Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi’s seat has become exceptionally warm as the Panthers have lost four straight games after starting the season a promising 3-0.
The future outlook isn’t much better for the Panthers, was they’ll face No. 1 Clemson and have three of their final four games on the road.
It’s caused many, including Pittsburgh Sports Now columnist Mike Vukovcan, to call for Narduzzi’s removal.
That’s a decision that won’t be taken lightly, and to really break down whether or not it’s a good idea, we need to really get at the core of what’s wrong with Pitt football, how it can be fixed, and how much of a role Narduzzi has played in that success or lack thereof.
Let’s start with a baseline. We all sort of remember what happened before Pat Narduzzi got to Pitt, but it’s illustrative to put it out there.
From 2011 to 2014, Pitt went 6-7 three times and 7-6 once for an overall record of 25-27. Pitt was bowl eligible in all three seasons, losing the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham twice, the Armed Forces Bowl once and winning the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
In conference play, Pitt went 7-7 in two Big East seasons and then 7-9 in two ACC seasons. The finished fifth in the Big East twice and sixth and fourth in the ACC Coastal Division.
Pitt’s recruiting classes in that time frame checked in at No. 62, 43, 32 and 43.
Pitt’s head coaches in that era came one each from the typical pool of Power Five coach candidates. Todd Graham was a Group of Five head coach at Tulsa. Paul Chryst was the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin. Regardless of the success of the hires, those men are representative of the kinds of coaches that a program like Pitt is going to be able to get.
If Narduzzi were to be fired, the list of potential coaching candidates would be almost entirely made up of Power Five coordinators, Group of Five head coaches and Power Five retreads.
So, with representative coaches, we can build a roughly average snapshot of what a pre-Pat Narduzzi, modern-era Pitt team looked like.
The Panthers’ typical record was 6-7, with a 3-4 record in conference play. They likely made it to — and lost — a generic, early December bowl game. They were likely in fifth place in their division and had a recruiting class that was ranked around 45th.
That is what Narduzzi’s performance should be compared to.
In 5 1/2 seasons since Narduzzi has taken the wheel, they’ve won eight games three times and have a 39-33 overall record. Pitt has been bowl eligible in five of six seasons (in 2020 on a technicality so far, we’ll see if they actually play in one.) They’ve lost three of the four bowl games, falling in the Military, Pinstripe and Sun Bowls while winning the Quick Lane Bowl.
In conference play, they’ve gone 26-19, with a winning record in four of five years and one at least vaguely still on the table in 2020 at 2-3 with four to play. Pitt won the Coastal Division in 2018 and the Panthers’ average finish in the division is third place.
Under Narduzzi, Pitt’s recruiting classes have been ranked No. 46, 30, 37, 48, 55 and 45, with a projected No. 32 Class of 2021 on the way.
Narduzzi’s Panthers have an average record of 7-6, with a 5-3 record in ACC league play. On a typical season, they likely made it to and lost a late-December bowl game, were roughly third place in the ACC Coastal Division and had a recruiting class ranked around 43rd.
By nearly any objective measure, Pitt has done the same or better under Narduzzi. Pitt’s overall record has improved by roughly one win per season, the conference record has gotten significantly better and the non-conference schedule has generally been more challenging. Pitt has still not been particularly good at bowl games, but they’ve been playing in better ones, and they were able to add a divisional championship.
Likewise, recruiting has improved, though only slightly.
There’s almost no question that Narduzzi has been, while not a lot, and maybe not significantly, better than his predecessors.
Unlike his predecessors, he’s also shown a willingness to stick around. While Graham infamously jumped ship at the first opportunity to leave town and Chryst saw greener pastures at Wisconsin, Narduzzi has spurned legitimate efforts to lure him away from multiple schools, most notably Michigan State this offseason.
Narduzzi has been a little bit better than what he inherited and he wants to stay at Pitt. So what’s the problem?
We’ll get to that in part two.