Should Narduzzi Continue to be Head Football Coach at Pitt or Not?
By Bill Aloe (formerly WWB)
I am going to start this article with the correct answer to the above: I have no idea and neither do any of you.
Here are how two prominent college sports publications rated the top college head coach football hires when Narduzzi was hired in 2015:
Athlon Sports CBS Sports
- Jim Harbaugh, Michigan 1. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
- Gary Anderson, Oregon St 2. Tom Herman, Houston
- Tom Herman, Houston 3. Chad Morris, SMU
- Chad Morris, SMU 4. Mike Riley, Nebraska
- Lance Leipold, Buffalo 5. Gary Anderson, Oregon State
- Jim McIlwain, Florida 6. Jim McIlwain, Florida
- Pat Narduzzi, Pitt 7. Pat Narduzzi, Pitt
- Mike Riley, Nebraska 8. Mike Bobo, Colorado St
- Paul Chryst, Wisconsin 9. Phil Montgomery, Tulsa
- Mike Bobo, Colorado St 10. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
Note that of the eleven coaches listed above, the following six, Gary Anderson (7-22), Chad Morris (14-22), Mike Riley (19-19), Jim McIlwain (22-12), Mike Bobo (28-35) and Phil Montgomery (31-38) were let go or forced out. Herman was hired by Texas where he is now in limbo, and only Harbaugh, Leipold, Narduzzi and Chryst remain at their schools. (Editor’s note: Herman was relieved of his duties at Texas yesterday. The article was sent to me a few days prior)
You are probably surprised that Narduzzi was rated higher than Chryst, and I’m sure every current poll would now rate Chryst the far better coach. However, please note that Anderson, Chryst’s successor at Wisconsin, was rated higher than both of them but failed miserably at Oregon St before being forced out.
I believe this may reinforce the concept that in many cases, the programs make the coach more than coaches make the program. Chryst was hired to a program that was winning 10 games per year while Narduzzi was hired to a program that was winning 6 games per year. Chryst slightly improved Wisconsin’s program and Narduzzi has done the same. And note that both programs had undergone coaching changes just previous to these two coaches as Anderson was at Wisconsin for only two years.
Statistically, Wisconsin won 50 games in the 5 years prior to Chryst’s arrival, and 52 games in the 5 years since. In that span, Pitt has gone from 32 wins to 36 wins. (This shortened year is not included since Wisconsin finished at 5-4)
The Firing is the Easy Part
There certainly has been a few great hires in the years since 2015. Matt Campbell at Iowa State has been exemplary. Luke Fickell has rebuilt Cincinnati’s program so that program now can boast that 4 of the 5 last coaches have reached the magic 10-win season mark. And Matt Rhule did such a great job at Baylor, he is now coaching the Carolina Panthers in the NFL.
But these appear to be the exceptions instead of the rule. There were a few other good hires, but consider what has happened to what were recently deemed as ‘sure-things.’
Back in 2016, the ACC Coastal Division alone had 3 ‘hot’ hires; Mark Richt, Justin Fuente and Bronco Mendenhall. All three were successful in D1 programs; Richt at Georgia, Fuente at Memphis and Mendenhall at BYU. But Richt is already long gone, Fuente is certainly now hanging by a thread, and Mendenhall’s record at UVa is 30-32.
As shown above, Harbaugh (the 8 Million Dollar Man) was the ‘can’t miss hire’ of 2015 but he is trending downwards fast despite leading a program that checks all of the blocks for having an elite program. And of course, he has yet to beat Ohio State; in fact, his defense led by the one of the highest paid defensive coordinators around, has given up 62 and 56 points to OSU the last 2 years. That DC, Donald Brown, has just been fired.
Jeff Brohm, who is the 2nd highest paid HC in the B1G behind Harbaugh, was the ‘hot’ hire in 2017 but is currently 19 and 25 at Purdue.
The 2018 ‘hot’ hire was Scott Frost who had taken UCF from 6-7 to 13-0 in two years. He is currently 11-19 at Nebraska.
It seems to me to me that with the exception of Smug Steve’s actions back in December of 2010, the firing is the easy part. It’s the hiring that keeps ADs up at night. After completely botching the hiring of a new coach back in 2017, the Tennessee AD was axed. The new AD hired Jeremy Pruitt who has done a really good job of recruiting. Problem is that the NCAA announced last week that UT is being investigated, so coupled with Pruitt’s 16-19 record, it’s 50-50 whether we will see a new coach on the sidelines when Pitt plays the Vols this coming September.
But take heart … Kirby Smart at Georgia, Ryan Day at Ohio State and Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma are recent hires that have stepped in and have not skipped a beat. But note that none of these three were previously head coaches which may only reinforce the concept that the programs make the coach.
But as for non-elite programs, I believe the point is pretty clear … there are no real guarantees.
Is Pitt Really It?
Note that both the aforementioned Campbell and Fickell have turned down interviews with two Big 10 programs that would have offered much more money that what they are currently making. The same goes for Louisiana’s Billy Napier, who turned down a Mississippi State offer last year and wouldn’t even come to South Carolina this year for an interview. Again, these three hot prospects turned down Big 10 and SEC money.
Sadly, the way the Pitt administration has handled the last 30 plus years has made the Pitt program unattractive to attractive perspective coaches. As you know, Narduzzi was the 4th HC hiring since Wanny was fired in 2010. And we all know all of the shortcomings of trying to sell this program to others, whether it be perspective recruits or coaches.
And I find it interesting that in the past 30 years, Pitt has fired its two most successful coaches, the only previous ones with winning records The turnover of coaches (even the successful ones) cannot bode well when one is considering an offer from Pitt. At least at Cincinnati, there is a history of success where coaches have moved to big time programs after only a few years.
Yes, Pitt is now finally paying its coaches competitive salaries but will that alone be enough to get the real attractive, proven candidates? And what proof is there that the alleged attractive, proven candidate will succeed here anyway?
My ideal scenario would be for Heather to hire Oregon’s OC Joe Moorhead (a Pittsburgh native) while keeping Partridge, Bates and Beatty as assistants. Is that asking too much? But even so, Moorhead only lasted 2 years as Mississippi State. Which of course once again brings up the question …. Does the program make the coach, or does the coach make the program?
Once-proud programs Nebraska, South Carolina, UCLA, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia Tech and Purdue (to name a few) appear to have reached a level of mediocrity … and Michigan State, Florida State and Virginia Tech seem to be heading in that direction. And all of them have had more recent successes than Pitt.
John Michelolsen rebuilt Pitt’s program in the mid 50s but won only 3 games in his last two years. And of course, Johnny Majors rebuilt the program in the 1970s by signing an initial class of 80 players, having one the best high school recruiting regions in his backyard. But since the early 1980s, nobody has come close to pleasing the Pitt fanbase. Should Pitt continue to hire / fire, or should expectations be modified?
It appears many here are holding out for another Johnny Majors (1st stint) or a Matt Campbell. As for me. I would be perfectly content with a Don Nehlen or a Kirk Ferentz.