Randy Bates is not the same kind of defensive coordinator as current Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi was when he had that job, but they do have some similarities.
Narduzzi, who came to Pitt after spending seven years in that role with the Michigan State Spartans, grew notorious over his time in East Lansing as the emotional leader of the Spartans defense.
Narduzzi’s halftime adjustments and subsequent speeches were especially noteworthy for both the tenor and tenacity of Narduzzi’s words, and the equipment damage that occasionally came along with them.
“It’s at least in the thousands,” former Michigan State linebacker Denicos Allen told USA Today about the halftime destruction that occurred. “He’s destroyed some projectors. Got another one and destroyed it again. … We love it, though.”
“When he screams, he’s just spitting all over,” former Spartans safety Isaiah Lewis said. “If you’re sitting in the first row, he’s kind of spitting on you. And you want to wipe your face but you don’t want to do it right in front of him. You’re trying to focus and be serious, but at the same time he’s spitting in your eye.”
Despite those stories — or maybe because of them — Narduzzi was able to lift the Michigan State defense up as one of the top units in the country, year-in and year-out over his tenure there.
So far, there have been no reports of the 60-year-old Bates having any similar equipment issues, but there has been a similar level of success emanating from the Panthers’ locker room.
“I don’t know about any projectors,” Narduzzi said with a laugh. “There’s no comment there. But, you know, he hasn’t had a projector problem, put it that way.”
That’s not to say that Bates, a former Naval officer, can’t get his point across. Pitt’s field pass video after the Panthers’ win over Syracuse gave a glimpse of an already-hoarse Bates’ halftime rhetoric.
“Randy’s intense,” Narduzzi said. “The thing I love about Randy is that he’s detailed. He’s consistent, and when I say consistent, he’s not worried about like getting turnovers today, but then tomorrow it goes to something else. I mean, you’ve gotta be worried about the same things every day and stay on them. That’s the only way they happen. He’s very similar to me in that way, that he doesn’t give up on stuff. He doesn’t just let it go. He’s on it all the time. He’s got a lot of energy.”
Despite the somewhat calmer nature of his halftime program — at least when it comes to the equipment destruction portion of things — Bates is getting results. Through three games this season, his defense has allowed just three second-half points, which Narduzzi claims as his fault.
“The three points we gave up was my fault because of the fake punt last week, so it should have been zero,” he said.
Instead of projectors, Bates and his charges have taken to destroying quarterbacks. Two straight opposing single callers were forced from their games with injuries, and Pitt’s 17 sacks through three games is on pace to destroy the best mark Narduzzi ever posted at Michigan State. His Spartans had 44 sacks in 13 games in 2014, a 3.38 sacks-per-game average. This season, Pitt is averaging 5.67 sacks per game.
Pittsburgh: Only team this season with 80+ grades in both pass-rush AND coverage pic.twitter.com/7y5ik3JuEq
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 30, 2020
Narduzzi also pointed out that despite the fact that the structure of the defense remains mostly the one that he brought with him to Pitt from Michigan State, it is fully Bates’ unit at this point, when it comes to playcalling on gamedays.
“I don’t call any defenses,” Narduzzi said. “It’s Randy Bates’ defense. I told him I’m their senior [graduate assistant].”
As long as Bates keeps his new GA away from the team’s AV equipment, it seems like it should continue to be a successful pairing.