Pitt football head coach Pat Narduzzi has worked with many coordinators and members of his staff throughout his nine-year tenure at the helm of the program.
He will face off against his former offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, who is now the head coach of Wofford, the first opponent for Pitt in 2023. The two teams will face off in Pitt’s home opener on Saturday, Sept. 2 at Acrisure Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Watson served as the Pitt offensive coordinator from 2017-18.
“…Shawn Watson, is a great friend of mine, goes way back,” Narduzzi said at his weekly press conference on Monday. “Obviously he worked here for a couple years, and we still stay in touch. Just a super coach and has been a head coach before.”
This is the second head coaching job that Watson has held in his career, coaching at Southern Illinois from 1994-96 and going 11-22 in his three seasons at the helm.
Watson took over the Wofford job as interim head coach last season. Former Pitt defensive coordinator Josh Conklin resigned after losing the first five games of the 2023 season, and had also only won a single game each in the past two seasons prior.
Despite the tough start, Watson managed to lead the Terriers to a 3-3 record the rest of the way, with wins coming all at home against the Citadel, East Tennessee State and VMI. He earned the head coaching job following the season.
“Officially I’ll congratulate him in the media,” Narduzzi said on Watson taking over as Wofford head coach. “Happy for him and his wife. It’s a great opportunity for him to take over that program and have something great there.”
Watson and Narduzzi worked together in the early 1990s at Miami (Ohio). Narduzzi served there as a graduate assistant in 1990 and 1991 and then as wide receivers coach in 1992, while Watson worked around the offense from 1987-93.
Narduzzi credits Watson with teaching him how to run an offense during their time as coaches of the Redhawks, and also about recruiting too.
“I’ll never forget we went into Millett Hall, which is a basketball arena at night, when we got all the work done at night, and he coached me up on releases and routes and all things I needed to know as a coach,” Narduzzi said. “I’ll never forget that, and I attribute a lot of things I do just teaching-wise to what he was able to teach me back in the day, and he was a heck of a recruiter, too. Shawn Watson is a great recruiter, so I learned a lot of recruiting stuff from Shawn Watson.”
Narduzzi has coached against someone he has worked with before, so this meeting against Watson isn’t the first occurrence. Scott Schafer, who coached at Syracuse for three seasons from 2013-15, faced Narduzzi at the Carrier Dome in 2015.
The two worked together at Northern Illinois in the early 2000s, when Schafer was the defensive coordinator and Narduzzi served as linebackers coach. Then No. 25 Pitt defeated Syracuse in a close match, 23-20 in their 2015 matchup.
“I think it’s going to be different playing against somebody you know, whether they worked under you or worked with you,” Narduzzi said on facing Watson. “I don’t know if that matters. Again, I don’t look at it as worked for, worked underneath, who’s the boss, who’s not the boss. It’s about people, and to me I treat them all the same. It doesn’t matter.”
Watson served as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks for the Panthers during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, which did not fair well for him at the position.
He oversaw a Pitt offense that finished 98th in the country in total offense and 94th in the country in scoring offense. Pitt were especially unable to move the ball through the air, finishing 121st in passing offense. Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett had his passer rating drop from 125.8 as a freshman in 2017 to 120.3 as a sophomore.
Despite the poor performance from the Panthers offensively under Watson, Narduzzi still sees him as a friend and wishes him the best, outside of their matchup this Saturday, of course.
“I’ve played against guys that I’ve worked with in the past, whether it be as an assistant or as a head coach,” Narduzzi said. “You never want to see anybody lose, especially your friends, and you never want to get beat by your friends, so it’s always tough that way because they’re friends of yours and you want to see them have success every game except the one that they have to play you.”