What Exactly is Same Old Pitt (and Do We Have It?)

“Now Sir! Time doth bring sad changes, for people often change and seldom do better”

When I was in my 20s there was a West Coast fusion band I loved named Tower of Power and one of their hit songs was titled “What is Hip?”   Here is the refrain from that…

“What is hip?
Tell me, tell me if you think you know
What is hip?
If you was really hip
The passing years would show
You into a hip trip
Maybe hipper than hip
But what is hip?”

The point is that being that “hip” is flexible, it differs and is unique to you.  You can be hip one day and things change and you are on the outside looking in. Unless you create your own style.  Then you are hipper than hip because you own it.

I immediately thought of that on Friday when I was reading the comments to that article written about the aftermath of the Bowl loss up in NYC. The phrase SOP or “Same Old Pitt” came up, as it regularly does, about a hundred times a day when talking about Pitt football

I wrote then that SOP ‘has no real definition and a thousand faces‘ because I think that it is one phrase we throw out, usually in dismay, as it is seen and processed through our own individual lens.  If those lenses are blue and gold then you most probably didn’t see much SOP over the course of the season that just ended.

However, the more pessimistic fans saw SOP under every bush and around every corner from September until last Wednesday.  It is a hard question and answers differ so let’s take a look at the Pitt football program itself before we start to try to pin an answer down.

When I look at Pitt football history I see four distinct eras.  The “Old Glory Days” which is pre-WWII and when we had giants like Jock Sutherland and Pop Warner striding around Oakland and winning national titles.  Eight of those to be exact.  For me, since I was a student at Pitt in the 1970s those day were to far removed for me to have any feelings for other than as a fan of Pitt history as I have always been.

But for my parents and grandparents, Pitt students and administrators all, those were their Glory Days and they never stopped talking about them so I grew up hearing every story and cliché there was about The Pitt Football Powerhouse in those days of my  youth.

For them as students in the 1920s to the 1940s “Same Old Pitt” was pretty freaking fantastic.  Take a look back at those days via this site.  We had eight straight years with eight or more wins which is quite the accomplishment considering they only played a nine game schedule.

Pitt’s second era , let’s call it Pitt’s ‘modern era’, was from the 1950 up to the 1970s.  There are a few of us older folks on here who have that time period as a basis for our ‘hands on’ Pitt experience.  That is when I was on-campus; Dan 72 and other readers also have that period as our student frame of reference. 

We saw and were close enough to the worst and the best of what ever happened in Pitt Stadium including the decade of 1965-1974 when we averaged only 2.8 wins per year.  I went to every home game from 1955 until 1978 and heard all about the dismal ’60s. Then Pitt turned things around and ramped the program up to give us those glorious winning seasons run under Johnny Majors.  He took us to the pinnacle of college ball with an undisputed national championship.

So of course we know first hand how wide and savage the swings of Pitt football can be.  But that was also a spoiling time for us because after we left school Pitt did something they didn’t normally do – they kept winning for another stretch of time.

With Coach Jackie Sherrill and Oakland’s own star QB Dan Marino and those great supporting casts they had, mostly from the local tri-state area and so were hometown favorites, Pitt ripped off a three-year 33-3 record and was on top of the world.  Now we had a “New Glory Days”.

Then came what I like to call the “Post-’80” past. I look at that as from when Foge Fazio was fired until when Walt Harris was hired to take the program over from a faltering Paul Hackett.  Pitt had  an average at best record during that period with an eight win season stuck in the middle of mostly four and five win years.

But that’s not so bad in comparison to the decade from Hackett’s arrival in 1990 until 1999 when Pitt averaged only 4.4 wins per year; another mediocre at best time in Pitt history.  We’ve had our share of those, haven’t we?

But since we are discussing the ‘Same Old Pitt’ syndrome now we have to have a firm time span to use as a reference for us to look back from today and so I think 1997-2016, those 20 years, is a good basis for that.

It has been a weird 20 years for sure. Some of you younger readers on here went to school back then; we have commenters who were students during the totally ridiculous and in my opinion embarrassing “Back to the Future” or  the “Majors II” years when we had 3, 3, 2 and 4 wins.  That sucked for sure and I feel for you guys.

