Right now, by all appearances, we are standing in fine stead with our favorite college football program. The Pitt team is coming of an 8-5 season with a head coach, Mr. Pat Narduzzi, who has won the hearts and minds of the Pitt faithful. Our recruiting has gone well under his watch so far; the staff coaches are doing their jobs to expectations and our student/athletes are going to class, keeping out of trouble and thus representing the University well.
This is what good football programs are expected to do and it looks like this will be the start of a nice run of multiple winning seasons if not some championship play in the near future.
If that happens, if we do that and Narduzzi stays the course over a long period of time (which in college football is 5-10 years) we will buck a nasty trend that Pitt has had with their football head coaches. It isn’t just losing games or scandal that separates Pitt from successful coaches – sometimes it happens when the program looks to be in good shape – at least on the field of play.
It doesn’t take a long memory – just seven years actually – to realize things aren’t always going to turn out how we want them to at Pitt. The thing that we have lacked in our history is stability and without that we have had more turmoil than smooth sailing
That is because things don’t always stay the same and changes happen when we least expect them.
As much as we may hate to admit it I think that in the back of Pitt fan’s minds there lies the nagging question of “How long is Pat Narduzzi going to stick with us?” I know, why jinx it by bringing it up? But the truth is that it is an issue that has a basis for current discussion even as much as we do not want it to happen for many years.
We see that writ large in the history of Pitt’s head coaches and the decisions they have made along with the decisions Pitt administrators has made about them.
Right now Pat Narduzzi is in the HC position, AD Scott Barnes is making good plans and actually sticking to them and a we have Chancellor Pat Gallagher who seems to be a true sports fan and who is willing to provide the resources to run things correctly. That is a trifecta not seen on the Pitt campus for decades.
All the pointers are positive. That is a relief and interjects a sense of fun into fan’s lives… and because that is a different feeling that we have had recently we are flying through a pink cloud of contentment… at least most of us are.
But we also know that as Pitt fans we tend to always worry about what is going to happen next week, next month and next year. It is the nature of the beast when you follow a college football program which has had more ups and downs than a sine curve since we were students…of any age.
We older fans we tend to look back at the mid 1970s to 1984 as our “Glory Years”. Well, they are that if we are discussing Pitt football over the last 40 years only . Of course students of Pitt football also know that our true Glory Years – when we were kicking out National Championships like a Mormon wife does babies – were back in the first three decades of the 20th century.
The legendary John Bain “Jock” Sutherland coached Pitt to five national titles. His 1937 team ranked as the best in the land, with a 9–0–1 record. Among the Panthers’ vanquished opponents that year were Penn State (28–7), Notre Dame (21–6), Nebraska (13–7), Wisconsin (21–0), and West Virginia (20–0). The tie was a 0–0 deadlock with Fordham.
Under Glenn “Pop” Warner, Pitt won three national titles in four years. Considered one of the greatest coaches in football history, Warner directed the Panthers to unanimous titles in 1915, 1916, and 1918. During that period, Pitt won 30 straight games.
Interestingly enough both of those legendary coaches left Pitt under duress. For Sutherland it was this:
After years of struggling with the University for sustained financial support, Sutherland resigned in 1938 because the school’s Chancellor, John Gabbert Bowman, instituted a policy of de-emphasis for the football program, eliminating athletic scholarships, student athlete stipends, and the recruiting funds. Bowman’s moves, which resulted in Sutherland’s departure, were controversial among students and supporters of the football program.
Fast forward to Johnny Majors accepting the position at Pitt and we see a steady climb from a 1-10 1972 season to a National Championship year 12-0 record. A whirlwind of success that made us students and fans at the time feel like we were on top of the world and the future looked so bright it was scary.
And scary it turned out to be when Majors left the Pitt job for Tennessee… announcing that move on December 4th – weeks before we were to play in the Sugar Bowl of that year.
Perhaps the best played four year stretch in Pitt’s history was the years between 1978 through 1981 when Coach Jackie Sherrill racked up a 41-7 won/loss record including three straight 11-1 years.
You could stack up HC Pop Warner’s 1915-1918 years against that when we went 31-1 but that was the really olden days.
Sherrill had us on the cusp of a championship and we wanted him to be HC for a long time but reality reared its ugly head and the split between the administration and Sherrill, mostly about the financial aspects of his employment, got in the way so off to Texas A&M he went… and the program sputtered along after two good years then sunk back down.
