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The Best Player Pat Narduzzi Has Coached at Pitt Isn’t Much of a Surprise



Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the two first round NFL Draft picks of the Pat Narduzzi era, who helped lead Pitt to an ACC championship in 2021, check in as the two best players that Narduzzi has coached at Pitt.

In an interview with OutKick’s Anthony Farris, Narduzzi was asked to name the best player he’s coached during his eight-plus seasons in Pittsburgh. Unsurprisingly, he said it was Kenny Pickett.

“Kenny Pickett, without question,” Narduzzi said. “And that’s not only because he’s a quarterback and a leader, but because he’s got all the tools. He’s the whole package. I think he’s going to win a Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers … We’ve had a lot of good players here at Pitt in the last eight seasons I’ve been here. But Kenny Pickett, without a question.”

It’s hard to argue with that. Pickett, who started at Pitt for four seasons, is the most impactful player that Pitt has had in quite some time. His 2021 season, finishing third in the Heisman Trophy vote and leading Pitt to a conference title, made an impact that will not soon be forgotten in Pittsburgh — or elsewhere.

Kenny Pickett (8) celebrates touchdown during the ACC Championship Game – December 4, 2021 David Hague/PSN

Pickett owns virtually every passing record in Pitt history, and his senior season (334-of-497 pass attempts for 4,319 yards with 47 total touchdowns and seven interceptions) earned national recognition, major awards and All-American status. It’s hard to describe his level of importance — on and off the field.

And now that he’s still in Pittsburgh, serving as the starting quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers right on the other side of Pitt’s facilities, Narduzzi is still watching closely.

In another unsurprisingly shoutout, Narduzzi mentioned Calijah Kancey — Pitt’s other first round pick over the last two years. Kancey, an unheralded, undersized defensive tackle who went on to become Pitt’s first unanimous All-American since Aaron Donald, has a chance to become the next great NFL defensive lineman out of Pitt.

Pittsburgh Panthers defensive lineman Calijah Kancey (8) September 24, 2022 David Hague/PSN

Kancey put together a dominant two-season stretch at Pitt, racking up 64 tackles (40 solo), 27.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks as the focal point of Pitt’s pass rush from the interior — and his dominant 2022 season earned him ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors.

“Calijah Kancey, the defensive tackle who was just a first rounder with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he’s outstanding as well,” Narduzzi said. “But I have to say Kenny because of the position he plays. To be able to play that position and be as accurate and pass like he does sets him apart.”

There have been a lot of very talented players to come through Pittsburgh since Narduzzi took over on Dec. 26, 2014, including a number of All-Americans and NFL Draft picks, but both Pickett and Kancey embody what Narduzzi’s Panthers are all about.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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