But we have also seen some pretty interesting and sometimes amazing stuff happen with the program from our last five real head coaches. That’s right, five working head coaches in the last 20 years beginning with Walt Harris followed by Dave Wannstedt, Todd Graham, Paul Chryst and now Pat Narduzzi.

That change-over is part of why I think it is hard to get a true handle on what SOP actually means because the main circumstances of Pitt football kept morphing so much. Which ironically created its own SOP conditions regarding staff stability – there was none.  It wasn’t just the HCs who changed places, it was the accompanying seven or eight staff and position coaches also.

Throw in two separate Chancellors and what will soon be a total three different Athletic Directors and you see that when the ground kept shifting under Pitt’s feet its hard to get a purchase and move forward.

In the paragraph above I count what had to be least 70 different personnel changes over that 20 years. I’m not talking about minor actors like departmental staff positions but people who had worked directly with the players themselves or were responsible for plans, programs and policies that directly impacted the players and the football program.

I’m not a college football historian but I’d like to know if any other D1 program ever had to deal with such constantly changing circumstance that Pitt has had to contend with especially in the past six years.

Yet through all of that we didn’t see the team or the program tank as we had seen Pitt do in those time periods directly before the Harris hire.  We fans currently think things are not up to par, have been mostly negative and worse of all it has been SOP!  But aside from a singular two win season in 1997 we have had only five seasons where we won less than 6 games in twenty years – those were with a minimum of five wins. 

Get that?  Aside from one really bad year the worst of it was five wins per season.

Folks – there are many, many programs who slide well below the .500 mark with none of those negative factors Pitt had to deal with.  Some programs have prolonged losing seasons.  Some powerhouse programs dip below the break even line with no external factors pressing on them at all. 

For example Texas just had two 5 win seasons in the last two years. Michigan had 3, 5 and 5 wins seasons in the last nine years. Stanford had 1, 4 and 5 wins in that same period.  It has happened all over college ball with programs great and small – yet not with Pitt in a long time.

Remember that lead-in quote from above ‘… for people often change and seldom do better”  Well, that’s what happened to those big dog programs.  They changed and quickly and not for the better. 

Yet Pitt has a few 6 and 7 win seasons lately and we fans are tearing our hair out thinking that how bad that is and that nothing can be done to make things better.  I do find it funny that the coach we all point to for having the winningest seasons in the last 20 years, Dave Wannstedt with his 9, 10 and 8 win years also had our last stretch of 5 win years.

Things were bad then for Pitt, but under the same coach things changed and we got better.  Thus is life in sports.

So while we may be pointing to this year’s second consecutive eight win season and cry “Same Old Pitt” that isn’t entirely true. Yes, there may be a semblance of SOP because we didn’t progress in the number of wins from one year to the other.  And it may be SOP because we lost a second bowl game we should have won; of course Lady Justice has the PSU and Clemson games on the other side of her scales in that regard.  But really this version of SOP ain’t all that bad recent history-wise.

That’s the more macro view. Let’s put a larger magnification lens in our Pitt glasses and look at this last season in particular.

Two things jump out right away when I think about 2016.  We had an eight game winning season and we set historical records on offense.  Those are two damn good things to have accomplished my friends. I think it is safe to say that ending up 10th nationally in scoring 41 points a game is a real accomplishment.

This comes on the heels of these last three offenses we had with two different OCs:

2105 – 28.2 ppg (68th)

2104 – 31.8 ppg (46th)

2103 – 26.3 ppg (80th)

I’d say there was positive change there and a pretty dramatic one at that.  Hell, even the ‘dropped like a rock’ defense we had wasn’t SOP – it was worse.

I am not the biggest Pat Narduzzi fanatic.  I think he was a good hire and has done a good job but I haven’t been over the moon about his actually game day coaching at all.  I wrote in the preseason that I wanted to see one more thing out of him; something that he didn’t get done in 2015 and that was to win a ‘big’ conference game.

Well he did that in beating #2  and possible National Champs Clemson on their home turf.  That wasn’t SOP.  Yes, we have had dramatic wins in the recent past.  2007’s 13-9 win over WVU comes to mind as does our 41-38 five TD pass win over ND back in 2004.  But those were high points in a season with no other big wins.  Narduzzi beat Clemson and also beat arch-rival Penn State earlier in the year and that wasn’t SOP either.

