We discuss recruiting on the POVat least once a week it seems and maybe moreso in the summer football doldrums. It is perhaps the most important component to a successful football team. Notice I said “team” there and not football program – those are two different and distinct things in my eyes.
I strongly believe success in Pitt football runs on individual star performer’s power and production. We have seen that down through the years writ large. In the last 15 years we have had eight seasons of 8+ wins (hard to believe huh?) with three under Walt Harris, three under Dave Wannstedt and two, so far, under Pat Narduzzi.
Looking at which Pitt players powered those wins on the field I absolutely believe 4* players are integral to having winning seasons. We can say all we want that a solid group of only 3* kids can be a perennial winning team but I have my strong doubts about that. There are outlier schools with that – Pitt isn’t one of them.
Here are some of the past 4* and 5* players who have been great producers for us and who all played on those winning teams above:
4* and 5*s: Rod Rutherford, Tyler Palko , Larry Fitzgerald , Nate Byham, John Malecki, Jeff Otah, Aaron Berry, Dorin Dickerson, Chris Jacobson, LeSean McCoy, Adam Bisnowaty, Dorian Johnson, Tyler Boyd, Jordan Whitehead, Nate Peterman, etc… All also made the NFL in one form or another – Whitehead will also I’m sure.
Almost every one of those players were All-Conference and some were All-Americans. This is what happens when you pull in as many blue chip kids as you can. The higher recruiting stars matter, and don’t believe for a second that they aren’t a pivotal part of winning Pitt teams.
Yes, we see players like Darrelle Revis, James Conner, Dion Lewis, Aaron Donald and others rise up and grab stardom from the 3* and sometimes the 2* ranks, but the richer you are in the 4* and above, the better off you’ll be. Again we have seen that play out at Pitt over the last decade especially.
What we do hear from Pitt fans are many excuses as to why Pat Narduzzi can’t do better than his latest recruiting classes. A reminder: when I say a HC has ‘recruited” the HS players I mean he did the long and hard work of convincing the player, his family and in a lot of cases his HS coaches that it was in that player’s best interest to commit to play at Pitt…not just that the kid who was already committed into the recruiting class a new coach inherited.
To recap; Narduzzi’s recruiting has gone like this:
In his segmented 2015 class Pat Narduzzi didn’t land any 4* kids who committed after he assumed the HC job. Both Jordan Whitehead and Darrin Hall committed to the previous HC. Narduzzi landed three 3* and four 2*s kids after his hiring to fill out that class.
In 2016 he had the a 29th ranked class consisting of 24 recruits and five 4* blue chippers.
In 2017 he dropped to a 38th ranked class with 24 recruits and three 4* kids.
In his 2018 class he stayed about even being ranked 36th with 20 recruits but dropped down to only one 4* recruit.
At this writing so far we have zero recruits in the 2019 class. That is a bit disconcerting as HCPN had always gotten two or three recruits by this time in his previous three classes – including 4* Paris Ford. That will change though and let’s hope for the better.
Let’s take a look at the starting lineup for the late season VT game last season. I want to point out two things. First is that of the 22 starting offense and defense positions we had a grand total of four 4* Pitt recruits – by that I mean blue chip kids who Pitt actually recruited.
Two are on offense – RT Alex Bookser and RB Darrin Hall. On defense we have two also in Safety Jordan Whitehead and CB Damar Hamlin. That’s four of 22 or 18%. Way too low and thus our five win season.
The second point from above is that we had six of the 22 players who were either transfers, walk-ons or had switched positions. I do not believe you play successful football unless you can target and recruit high quality players from the HS ranks and have them at Pitt for a full four or five years to be taught by your own position coaches.
This drop in attracting blue chip recruits is puzzling to me because the norm is that a head coach gets stronger and better recruits and classes the longer he is in his tenure… but the opposite seems to be happening with Narduzzi. Why is that?
Well, if you read the comments we have had in the past articles you’ll see that Pitt fans point to such factors as poor attendance, not playing at an on-campus stadium, not getting proper support from the administration, the quality of WPA high school football has been lessened, etc and etc… But the truth is that Pat Narduzzi isn’t the first, or the last I’m sure, Pitt head coach to have to deal with these external factors. Walt Harris had to deal with them to some extent (he played some at Pitt Stadium), as did Dave Wannstedt and Paul Chryst also.
