PITTSBURGH — When it comes to coaching, new Pitt defensive coordinator Randy Bates is about as experienced as they come.
When Bates got started in coaching in 1982 at Muskingum College in east-central Ohio, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi was a sophomore linebacker at Ursuline High School 130 miles to the northeast.
When Bates first became a Division I defensive coordinator in 2005, Pitt linebackers coach Rob Harley was still playing safety at Ohio State.
But 2005 was also the last time Bates called plays on defense, having spent the last 12 seasons as the linebackers coach at Northwestern.
That means that when Pitt hosts Albany to kick off the 2018 season on Saturday, it’ll be the first time in a long time that Bates will be calling the plays in a game that matters.
“I mean, we’ve got a new coordinator who’s calling a game for his first time in maybe 14 years or whatever it’s been, very intelligent in Randy Bates, very detailed in game planning,” Narduzzi said on Monday.
It’s something that, in his usual way, Bates has thought about, taken steps to minimize its impact and has essentially already moved on, despite the newness of his role. During the team’s training-camp scrimmages and even during regular practice periods, Bates has been practicing making play calls and getting them relayed onto the field.
“I’ve been calling it since the day I came here,” Bates said. “Coach Narduzzi has given me a chance to pretty much, instead of scripting practice, I’ve called, since I’ve been here to get back in the groove.”
Outside of Bates being a new man calling the plays, the rest of the defense should look similar to the way it has in the past, at least schematically.
“Coach Bates did more adjusting to us than we did to him, so pretty much everything is the same,” safety Damar Hamlin said. “All the reads are the same.”
Despite that, the Pitt players seem to feel a new attitude about the defense. The difference might be the energetic Bates, who spent all of training camp bouncing from one drill to another shouting encouragement with a huge smile on his face.
“Coach Bates, he brings a lot of excitement to the defense,” cornerback Damarri Mathis said. “He’s just all running around, having fun. Just a lot of energy. It becomes contagious.”
Will it add up to a different result? That is still to be determined, and this Saturday’s game against Albany will only be the first test.
“We’ve got some guys, but then you’ve got to go out and show it on game day,” Narduzzi said. “Maybe we can tell after game 1, okay. They look pretty good, but then we’re going to find out the next week, and we’ll find out the next week.
“Ultimately, you’re measured by what you do in a 12-game season.”