One of my benchmarks of a good head coach is how he handles the players off the field and how well they respond to his personal leadership efforts.  Coach Narduzzi has had a solid 18 months without a player arrest – that isn’t SOP, but is a great thing to have accomplished. 

Narduzzi also kisses his players on the face on national TV.  That isn’t SOP but it got the job done when needed.

So through my lens I think this has been a darn good year in a lot of respects.  If I had to say we saw SOP in any way I’d say that it was that we couldn’t capitalize on our great offense to win 10 or 11 regular season games because our defense dragged us down so badly. It truly was horrid.

Maybe that act of not being able to completely fulfill promises, in this case the promise of having a better defense then we did in 2015, is somewhat SOP and kept a good season from being a great one.  Just as we couldn’t close the deals earlier in the decade by not being able to hold leads against Cincinnati and UCONN with those losses costing us conference championships – this season we couldn’t stop anyone’s passing game enough to win a conference championship either.

Oh – here’s the last bit of that song…

As you striving to find the right road
There’s one thing you should know
What’s hip today
Might become passe


384 thoughts on “What Exactly is Same Old Pitt (and Do We Have It?)

  1. Reed, FYI
    Saw the Stones in Cleveland’s Municiple Stadium in 75 or 76(?) with over 80,000 other people. Tower of Power was one of the front bands! (Along with J. Geils and a couple other bands also). It was an all day event and quite memorable.


  2. Reed, I agree wholeheartedly. While we are were disappointed by the bowl game performance, I believe we will continue to improve and become an annual competitor for the Coastal title which IMO is a realistic goal.

    It is likely that the final poll will reveal two Top 10 teams we beat, and a 3rd we lost in the final minute at their place. And if you look at how the teams fared that we played this year, you can’t help but notice that we played a pretty difficult schedule. Last time I checked, our SOS was 15 … not bad considering that there are 128 teams.

    While we’ll always have doubters and cynics posting on this site …. I choose to see the glass half full, and the water level rising right now. And really don’t much care about the ones who always point to the dark side.


  3. Santan III …. the original Santana band (Woodstock era) with Neil Shon (soon to be Journey guitarist) and Tower of Power horn section. Great album!


  4. Off topic I know but did Jordan Whitehead play on Wednesday?
    Did Maurice French play ? At CB? Did Wirginis get any tackles (don’t remember seeing him at all)?
    How many really bad snaps did Officer make this year–I count 4? What is typical for a season?


  5. Whiteheaad and Ffrench did not play. Didn’t read anything about injury or suspension on French; pre-game pictures showed Whitehead in removable cast.

    I would think 4 bad snaps over a season is not that bad IMO


  6. SOP only existed this year by having an excellent OC only to lose him after 1 year …Good Lord can’t we have some stability where we are shining for a few years…SOP existed in the wrong hire for an AD …SOP didn’t exist during any of the games (12) which I watched this year
    All I can think about today is the November evening when we were walking back from Memorial Stadium after laying 43 points on Clemson…We were # 1 in Clemsonville and it felt like #1 in the Land…we had a great year of entertainment and the page has turned…Welcome 2017…We will still be rooting for our school through all the ups and downs


  7. So Pitt beats Clemson 43-42 and Clemson humiliates THE Ohio State 31-0. So PittPovites/ Blatherites, here is how close you came to having a non-SOP team this year: Pitt heavily, heavily recruited New Castle (and native Pennsylvanian; not Ohioan) Malik Hooker in the class of 2014 and lost him to Ohio State and their recruiter Luke Fickell. Say he stays home and replaces Webb in Pitt’s starting lineup. Last year Pitt went after cornerback Kareem Felder of Baltimore but also lost him to Ohio State. Though a true Freshman, this 4 star recruit would have passed up either Maddox or Lewis in the starting line-up, if our Defensive coaches have a pulse.

    Same old Pitt would have been remedied not in the September through November playing period, but in the February signing period. And the two named players above could have been playing Clemson in the ACC title game with a chance for the final 4. I’ll bet the house that Pitt gives Clemson a better game than the Buckeyes.


