Here is a thought-provoking piece by POV reader and commenter “6&34”.
I have written three articles for the POV all concerned with the question: Does Narduzzi know what he is doing? I am once again asking that question and it may be the last time I ever ask it. So, does he?
Case in point, a week or so ago I heard a podcast that said since Watson has been replaced as OC the offense is on Pat Narduzzi. Well, with all due respect to the podcaster, the Watson hire is on Narduzzi so to say that this year’s offense is really on Narduzzi seems like a rather weak point.
If the offense is weak this year, will the offense really, really be on Narduzzi next year? No, the weak 2018 offense falls squarely on Narduzzi because regardless of the reason. And there are a lot of potential reasons: Watson was doing his friend a solid, Narduzzi though Watson actually knew what he was doing, Narduzzi was incapable of fixing Watson’s observable inadequacy mid-season, Narduzzi believed that Pitt’s smash mouth running offense was incapable of being stopped, or whatever.
Offense aside, we’ve had four full seasons of Pat Narduzzi and arguably four full seasons of his recruiting though this present recruiting class is not yet over (we could get some additional good players or we could lose some as we did last year). POVers stand divided on the question and its no wonder: Pitt has been mediocre during Narduzzi’s reign which has been characterized by amazing highs and lows. Seriously, the lows have been humiliating (the defensive backs getting repeatedly torched) and the highs, what can you say about the Clemson and Miami wins (please Negativos, don’t mention that in 2017 Miami lost its next two games because I’ll just mention that in 2016 Clemson went on to win the National Championship).
That last sentence pretty much highlights what I see as the problem with what essentially is the polemic nature of our POV commentary. It’s too often black and white.
A feature of each of my “Does Pat Narduzzi know what he’s doing?” submissions has been that when I wrote each one (including this one) I really did not have a solid opinion whether he did or didn’t. I still don’t though I do think some things are clearer now than before.
In my humble opinion the one thing that is clearer now than ever before is that western PA (thought of by me as west of Johnstown) football talent is not rich enough to be the primary source of talent for Pitt. A factor in this opinion is that the Dairy School is back as a second level first tier team and at least until now outcompetes Pitt for the better fewer and fewer players).
Related to this is that in my humble opinion the one thing that Narduzzi deserves tremendous credit for is his recognition that Pitt needed to look out of PA and especially to the south to get better players. This is no small thing.
So let me make this point: It is just plain wrong to criticize Narduzzi for his to the moment mediocre recruiting without recognizing what is stated above. And by above I mean what is stated in both of the preceding two paragraphs. Let me state this differently: Dude, getting good players who live far away to come to Pitt isn’t easy. Its not impossible (after all Swinney has done it with Clemson). You could also say that Franklin has done it with the Dairy School and in doing so also say that his challenge was tougher than Narduzzi’s. I wouldn’t want to debate that but in my heart I just think that Narduzzi’s situation was a lot tougher than Franklin’s for any number of reasons including game attendance, Pitt’s OCS situation and lets face it, Franklin had done something that at least appeared to have been great at Vanderbilt. And for the record, I just don’t think that Narduzzi brought to Pitt the same excitement that Franklin brought to the Dairy School.
It also needs to be acknowledged that Narduzzi, because he had never been a head coach, had some serious limitations when he arrived at Pitt that many POVers including me chose to think weren’t critical. Irrespective of how deficient you may feel Paul Chryst’s defensive recruiting had been, Narduzzi’s insistence that those Chryst defensive players could effectively play Narduzzi’s Michigan State defense was a terrible mistake (I can still see Mason Rudolph laughing as he destroyed Pitt in 2017). And let’s all admit that his limitations didn’t stop there because he sure hasn’t been a strong game-time coach either which is statistically demonstrated by Pitt’s poor second half performances.
So here we are with a week to go until the Virginia game and what I see is that once again we don’t have a sense of whether this Pitt football team can be a very good team or not. I do believe that Pitt can not only be good but can be very good. I also think that Pitt can be decidedly mediocre. One reason for this is, of course, the OOCS, but on the other hand, the in conference (meaning ACC) schedule is not tough at all. A good Pitt football team should do well with this 2019 schedule.
The bottom line for me is that a good football team wins games that it should win. That is why when Pitt lost to NC last year I thought the floor had collapsed. Then it went on to do what good teams do: win the games it was capable of winning (which is a bit fundamentally different than winning games that it should win). At the end of the day that is what Pitt needs to do in 2019 and that starts with the Virginia game.