Each Pitt head coach has his own way of doing the high school recruiting dance also. It was well known that Dave Wannstedt’s recruiting team was a well-oiled machine and cultivated great contacts among the WPA HCs to start the recruiting process early. He was very good at drawing local blue-chip players and targeting and landing diamond in the rough out-of-state players also. His previous work in Southern Florida established a great pipeline there.
But the main thing Wannstedt did was name long-time Pitt employee and previous position coach Bob Junko as his recruiting Point Man.
“Widely known and respected throughout the tri-state area, Bob Junko has spent 25 years representing the Pitt football program in many important capacities.
After spending nearly four decades in the coaching ranks, Junko moved to the administrative side of college football in 2007. Serving as Pitt’s director of player development and high school relations since 2013, Junko’s tremendous football acumen and contacts are invaluable for the Panthers.
A past honoree on the Rivals Top 25 Recruiters list, Junko is especially instrumental with Pitt’s annual recruiting efforts and alumni outreach programs.
The 2018 season marks the 22nd year of Junko’s second tour with the Panthers. He initially coached at Pitt from 1982-85, serving as defensive coordinator under head coach Foge Fazio. Junko returned in 1997 as defensive tackles coach under Walt Harris and also served the program as assistant head coach.
Well, in my opinion all those reasons listed by fans above is excuse making and conveniently leaves out one most important factor in this issue – Pat Narduzzi’s actual recruiting ability.
When everything boils down in the rough and tumble game of recruiting the constant factor is going to be how well the head coach is thought of by recruits and their families and how good he is at getting them to buy into the Pitt football program.
What does that entail? Especially what does it entail with the blue chip kids?
I mentioned above DW’s recruiting team. It was top shelf stuff. We haven’t seen anything like that since he was fired. Paul Chryst was a lopsided recruiter and didn’t have the energy or charisma that DW had and or what Narduzzi showed in his first full year here.
But I have also written about the administrative and communication problems in Narduzzi’s recruiting process since he’s been here. I think that has had a lot to do with the decline over the last two classes. Energy and charisma only go so far when you are dealing with 290+ offers out and trying to land on-campus official visits (which he has been rather poor at doing).
Earlier on some of that may be contributed to by his being new to head coaching. But he has now attempted to rectifiy this in hiring a “highly-driven” Archie Collins . However he’s sticking with LB Coach Rob Harley as his Recruiting Coordinator which raises my eyebrows even further than before. We’ll see how that goes in the future.
It’s no secret that I’m not optimistic that this coming season we’ll get back to the eight win plateau Narduzzi reached his first two years here. Mainly because I believe he won those eight games on the strength of inherited players – some true star players that we haven’t seen replaced yet like Boyd and Conner. I haven’t seen any of his “own” HS recruits rise above average play save for maybe Quadree Henderson on special teams. That is a real problem going into his 4th year at the helm and the following shows the extent of his poor recruiting.
Here are previous Pitt recruits who were so critical in those eight win successes of the 2015 and ’16 seasons: WR Boyd, RB Conner, OL Bisnowaty, OL Johnson, OL Bookser, DE Price, TE Orndoff, TE Holtz, DT Soto, CB Maddox, OL O’Neill… to name the principals.
Can you honestly look at the roster today and show me any replacements Narduzzi has recruited to make up for those graduated, or leaving early, losses? I see only one or two who have already proven themselves to be above average on the playing field – maybe CB Dane Jackson? Saleem Brightwell? But even Brightwell will be sat down this year for a rsSR who never started a game at MLB.
I’m not sure we can point to any other returning player(s) and say for sure that he’s anywhere close to being solid starter let alone a star player. There are some with unrealized potential like Pickett, Hamlin, Ford and …. really who else at this point in time? From the guys we have already seen play a full seasons’ worth of ball for us I think we have some decent starters. But that’s about it, decent – again aside from those three just mentioned.
I don’t think decent is going to cut it with the OOC and ACC teams we have scheduled this year.
Edit: Late addition Chart: