Pat Narduzzi was officially announced as the 36th head coach in Pitt history eight years ago today. A stretch of time that has been nothing if not eventful.
However, do not mistake eventful for unstable. Because aside from a conference championship, Narduzzi’s stability has been his greatest contribution to Pitt football.
In the five seasons before Narduzzi’s hire, dating back to Dave Wannstedt’s resignation in Dec. of 2010, six different coaches (Wannstedt, Phil Bennett, Todd Graham, Keith Patterson, Paul Chryst and Joe Rudolph) are credited with coaching at least one game. A list that obviously doesn’t even include Michael Haywood.
Graham and Chryst left unceremoniously for new opportunities. Pitt was forced to name three interim coaches to finish a season over a five-year span. Insert Pat Narduzzi.
Narduzzi, the longtime Michigan State defensive coordinator and 2013 Broyles Award winner as college football’s top assistant, returned a bit closer to his roots by coming to Pitt — after growing up in Youngstown, Ohio and attending Youngstown State. He also immediately began the process of staying true to Pitt’s roots, installing his personal brand of defense.
Through eight seasons, Narduzzi has certainly done so. A style of aggressive, man-on-man defense that is truly unique to Narduzzi himself — for better or worse. From a unique kind of coach that fits Pittsburgh better than perhaps anyone could’ve expected.
In eight seasons, Narduzzi has put together a 61-41 record (41-25 ACC) that includes two ACC Coastal division titles and, of course, the 2021 ACC championship — the first in program history.
While the 2022 season didn’t hit the highs that the 2021 season did, failing to return to the ACC championship game and losing a couple of games that slipped right through his fingers, it encapsulated Narduzzi’s tenure. It’s sometimes frustrating. It’s sometimes euphoric. But it’s never a question of effort and heart.
With a 4-4 record, coming off a shellacking against North Carolina on the road, which included a blown lead in the second half, Pitt football reached a crossroads. A repeat was out the window, and another double-digit win season wasn’t going to happen either.
Pitt could either roll over and die, completely collapse and kill any momentum built off the championship, or string together four wins in a row and close the 2022 season on a winning note.
Narduzzi’s Panthers chose the latter — and earned a chance at a ninth win Friday against No. 18 UCLA in the Sun Bowl.
In the last two seasons, Pitt has put together 11-2 and 8-4 regular seasons and produced consensus All-Americans in Jordan Addison and Calijah Kancey and a first round NFL Draft pick in Kenny Pickett. It’s a stretch of wins that hasn’t been seen since the 2008-09 seasons. And with a Sun Bowl win, it would be a stretch of wins unseen since the 1980s.
The moments, especially over the last two seasons, will not soon be forgotten.
Pitt reached the top of the mountain on a fateful night in Charlotte, North Carolina last December, celebrations lasting well into the morning at Bank of America Stadium and in downtown Oakland, after an ACC championship victory.
The renewal of the Backyard Brawl against West Virginia in September allowed the largest crowd to attend a sporting event in Pittsburgh to watch hometown hero M.J. Devonshire return a J.T. Daniels interception for the game-winning touchdown — perhaps the loudest a crowd has ever been at Acrisure Stadium for Pitt football.
THIS. IS. THE. BACKYARD. BRAWL.
PITT SIX 🙌 @Mjdevonshirejr
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) September 2, 2022
Narduzzi isn’t perfect. He’s stubborn to a fault. He’s not one to back down when the mic is in his hand, which includes being one of the few to actually name names. And he hasn’t quite been able to avoid letdowns over the years. But he’s built a team in Pittsburgh that is as steadfast and hard-nosed as he is.
He’s also going to be staying in Pittsburgh until at least the 2030 season, after signing a contract extension over the offseason.
“I love Pitt football and the University of Pittsburgh,” Narduzzi said in the press release. “Pitt is truly home for my family and me. We are proud to represent this outstanding university and live in this tremendous city. I am so appreciative of our players, coaches and staff. Nothing great can be accomplished without their efforts and commitment. I’ve always talked about the importance of pushing together in the same direction. We have that at Pitt across the board.”
Narduzzi said afterward that he knew the deal had been done for a while, but he wanted to make sure that his coaching staff was taken care of at the same time.
“Taking care of the staff, making sure our coaching staff was taken care of. Heather (Lyke) and the Chancellor really made a commitment, and it’s probably our first significant raise for assistants since I’ve been here. It was a significant raise for our guys,” Narduzzi said in March.
Narduzzi is second all-time at Pitt with 61 wins, passing the legendary Pop Warner with a win over Miami in the season finale, and his .598-win percentage over 102 games speak not only to his longevity but his winning ways. Those wins didn’t result in much early on, but the program has consistently grown under his leadership.
- 2015 — 8-5 (6-2 ACC)
- 2016 — 8-5 (5-3)
- 2017 — 5-7 (3-5)
- 2018 — 7-7 (6-2) – ACC Coastal title
- 2019 — 8-5 (4-4)
- 2020 — 6-5 (5-5)
- 2021 — 11-3 (7-1) – ACC Coastal title, ACC championship
- 2022 — 8-4 (5-3)
It takes a city like Pittsburgh — a fanbase like Pitt’s — to both appreciate and denigrate the kind of coach Narduzzi is, and he’s the perfect coach for it. It may not always be perfect, but Narduzzi embodies the spirit of Pitt football.
In the days of NIL and the transfer portal, with Narduzzi himself drawing plenty and plenty of attention as a coach who hasn’t been afraid to voice his thoughts, he’s also embraced the new age and added where he’s seen fit.
The 2023 season will be Narduzzi’s ninth in Pittsburgh, and while it comes with a difficult non-conference schedule, his ability to reload and lead Pitt forward will be a key factor in further success.