Narduzzi says “See You in Charlotte” – Can Pitt Deliver?

On the eve of his fourth season as the Panthers' head coach, Pat Narduzzi has yet to reach the promised land. It didn’t happen for him at Michigan State initially, either. But when it eventually happened, it was real and it was spectacular.

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With his fourth season at Pitt set to kick off on Saturday afternoon against Albany, it’s appropriate to take a moment and welcome Pat Narduzzi to Pittsburgh.

He showed up as the Panthers’ latest new head coach in late December of 2014, but it’s been until only recently, perhaps, that we’ve seen the guy Pitt wanted all along truly arrive.

That would be the shoot-from-the-lip, against-the-grain, feather-ruffling, decorum-ignoring, quintessential football guy Narduzzi unquestionably emerged as during his eight-year run as the defensive coordinator at Michigan State.

That’s the guy the Panthers hired to replace Paul Chryst, who had been hired to replace Todd Graham, who had been hired to replace Mike Haywood, who had been hired to replace Dave Wannstedt at the conclusion of the 2010 season.

The guy who showed up as a first-time head coach once Chryst vacated the South Side turned out to be one who, somewhat understandably in retrospect, seemed a little too intent on being what head coaches are supposedly perceived to be rather than being himself.

The results have reflected more of a disconnect than a perfect fit.

We still aren’t sure if Narduzzi can or will win big at Pitt.

What we know so far is he’s hard on assistant coaches, directors of recruiting, graduate assistants and equipment managers, to name a few. We know you don’t have to venture too far from Oakland to find Panthers fans who are less than enamored with the direction in which they think Pitt’s headed based on Narduzzi’s 21-17 three-year record. We know he can be condescending rather than engaging with the media. We know that plenty of good seats are still available at Heinz Field, with the exception of when Penn State is in town (as the Nittany Lions will be on Sept. 8). And we know that for every upset of a No. 2 Clemson or a No. 2 Miami, there’s been a disheartening loss to a Syracuse or a North Carolina.

Pitt has also lost to Navy and Northwestern in bowl games under Narduzzi, which isn’t nearly as romantic as losing to Alabama, or even Central Florida.

But a corner may have nonetheless been turned.

At halftime of that aforementioned upset of No. 2 Miami last November, Narduzzi spit in the face of convention and called his shot. Although the Panthers’ lead was a slim 10-7 through two quarters, Narduzzi declared impending victory during a sideline interview with ESPN.

“It happened in West Virginia when we knocked off No. 2 (in 2007), it happened in South Carolina (against No. 2 Clemson in 2016), and it’s happening in Pittsburgh today,” Narduzzi announced.

It wasn’t what the vast majority of coaches would say in such a situation.

But it was Narduzzi speaking from the heart.

Pitt went on to win, 24-14.

He was at it again recently at Pitt’s Kickoff Luncheon at Heinz Field.

“Next time we’ll see you is in Charlotte for the ACC Championship Game, because we’re going,” Narduzzi told those in attendance.

Again, that’s not what we’ve been conditioned to hear in such situations, particularly from coaches whose record the previous season had been 5-7.

It appears Narduzzi no longer cares about what people think about what he says.

That’s when he’s at his best.

As for why now was the time to make such a proclamation, as opposed to his first three seasons at the helm, Narduzzi credited his players with calling his shot for him this time.

“It’s these seniors,” he explained this week. “It’s the way they talk. It’s the way they believe.” 

And it’s that belief that’s always been a difference-making element of Narduzzi-coached defenses and Narduzzi-coached teams.

“I think anything can be accomplished if everybody believes in each other,” he had insisted at his introductory press conference the day after Christmas back in ’14.

It also takes players. But with those seniors he referenced, 19 of them in all, with a sophomore quarterback who is easy to believe in (Kenny Pickett), and with a defense Narduzzi assesses as possessing physical readiness, durability and “a good understanding of what we’re doing,” who’s to say collective belief in the program won’t prove to be Pitt’s missing link?

It didn’t happen at Michigan State initially, either.

But when it eventually happened, it was real and it was spectacular.

At this juncture, at least, “See You In Charlotte” is clearly a better battlecry than “I Think We Can Beat Albany.”

“When you have a football team that wants to, and has a desire to win a championship, there is no pressure because they believe they’re there and they have the ability to do that,” Narduzzi insisted, throwing caution to the wind one final time before the season kicks off. “Our guys are ready to play ball.”

Welcome to Pittsburgh, Pat.

Or, more accurately, welcome back.

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section