  8. we could have had a DB of Detrick Henry and J Whitehead at CB, and Montae Nicholson and Hooker at safety. But we recruited the hell out of Donovan Jeter of Beaver Falls and Wade at Clairton, and didn’t get them either. Face it … as long as we get 20 – 30,000 empty seats (at Heinz or OCS) … we are not going to clean up our backyard.

    You may have noticed a new recruiting emphasis in Florida, DC area as well as New Jersey and Ohio …. places where there are more quality recruits than Western PA.


  9. No doubt recruiting is the key to success.

    Very enjoyable read, Reed. Maybe unfair but SOP is every time something goes wrong at Pitt. So impossible to totally eliminate.

    But eight wins is better than six, so things are looking better.

    It is all in your perspective, although my first game included Paul Martha, I really didn’t start paying attention till Hart and De Pasqua and I remember thinking high shool football is better and more exciting than Pitt. The fans were certainly more engaged at high school games.

    I was still on campus as a grad student when Majors and Dorsett changed everything. Also Billy Knight got everyones attention too.

    Cas Myslinki never got the celebrity he deserved.

    College sports has changed immensely since then. It is all about money now. TV revenue, shoe and clothing endorsements and deep pocketed boosters.

    It has been a roller coaster ride, hopefully Pitt is on the rise.


  10. Pitt DB recruit Paris Ford played a very good UA all-star game today. He made numerous pass break-ups and big hit tackles. He looked like he could start at Pitt right away.

    Never once did I hear psu DB recruit Wade’s name called. Non-factor in the game?

    Pitt RB recruit Todd Sibley looked really good as well.

    No new Pat Signals from the game…


  11. Buzz Ridl was an agent of change. In the 60s and early 70s, Duquesne and Red Manning ruled city basketball. But with the help of Billy Knight, Pitt BB became every bit the equal of Duquesne (even with Norm Nixon) …. and when the Big East came calling a few years later, they chose Pitt over Duquesne. Not so sure it would have happened had it nor been for Ridl.


  12. I also didn’t agree with the negativity directed at Officer. That last snap was too early and Peterman wasn’t looking. Our O-line was a key to our offensive strength and Officer was solid? Centers don’t play mistake free more than anyone else. We’ll see how Dintino does if he is the new guy and Officer is moved to guard. Hopefully some of the young guys will be ready for the following year.


  13. Knight Penn Hills, Martin Baldwin, Richards SoHills(?), Bolla Canevin, Starr Shadyside Acadmeny

    6th man Waggoner (Beaver Falls) only outside was walk-on Willy Kelly (from Philly or Baltimore?)

    Hard to believe that team finished in Top 10 (25-4)


  14. So, no news on the OC hire, yet. Could it be that Duzz’s guy still has a game or more left to play?

    If college, of course it would be one game left. If an NFL assistant, today and posssible playoffs.

    Who’s left in college – I’ll eliminate Clemson and bama, just because…

    Iowa – Greg Davis is 65 yrs old and worked for Jackie Sherril at one point – Nah
    Florida – Doug Nussmeier is a former Michigan State QB coach – Maybe
    W.Michigan – Kirk Ciarrocca is a Temple grad and former Delaware OC who coached Flacco – Maybe
    Wisconsin – Joe Rudolph grew up in Belle Vernon, PA and left to play FB at Wisky – had his chance – Nah
    USC – Tee Martin is a former Tenn QB and at the top of many lists as a future HC – Nah
    psu – Joe Moorehead grew up in Pittsburgh and was a Pitt grad assistant – tainted by the hated pedo enablers – Nah
    Auburn – two young Co-OC’s in Rhett Lashlee (Ark. grad) and Kodi Burns (Auburn grad) – Maybe Rhett
    Oklahoma – Lincoln Riley is a TX Tech grad – Nah

    NFL – two offensive assistance that played QB at Pitt – Alex Van Pelt (career stats leader) and Luke Getsy – Maybe Van Pelt

    4 – Maybe candidates – Nussmeier, Ciarrocca, Lashlee and Van Pelt

    I’d skip the FL OC, but I can wait for any of the other three…


  15. SOP would mean no ACC titles or even a chance to play in a title game. Tier 2 bowl games and losses to mediocre teams. No big wins against elite teams on the national stage. Losing to the Pedos and Hoopies. I do see that Pitt football appears to have turned the corner. Stability will now be key.