The bottom line with the Pitt football coaches is that the school has been either a stepping stone to better coaching jobs or a graveyard where coaching careers end.
From 1972 on we have these graveyard guys: DiPasqua; Done; Fazio; Done, Gottfried; Done, Wannstedt; Done all those careers are buried alongside the ghost of old Pitt stadium.
The up and out men; Majors, Sherrill, Harris, Graham and Chryst are coaches who went on to bigger and better programs and, not the least of it, better paychecks – some by a long shot.
What does this have to do with the 2016 football program and Pat Narduzzi? Possibly everything and hopefully nothing. But we would be sticking our heads firmly in the sand if we didn’t acknowledge that if Narduzzi has a solid run of two or three successful years he’d be a major target of other programs.
I truly believe that we have to face the fact that Pitt hasn’t been an elite program and I don’t just mean counting wins – but by tepid at best alumni and donor support, lack of administration interest and support and perhaps the deepest wound of all in extremely fickle fan support.
If Pat Narduzzi pulls out 8-9 wins in this season’s tough schedule and beats some of those talented teams in Clemson, OK State, PSU and North Carolina in his second year at the helm here he is going to be a prime piece of meat on the coaching rotisserie. Schools with bigger and better programs – and more full pocketbooks than Pitt has – are going to be hounding him to leave.
We can say all we want about his not taking other jobs while a coordinator at MSU… but we overlook the fact that he was the highest paid staffer in the Big Ten in 2014 pulling in almost a million per in salary- $907K to be exact. That is pretty darn close to what HCs were making at a lot of schools themselves. He also was the assistant Head coach so add incentive clauses and extraneous monies to that $907K and he was sitting pretty.
Factor in also that his children were in grade school and high school during the eight years of Narduzzi’s time at MSU. That educational and social stability for the family means a lot to people who move around every few years as I can tell you from experience. Thus he had some strong and valid reasons to stay right where he was in East Lansing.
So in 2014 at age 49, which still leaves him many coaching years ahead, he takes the Pitt job for a pay raise of less than a million dollars. After his last December’s contract extension of two years he’s now making $2.0M – so his 2014 salary was surely less than that.
Even with that extension pay raise he’s 68th in the nation in salary folks. Put it this way – there are at least 19 programs who are currently paying their HCs at least $3.5M base salary which is salary money – multiplied over a five year contract – that far outpaces what Pitt has been willing to pay anyone.
Every single one of those schools, with the exception of maybe Louisville, is considered to have a ‘better’ program than Pitt does now. Tack on the reality that if any of those schools start seriously chasing Narduzzi they will increase that current base salary of the departed coach to entice Narduzzi to sign the dotted line…let’s say to at least $4M per.
I keep hearing fans and the media say “Well, Pitt can pay more now...” and I wonder why exactly that is. The Pitt admin says “his salary is competitive” but that is based on being competitive with ACC head coaches – not nationwide.
Does anyone really believe Pitt is going to match a $4M base then add on all the incentives and other payments that greatly kicks up a HC’s compensation package? I’ll believe it when I see it and personally I don’t think we’ll see that kind of a financial jump.
Narduzzi is at the point in his life right now – or at least in a year or two – where he could easily be in the position to get that “Screw You” money from a bigger program that has deeper bank accounts. It is every true professional’s goal to be at the top of his chosen profession. I think Narduzzi is just that type of man and will take the shot at the top if he’s offered.
All that said – I also had a conversation in Annapolis the night before the 2015 bowl game where Pat Bostick Jr leaned over to me and said “It really is a different time at Pitt now Reed.” He’s as inside as it gets so I have to hope that is and continues to be the case. I think he’s right in Admin’s attitude and providing other support systems… but with the money issue I will have to actually see Pitt match a $4+M per contract offer.
Believe me I want Pitt to have good solid seasons with a good HC in Pat Narduzzi and I believe we will have that. The question in my mind is if we can keep that marriage intact when in the future Pitt is put in the position of reaching a financial level it isn’t prepared to go as a University.
PITTSBURGH – Pitt sophomore safety Jordan Whitehead has been named to the 39-player watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is annually presented to college football’s top defensive back by the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.