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Former Miami HC Mark Richt Learned to Take Pitt Seriously the Hard Way



The ACC media selected Pitt to finish tied for sixth in the conference this season. It’s the first season of the new all-encompassing ACC, but it’s clear that once again, the national media doesn’t hold Pitt in high regard.

The ACC Network’s Wes Durham doesn’t share that sentiment. He believes that Pitt is firmly in the mix for that No. 3 spot in the ACC, right behind Florida State and Clemson, and if everything goes according to plan, he wouldn’t be surprised if Pitt is even better than that.

“The reality is that their continuity and their brand and their culture — again, here we go back to player development — it’s real,” Durham said Wednesday. “And I think that’s the reason that I believe in them. And I think the addition of Phil Jurkovec with Frank Cignetti and the kind of caliber of player they have around them, they’ve got some questions to answer, they’ve got a beneficial schedule that kind of stairsteps a bit, but if they get to Carolina healthy in game four then we’re getting ready to find out where that test is.”

Pitt opens with Wofford, Cincinnati and West Virginia before kicking off its ACC schedule at home against North Carolina. It isn’t the toughest conference schedule, to be fair.

But Pitt will take on UNC, Louisville, Wake Forest, Florida State and Duke in the conference — and FSU will come directly following an away Halloween weekend matchup against Notre Dame.

Miami isn’t on the schedule this season, and Mark Richt hasn’t coached the Hurricanes since 2018, but he still remembers how his squad wasn’t able to beat Pitt way back in 2017. It’s why, like Durham, he shares the same sentiment that Pitt isn’t afforded the respect it deserves on a wider scale.

“I learned my lesson as a coach, taking them for granted, in 2000 whatever it was, 2017 I think,” Richt said Wednesday. “We had won 15 games in a row, went to Pitt, they were 4-7 or something like that, we were undefeated and 2 or 3 in the College Football Playoff. And little freshman quarterback Kenny Pickett showed up. And he whopped our tails.”

Sad Miami Fan November 24, 2017 — DAVID HAGUE/PSN

Miami entered the final game of the regular season in 2017 ranked No. 2 in the CFP Poll, right behind Alabama and looking ahead to an eventual matchup against Clemson in the ACC championship game in a few weeks. The Hurricanes hadn’t lost in over a year, not since a 30-27 loss to Notre Dame in October of 2016, and it appeared that a playoff berth was on the horizon.

Enter Kenny Pickett in the first start of his illustrious Pitt career.

In a miraculous performance, highlighted by a diving touchdown in the fourth quarter to really seal a win over the ‘Canes, Pickett completed 18-of-29 pass attempts for 193 yards and a touchdown. And he added 60 rushing yards and two more touchdowns.

Pitt picked up a 24-14 win over Miami, knocking the ‘Canes back to No. 7 in the next poll and starting a tailspin that resulted in losses to Clemson in the ACC title game and Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl.

“Whatever happened to him?” Durham joked.

“I think he’s still around,” Richt conceded with a grin.

“I think he’s still hanging around, hanging around here actually,” Durham said.

Richt would coach one more season at Miami, retiring following the 2018 season (having spent 15 years at Georgia and three years at Miami), and he would join the ACC Network upon his coaching retirement. Miami hasn’t had a 10 win season since that 2017 season.

Pickett would spend four more seasons at Pitt, leading the Panthers to an 11-2 record in 2021 — capped by an ACC championship over Wake Forest. He spends his time quarterbacking the Pittsburgh Steelers these days.

Pickett may not be quarterbacking the Panthers anymore, but both Durham and Richt — maybe for different reasons — have seen why it’s not wise to bet against Pitt under Pat Narduzzi.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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