    I’m not sold on Stallings yet but time will tell. The ACC conference in both football and basketball is a killer. Need to be able to recruit elite athletes and sell them on Pitt and the program.

    Biggest question will be the new AD. He alone will determine SOP. A truly great AD can transform the culture. SOP is a mindset…a losers mentality. He can make SOP anonymous with winning national championships and a commitment to excellence.


  16. SOP is hiring a transient for AD, a relative no-name (except for perhaps EJ).

    SOP is hiring an offensive coordinator who is on par with Conklin.

    SOP is getting bypassed, yet again, in the bowl selection process.

    SOP is allowing the local media to worship the Nits while they dump on us.

    SOP is allowing the Rooneys to dictate the field preparation, logo’s, etc.

    SOP is allowing the Pirates to force us to play big games based upon their schedule.

    SOP is playing Thursday night home games and showing the stadium 20% full.

    SOP is employing an arrogant ass for an AD, who treats the paying fans like dirt.

    What else have I missed, fella’s?


  17. For me SOP on game day was the Northwestern game. Tripping at the goal line, Conner stopped for no gain at the one, Orndoff dropping a sure TD and so on. Guys who have made plays all year doing once in a lifetime mistakes in the same game.

    away from the field. Barnes was a bad hire and Salem getting the job would be SOP.

    If we had won the Northwestern game I was prepared to say that SOP was almost out the door, now we will see who they hire for OC.


  18. SOP is seldom if ever showing up for bowl games and ending the season with a bad loss thereby leaving a bad taste in the mouths of Pitt fans for 9 months while screwing up the perception of recruits right before LOI Day.

    Wash, rinse, repeat….


  19. Nice piece, Reed. It sure has been nice to mix in some anti-SOP moments this year. I mean, where would we be right now if the PSU, Clemson, and GT closing moments went the other way?


  20. imo, SOP has nothing to do with PITT directly itself. It’s all about the PITT fans…. Had to get this in tonight and hopefully I’ll bore you all tomorrow with more. I’m just so freaking tired tonight from this long long holiday season…ike


  21. wwb, you failed to mention Buzz Ridle’s secret weapon: Tiger Paul! The most enfamous Pitt bb fan in the history of the school!!!!
    May Buzz and Tiger RIP


  22. Regarding our last 40-50 years. We only got some dramatic action from the Muckety Mucks when Pitt reached Rock Bottom.

    The mediocrity of 5 or 6 wins and an occasional 8 or even 9 over the last 16 years has caused Pitt to just keep chugging along the same pathway. Nowadays a successful season to them is a bowl season which can be reached with the mediocrity of 6-6 and even worse….5-7.

    It would have probably been better for us to swallow the pain of going 1-10 or 2-9 several seasons, to get the MM’s to do something more dramatic.


  23. Pitt’s 1974 starting basketball guard Tom Richards, went to Moon HS. I believe he led the WPIAL in scoring his senior season. Played against him a couple times, he would have been great with a 3 point line.


  24. Jack again,
    A video is worth a thousand words……….
    Enjoyed it immensely!

    To me, SOP is like being Charlie Brown. Lucy convinces you that she will hold the ball for you so you can kick it. You believe her yet once again and, yes, once again as you run mightily up to kick the ball……… she pulls it off the kicking pad.
    1000’s of Pitt fans swarmed into NYC to watch their Panthers win their ninth game of the season and be ranked inside the Top 20 over a 6-6 Big Joke team whose conference is getting eaten alive in bowl games. So what happens? Lucy pulls the ball which results in SOP, leaving thousands of Pitt fans frozen, frustrated, and feeling foolish for believing THIS TIME Lucy was going to let Charlie Brown kick the ball.
    To blame SOP on the fans is the same as saying the problem is not Lucy – it’s Charlie Brown.
    A realist is neither an optimist nor a pessimist. To blame the fan is simply unrealistic.


  25. To me, SOP has nothing to do with luck. It is a choice that is made that favors mediocrity or the perception of it; or, a choice made that is reminiscent of poor choices of the past.


  26. ~ exactly Pittman4ever. Pitt is lucky to have such a loyal core of supporters considering what they have put the fans/supporters thru over the last 33 years.


