(This is Part 3 of a three-part series looking back at Pitt’s best decades of football)
Yesterday we discussed that last set of Glory Days from 1974 to 1983. Now let us skip another 33 years from 1984 to the nearer history of Pitt football in 2007. Remember that number because from 1938 to 1974 was a 36 year stretch. It seems to me that we take around 35 years to ramp up to have another good run of Pitt football. Way too long but it is what it is – at least so far.
Now are talking about this last decade, from 2007 until last season’s end. I think it’s interesting that we look at these last 10 years and think the program has been rather average or even mediocre at times, especially the four years under Todd Graham and Paul Chryst. But if you put these ten years up against our whole history of play you’ll find that we really been above and beyond what the vast majority of other years’ stretches had done.
Here are the years in discussion:
From 2007 until 2016 we went through a bunch of head coaches – four actual ones but seven I believe if we count interim ones and then Haywood who was hired and fired in quickstep. That in itself puts a school’s program behind a big 8-ball.
Dave Wannstedt kicked this period off in the midst of his six years at Pitt, then we had Todd Graham, Paul Chryst and now our current HC Pat Narduzzi. In this time period we had 68 wins & 48 Losses for a 71% winning percentage. Not great compared to the Dorsett and Marino average of 80% but really not too shabby either.
Remember that I have talked about only so many college football programs being truly ‘elite’ over the course of their existence? Here is a modified listed I made from the NCAA website. I took out the MAC and other smaller conference teams and left the ones who show the best all-around W/L records with comparable opponents to what Pitt has had.
On this listing Pitt comes in at #42 with the our numbers as below. Honestly that 58% was a bit surprising and a lot more disappointing than I though it would have been. but then again I wasn’t around when Pitt really sucked in the years 1990 to 2000 when we were in a hard down phase.
|Pitt||704 wins||515 loss||42 ties||.575 %||127 years||1261 tot.||ACC|
The point here is that when you stack up the recent decade’s 58% win record it looks OK especially compared next to our all-time record of 58%. But, and it hurts to say this, 58% ain’t grabbing the brass ring either. Well, it is what it is and that’s why we are “die-hard fans”. if Pitt football hasn’t killed us by now it never will.
It just felt like we were playing below-average football the last 10 years.
I know Pitt fans don’t want to hear that we are a middling program but the fact is that we are at the bottom of the top 1/3 of all 128 teams… sitting at number 42 is real and accurate and truth be told we weren’t much better than that, in comparison, even over the last two years.
For instance both 2015 and 2016 found us in the low 30s at season’s end – and that is with pretty damn good eight win seasons from Pat Narduzzi. So in the long run it isn’t all that surprising that these last ten years have been our 3rd best decade since way, way back.
But it started off on a down (them way up) note back in 2007. We had just finished Dave Wannstedt’s second season and his first non-losing year when we went 6-6. We had Bill Stull ready to assume the starting role at QB and a highly prized recruit in LeSean McCoy at RB and we were poised to take a big step forward in the win column in ’07.
We don’t need to recap that whole season but in a nutshell both Stull and our QB2 Kevan Smith were injured early in the season and true FR Pat Bostick had to be thrown into the fray. That didn’t go over too well but we did pull out a victory over #23 Cincinnati and, of course, the season ending knock off of WVU 13-9.
So instead of limping into 2008 with a 4-8 record we went into the next stretch of years with heads held high at 5-7 and with optimism galore. The fun thing is that Wannstedt and the kids pretty much delivered on the promise of good seasons by going 9-4, 10-3 and 8-5 over the next three season. Along with that he won his last two bowl games which helped us end the 2009 season at #15th nationally, and the only time in the 10 years we were ranked at all post-season.
Wannstedt’s 27-12 tally was good for a 70% winning record and was the high point of this last decade. Off the field issues resulted in a change of head coaches and Todd “Beelzebub” Graham came in and slithered off leaving a 6-6 oozing record behind him.
Wanting stability along with wins we hired OC Paul Chryst out of the Wisconsin staff. His tenure here wasn’t all that impressive on paper, three years of 6-7, 7-6, and 6-7 but it made the program attractive enough in all ways for Pitt to be able to hire a decent replacement when Chryst went home to Madison.
That four-year period encompassing Graham and Chryst will be mostly forgotten when we look back at those years in the future. But I think they played a big role in setting Pitt up for future successes.
We have seen our current HC Pat Narduzzi win eight games in his each of his first two years- mostly with Chryst recruits and in doing so he has made the on-field aspect of Pitt football as attractive as the all-encompassing student/athlete experience these kids can find here. That is the best of both worlds and his recruiting bump has shown that interest is there on recruit’s parts.
We are pulling in high school players with more Power-5 offers than we have since the Wannstedt days and while we aren’t getting all that many 4* or 5* recruits – some, but not many – we are building a base two-deep roster that should match anything we have had over the last six years.
Of course what we Pitt hope to see over the next few years is the ability to select a different ‘current’ decade that we can stack up well against those Sutherland and Majors/Sherrill days and have our wins far outweigh our losses. Time will tell with that.
One thing to note with these comparisons is Pitt’s success rate in bowl games and truth be told we are pretty horrid in that count in recent years. In this decade we have played to a 3-6 record in bowl games. Every bowl loss hurts but I think they especially hurt when a new HC comes aboard and can’t finish the season off on a rising note.
Narduzzi’s two bowl losses, in 2015 and again last season, kept us from being a Top 25 team in the post-seasons and that impacts recruiting and the national perception of the program. When you are trying to recruit outside your school’s footprint (in Pitt’s case Western PA and the tri-state area) then you need as much prime time TV and national media exposure as you can get.
That bowl games losing trend has to stop this season (assuming we’ll get a bid) because far from some fans’ beliefs the bowl games really do matter. You’ll land very few far-away blue-chip recruits if they haven’t seen the team play a few times over their JR and SR years of high school, and have read or seen references to Pitt in the national media outlets.
Contrary to fan’s beliefs the only time most of these kids from far away can afford to see a Pitt game in person is during their one official visit to the school – most don’t have the financial wherewithal to go back and forth.
That is what winning bowl games does for you – it gives you a national presence and a leg up going into the next season.
The 1974-1983 decade saw us at 6-4 in the bowls, starting with three wins in the Sun, Sugar and Gator bowls so that helped us land all those future All-Americans I listed yesterday. Further back Sutherland had us at 1-2 with all post-season games in the Rose Bowl.
So there we are; Pitt’s Big Three Decades in a nutshell.
We have risen to the top more than once in our history and while Pitt’s circumstances change, as does the game of college football itself, there is no real reason we can’t get back up there where we once resided. If we keep Narduzzi onboard; keep the program as attractive as we can – and great job by Narduzzi in doing that over his tenure so far – and win more than we lose… a lot more hopefully… then we get back up to where those perennial Big Dogs reside.