has led the Panthers to the highest-scoring offense in program history with 432 points and it’s only been 11 games.
Canada comes with experience at other high-level schools such as Wisconsin and North Carolina State, so it’s not as if his performance has been a huge surprise. With that performance, suitors will come knocking. It’s something Narduzzi knows all too well can happen, as his first offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was hired for the same job at Georgia nearly a year ago.
Narduzzi and Canada have been friends from many years going back to their early day at Northern Illinois, and Narduzzi hopes that relationship will keep Canada in place, at least for a while.
“I’ve known Matt for a long time,” Narduzzi said. “We’ve got a great relationship. I think he’s having fun. … I know the business we’re in, if people look and see where you are and what you’re doing and like it, people are going to come get your guys. When you’ve got a great staff, people are going to try to go get them and poach them, but we’re going to do what we can do to make sure Matt stays here for a while.”
He also feels confident that he has the budget to make his coordinator positions attractive financially.
“I feel really good about that,” he said. ”Especially if you’re having fun where you are, too, I think that’s part of it. If you’re miserable working in your job, then I don’t think all the money or contract incentives can keep you, but if you’re happy, I think it does. I think that’s part of it. … It’s not all about the money. If it were about the money, I’d have been gone from Michigan State a long time ago. If it’s about the money then maybe you’ve got the wrong guy.”
As a policy, Pitt does not release the contract information of coaches.
EIGHT GREATER THAN EIGHT?
Pitt sits at 7-4 going into the final weekend of the regular season, so they have a chance to meet or exceed their 8-5 record of a season ago.
I said before the season that Pitt would again finish 8-5, but that mark would represent a pretty significant step forward when considering how difficult the Panthers’ schedule was, which has been ranking in the Top 15 in the nation by some outlets. Narduzzi agreed with that assessment on Monday.
“I think when you look at our losses, they were [close], and those inches we didn’t get, I look back and look at how close we were to winning them all,” he said. “I would without a doubt say it’s a much better year.”
Of Pitt’s 19-player senior class, 10 are of the fifth-year variety and defensive end Ejuan Price is in his sixth season on campus. It’s a trend that’s likely to continue, with 15 redshirt junior lettermen eligible to return.
That hasn’t been the case over the years for the Panthers, who went through the turmoil of five head coaches in five seasons. As a result, many players transferred out of the program and walk-ons didn’t stick around until their upper-class years.
That’s something that Narduzzi is hoping to build at Pitt, a roster that is both talented and deep. He’s started that effort by doing his best to keep the players recruited by his predecessors. He continued that by playing just five of his No. 20-ranked 2016 recruiting class this season, setting up another big redshirt senior class four years from now.
“I think everybody in the country would like to have a whole football team,” he said. “I think a year ago we sat in here and talked about the young football team we have. Now you say we have an old team. I think every coach in the country would like to have a team based on juniors and seniors. It’s not always that way, but is it a philosophy, I think that’s everybody’s philosophy. It’s a need, it’s a want, but it’s not always something you have, and it’s nice to have.”
CHANGES, KUDOS and SCHEDULE
• Former tight end Devon Edwards, who saw playing time at defensive tackle against Duke, is listed as a defensive end behind Price and James Folston. … Saleem Brightwell started at Money linebacker over Mike Caprara, but Caprara is listed as the starter going into Syracuse. … Damar Hamlin and Maurice Ffrench are now listed as the backups to Avonte Maddox at the field corner spot. Ryan Lewis or Dane Jackson are the co-starters at the boundary corner.
• Price was named the ACC’s Defensive Lineman of the Week. … Kick returner Quadree Henderson was named the ACC’s Specialist of the Week. … Running back James Conner won the Disney Sports Spirit Award for most inspirational college football player.
• The Panthers and Orange will kick off at 12:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on the ACC Network, which is carried regionally by WTAE-TV.