  27. To blame the fans is akin to blaming the soldiers in a war. They are not the ones who make the decisions that affect the whole outcome of things. They are just along for the ride.


  28. Just found the first evidence of a report for the Pitt AD search from a tweet on PSN –

    “If these names (3) are accurate, I like the non Pitt guy best. He’s a current AD. The other 2 (Pitt) are well known names”

    I know it is not “news”, but it helps the mind to speculate.


  29. @ GASMAN, when was the last time Pitt only put 13,000 butts in the yellow seats of Heinz Field for a football game? Which would be the 20% of which you speak of above?


  30. I find it ironic that Pittman4ever uses the “Peanuts” analogy to define SOP and substantiate that it remains because Pitt lost it’s bowl game.
    Instead I would counter that logic with the example of Pitt’s biggest win in years at Clemson that was in fact a long SUCCESSFUL FG kick by Blewitt in the most pressure packed environment in the ACC being Death Valley. Pretty funny stuff when right after that another poster is trying to deflect the shitty way people view their own team by saying “it ain’t us, it’s our school’s leadership”!

    Sorry, I think that Ike and Dr. Tom got it right, Pitt fans suck in supporting their team, jump ship every time things don’t go their way.


  31. SOP is losing to a 6-6 NU team in a bowl game that Pitt should have won. That marked the first loss in the HCPN era where his team did not win against a team they were supposed to beat.

    During that Pinstripe game, it was the first time in about 2 years I felt the SOP bug biting me. Not even during the UNC comeback, the VATech loss or the Miami beat down did I have to swat SOP away as the thought had vanished from my head.

    Apparently not…


  32. I’ve posted this before …. I have friends and a relative who are Pitt alums … and they all would rather pay a larger price to be at Heinz on a Sunday than a lesser cost on a Saturday. Playing in a pro city is a major obstacle, … and having substantial less alumni than many of the schools we compete against for elite recruits certainly doesn’t help either.

    We have major hurdles that the programs we aspire to be don’t have. Thus, SOP is part of the equation. We have to keep on plugging away … but at the same time, realize our constraints

    Maybe we can enjoy our progress a little more than continue to accentuate the negative. Hate to come off as a Pollyanna, but maybe we can at least appreciate the fact we are moving in the right direction. Joe Starkey, certainly no Pitt apologizer, just wrote a PG article about how entertaining Pitt FB was this year as well as pointing out the bad breaks we received in the bowl game. This is from someone more objective about Pitt than any of us here


  33. @ Anonymous, 20% capacity @ Heinz Field is more like 17,000+ but I get your point. Also if your the same guy, thanks for the shout out above.

    I haven’t posted on this thread before this simply because it is useless to argue a point that some have so entrenched in their psyche that they can’t see that Pitt’s football future is brighter than it’s recent past has been. With the BS that went down with the firing of Wanny, the hiring/firing of Haywood & Pederson still running things back then, I could easily have imagined him somehow fricken up the ACC invite Pitt got into the conference too. that sure would have been SOP, had it occurred. I could see us in the same boat as UCONN is right now if things had taken a different direction than they had. & UCONN did just rehire Edsall again, right, oh boy, mistake!?!?!

    It’s just human nature to focus on the negative. Two 8-5 seasons with Narduzzi’s team knocking off both the conference champs of the B1G & the ACC gets discounted by losing our most recent hard fought bowl game in NYC. That is so very, very much SOP, like I mentioned before, that’s a fan problem. Until people start appreciating the successes that Pitt has provided us, rather than dwelling on every inevitable failure that is just a matter of time before it occurs once again, those poor SOP fans will continue to be disappointed and frustrated, wallowing in their self imposed depression. That’s why the drug companies are getting rich producing antidepressant meds. Just human nature.

    For me, I’m going to enjoy watching the Rose Bowl today relishing the fact that irrespective of the outcome, that what Pitt did to the creppy valley inhabitants back in September kept them out of the National Championship hunt for 2016. Yep, I’m pretty satisfied with that, Hail to Pitt!


  34. A start to bears the SOP mold, wouldn’t it be nice to hire an AD who upon meeting them your first thought isn’t “What a douche”


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