PITTSBURGH — Since he arrived in Pittsburgh, one of the complaints that has been heard repeatedly about Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi is the level of secrecy that he has surrounded his program with.
Narduzzi has caught fire for limiting and even completely eliminating at times the access reporters have to his team. There have also been complaints from Pitt football alumni that were told they weren’t permitted to watch practices.
Now, a new complaint has surfaced. A story by Sports Illustrated this month said that one NFL scout referred to Pitt as a school that isn’t always easy to visit. Interestingly enough, Michigan State, where Narduzzi was the defensive coordinator from 2007 to 2014, was also put into that category.
The story went on to critique the scouting access of many major programs around the country, giving props to schools like Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M while also complaining about the practices of the former regimes at Georgia Tech and Kansas State.
Despite the scouts’ criticisms, since Narduzzi took over at Pitt, there have not been a shortage of players selected in the NFL Draft.
Tyler Boyd was drafted in the second round in 2016; James Conner was taken in the third round as five players were drafted in 2017 and Brian O’Neill was a second-round pick as the first of three drafted players last spring.
The nine total players drafted by Pitt in the first three NFL Drafts under Narduzzi equals the number that were selected in the five years before his arrival.
The level of legitimacy of the criticism is far from ironclad. The sourcing is anonymous and it isn’t clear how many scouts’ opinions are being shared. Narduzzi dismissed it as a minority view.
“I did read that and from what it sounds like, it’s one guys assessment and … whatever,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of scouts who are awful happy when they come in here and get a lot of work and they make no mistakes on our guys and they get plenty of time to look at what we have.”
Of course, it wouldn’t seem like there is much of a downside to allowing NFL scouts to have whatever access they’d like to the programs. After all, the number of players playing in the NFL is something that Pitt and most other schools trumpet in recruiting propaganda, and the more access scouts have, the better-positioned they ought to be to argue for Pitt’s players.
But that’s only if you trust NFL scouts with your team’s secrets. Clearly, Narduzzi does not.
“I’ve seen things come out and they can say they’re all good,” he said. “I’ve had reporters tell me before the game that people working the game say, ‘Hey coach, watch out for this today’ and I’m like, ‘Woah.’
“So there’s things happening and you guys know that. There’s loose lips (that) sink ships and paranoia is real. Who do you trust? It comes down to that, so maybe that guy is not trusted very much. Obviously he won’t put his name on it, so he’s probably not trusted very much.”
Sports Illustrated asked current Senior Bowl director and former NFL scout Matt Nagy whether or not those beliefs were well-founded.
“It’s almost delusional the paranoia at some of these places,” he said. “It’s just ridiculous. Scouts don’t have time for that.”
Of course, it’s far from a crazy assertion that someone with access to a program would give away its secrets. In 2016, Wake Forest announced that its own radio broadcaster, Tommy Elrod, had been giving away the details of offensive plays to Wake Forest’s opponents.
But NFL scouts are in the unique position of being able to give something tangible back to the schools. Yes, there’s helping the players get scouted and drafted, but they are also the group that provides information to college juniors that are thinking about leaving school a year early.
Pitt has had four juniors leave early under Narduzzi. O’Neill was taken in the second round, Conner in the third round, Jordan Whitehead in the fourth and Quadree Henderson went undrafted.
“That’s been very, very helpful to a lot of our players,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said to SI. “So that goes both ways. We need to be accommodating with them when they come here, and then they’re very forthcoming with us when we need to get that information.”
There is some evidence that some of Pitt’s players might not have gotten their full draft picture before they left school. Narduzzi also expressed during Pitt’s pro day that he felt that running back Darrin Hall and fullback George Aston should have been invited to the NFL Combine this year, when they were not.
Are those factors enough to override the perceived risk to Narduzzi’s team secrets? Obviously not to Narduzzi, and he is the only one with the power to make those decisions.