Certainly, luck is a big factor in winning games that a team is capable of winning. But anyone watching sports over a lifetime knows that superior game coaching and the team’s ability (independent of game coaching) to rise to the occasion is real.
Nevertheless, both of these factors are mostly the responsibility of the Head Coach and, therefore, Pat Narduzzi is responsible for whether or not this Pitt football team wins the games it is capable of winning. Last year, Pitt was capable of beating Notre Dame. I may not have thought that before the game began but by the fourth quarter though I may have thought that Notre Dame was going to win the game Pitt was in position to win especially if Lady Luck had favored Pitt during that short amount of time.
Of course, all of the foregoing exists in a context in which the teams football capabilities are, well, sufficiently capable to compete with the opponent of the day. There are POVers who think this 2019 team’s capabilities are much lower than other POVers think are the capabilities. IMHO the 2019 Pitt Panthers are capable of winning almost every game. The problem is that they are also capable of losing every game (except perhaps Delaware).
Someone may say “that is almost always the case” at the beginning of a collegiate football season. Yeah, that’s true. And that’s the point. Pitt is capable of winning almost every game at least I believe that because I am a POVer who thinks the team is a capable team. I don’t believe the offensive line will be as bad at pass protection as it was last year. I don’t believe our QB will be as hapless as he was last year because I believe that Watson was primarily responsible for what we witnessed last year. I believe the defense will be much better than it was last year. I believe OC Whipple will focus on getting the ball to playmakers. I could go on and on with what I think are the positives of this 2019 team compared with last years team. I suspect most POVers will agree with most of what is written in this paragraph even if many of them evaluate the capabilities of the team below how I evaluate the capabilities.
Is the team capable of winning most of its games? I think this question is the same question as “Does Pat Narduzzi know what he’s doing?” I have already stated that I believe the quality of the football players on this team is capable of winning almost every game. That answer reflects my belief that given the hand that PN must play with he has done a good job putting together a team that has the most depth and team wide ability of any Pitt team in the past 8 years of so (this is not to say that the team is great or even very good – it means the team is at least good).
Does the team have the ability to rise to the occasion? I don’t know. They sure showed it in the home stretch of the games it won as they drove to win the Coastal division. But they didn’t against Stanford or North Carolina last year. They sure did not show it against Notre Dame in the 4th quarter or against Miami.
Will Pitt’s game coaching be better than it was last year? I think Narduzzi’s game coaching is below average. Going for a first down on your own 13 yard line (or so) early in a game is hairbrained and if he does something similar count on an ass-bite. The bottom line is that over the course of the season Pitt’s game performances were for the most part worse in the second half than it was in the first half. One can explain that discrepancy by rationalizing that the team got tired by the end of the second quarter (which I have no problem blaming Narduzzi for) or “gave up” (which I also blame Narduzzi for).
So does Pat Narduzzi know what he is doing? There are so many factors that go into answering that question but being that for me at this moment in time wins and losses are the only metric that determines whether he does or does not, whether Narduzzi has congregated players whom he has imbued with sufficient grit and desire to beat teams that are nearly as good or better than Pitt on paper by rising to the occasion will be readily observable on August 31st. It’s a home game. It’s a game that really (and I mean really) matters. But what about game day coaching? I’m really scared of the answer to that question not only because I believe game coaching will determine if Pitt beats Virginia, but it will also answer the now age old question: Does Pat Narduzzi know what he’s doing? Because if a Head Coach can’t game coach, your team will always be at a major disadvantage.
Editor’s Note: I added the graph below because I think it’s relevant to the point 6&34 is making. S&P+ is a tempo-and-opponent-adjusted measure of what college football teams can most consistently do to win football games. Teams with higher S&P’s tend to win more. As you can see our best seasons came when our S&P was above 90. You can also see that Pitt’s S&P+ has for the most part bounced between 60% and 80% since the Walt Harris era, and it actually dipped to it’s lowest point since Johnny Majors II last season. This kind of proves 6&34’s point that Narduzzi might know what he’s going, but then again he might not. It certainly adds fuel to the fires of those who think Narduzzi may not be the guy who can get Pitt to turn the corner. We’ll have our first chance to evaluate in less than a week. Hail to Pitt.