PITTSBURGH — Pat Narduzzi is not a perfect football coach.
There has been plenty of criticism of Narduzzi and the decisions he’s made over the first five years of his tenure as Pitt’s head coach, in this space and otherwise. That’s likely to continue, with Narduzzi announcing on Wednesday that he will not pursue the vacant head coaching job at Michigan State and will instead return to the Panthers.
While Narduzzi is not perfect, he is a perfect fit for Pitt.
For one, despite his faults, Narduzzi is a good football coach. There are good reasons that he has the best conference winning percentage of any coach in Pitt history. There are reasons he was a Broyles Award winner as a defensive coordinator at Michigan State. His defensive scheme is smothering when it works. His players love to play for him. He’s been a quality recruiter. Those are the reasons Michigan State (and Rutgers and probably others) wanted him.
Pitt has had good coaches before. Narduzzi’s immediate predecessor, Paul Chryst was a good coach. He still is. At Wisconsin. Where it’s obvious he preferred to be. Chryst’s predecessor, Todd Graham, doesn’t seem to have a preferred destination, but it sure wasn’t here.
There we have the difference.
There are many reasons Narduzzi could have turned down Michigan State. The program appears set to enter a major rebuild while Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan have established themselves as major national players from the same division, all while the threat of NCAA investigation hangs over its head.
But clearly, Narduzzi still has strong feelings for Michigan State and his time in East Lansing, and he spoke openly on Wednesday about how this opportunity was different than Rutgers and others.
“This one was not as simple because you’ve been there before,” he said. “It’s not as simple to just say I’m not going to listen to any more. But great people, great chancellor, a great AD make it a little bit easier, that’s for sure. Again, sometimes you get torn.”
Still, Narduzzi is coming back to Pitt, as he hilariously tweeted on Wednesday night.
— Pat Narduzzi (@CoachDuzzPittFB) February 5, 2020
Narduzzi is a good coach, which makes him a good fit for any school. But more than anything, he very clearly wants to be Pitt. He enjoys being at Pitt.
In a field with so, so many used car salesmen and Sunday preacher wannabes, that enthusiasm and energy is authentic and infectious. It makes other people want to be a part of it.
The job at Pitt is not an easy one. The notoriously restless fanbase has suffered through 30 years of mostly mediocrity. There are higher-profile professional sports options in the city and there are higher-profile collegiate teams not far outside of it. The local recruiting base is not anywhere near what it was during the program’s heyday.
Will Narduzzi be the coach that finally leads Pitt back to greatness? Or even gets close? Will he win 10 games? Will he ever win a conference title? Will he convince the next blue-chip WPIAL recruit to stay home?
But he’s a good coach with a good pedigree that wants to give it his all to try to make those things happen in this city, for this program and for these fans. For that alone, Narduzzi should be lauded.
I asked him on Wednesday about his big picture goals: if he wants to coach in the NFL someday or whatever else he has desire for in the future. He only mentioned one thing.
“I want to win championships here,” he said. “That’s our goal.”