In part one of this article, we broke the data down and discovered Pitt has been — at least slightly — better off under Par Narduzzi than each of his predecessors.
So why are a lot of people ready to give up on Pitt’s sixth-year head coach? It’s not that there hasn’t been progress. Even the most pessimistic Pitt fan can probably admit to that.
The problem is that the progress made still leaves Pitt well short of its own expectations. Nobody is happy with a little bit better. Pitt fans aren’t happy. The players aren’t happy. Narduzzi isn’t happy. One can surmise that athletics director Heather Lyke isn’t happy, though since she has not granted any of Pittsburgh Sports Now’s half-dozen interview requests since the start of football season, that’s all we can do.
The goals of the Pitt football program are not clearly defined. Nobody expects Pitt to compete with Clemson at the top of the ACC. I think most realistic fans would even admit that being ranked on par with a team like Penn State down the road is probably out of Pitt’s reach at the moment.
But there has to be away to improve Pitt’s fortunes faster than improving by one win and losing in slightly less mediocre bowl games over the span of six years, right? One would hope.
First, let me get technical for a bit. I’m assuming most within the college football sphere have heard of Sagarin ratings. They were designed by statistician Jeff Sagarin and have been run by the USA Today for 35 years. They use records, margin of victory, strength of schedule and home and road records to produce a mathematical ranking of college football teams. They used to be a foundational part of the BCS computer formula.
Sagarin’s scheme isn’t perfect, and there are things that can be debated about the methodology, but for our purposes, it’s a fine proxy for identifying the great, good, average and poor college football teams.
During our four-year period from 2011-14, Pitt had an average end-of-year Sagarin rating of 61, just barely hanging on to a spot in the Power Five. As we saw in the 2013 conference re-alignment, which narrowly saw Pitt get an ACC spot ahead of schools like Cincinnati and UConn, that seems about right.
Here are the top 70 schools in average end-of-year Sagarin rating from 2011-14, with Pitt coming in at No. 54.
And here’s the list for 2015-20, using the current rankings as a proxy for 2020’s year-end results. Pitt has moved up to No. 43.
Of course, that’s just a different way to say what I said in part one of this series, that Pitt has shown definite but modest improvement during Narduzzi’s tenure.
But if we look at the line across Narduzzi’s time at Pitt, we’ll come to the first reason there’s friction when it comes to his continued status as the Panthers’ head coach: progress has stopped.
Pitt finished No. 40, 39 and 46 in the Sagarin rankings in Narduzzi’s first three years at Pitt, which represented a significant increase from the four years previous. Since then, things have stagnated at No. 50, 62 and currently 48.
It’s not necessarily that things have gone badly for Narduzzi at Pitt on the whole, it’s that things are going in the wrong direction midway through his sixth season.
If you re-arranged Narduzzi’s seasons and put the 2018, 2019 and 2020 seasons at the beginning of his tenure instead of the end, it’s likely that no one would bat an eyelash at his continued tenure here.
The combination of Pitt still not being where its fanbase would like to be overall, and seemingly getting farther from reaching that goal instead of closer to attaining it, is what has the temperature on Narduzzi’s seat turned up to 11.
But that’s not all we can learn here.
Pitt’s average increase of 13.5 standings points from the pre-Narduzzi era to the Narduzzi era is the 36th-biggest increase overall and the 20th-largest increase amongst Power Five schools. That’s in the top third and actually pretty good.
But what about those other schools that have seen bigger increases than Pitt has in the same time frame? What are they doing that Pitt hasn’t been doing?
Schools like Wake Forest, Colorado, Purdue and Indiana are up there with bigger increases than Pitt, but they had a lot farther to go, with initial ranks in the 90’s and lower.
Clemson and Ohio State went from very good to elite, which doesn’t seem like a particularly apt comparison.
In fact, there are truly very few schools that started about where Pitt started that have done significantly better than the Panthers have.
Minnesota went from 63 to 43, a plus-20 margin. Iowa State went from 69 to to 41, a plus-28 margin. Washington State went from 77 to 40, a plus-37 margin.
We’ll look at what the Gophers, Cyclones and Cougars did over the last six years that Pitt didn’t do and see if those lessons are applicable to Pitt, in part three of this story.