Pitt Football’s Past vs Present

I just received an email from two readers who have been associated with the University of Pittsburgh for many decades.  Following is the gist of their conversations about two Pitt head coaches with some additions and edits by myself.

The thrust of the conversation was about Pitt’s football head coach Johnny Michelosen who was an assistant on the 1938 8-2 Pitt team that was coached by the legendary Jock Sutherland. After bouncing around in staff coaching jobs in the NFL he came back to Pitt as the HC.

So – the e-mail conversation basically went like this – how would Michelosen (JM) and Narduzzi (PN) stack up against each other had they played the same number of ‘real’ opponents each season?

For the younger fans on here, back before the TV broadcasting rights sparked the huge growth of the college game nationally in the mid-1960’s (horse racing, MLB and boxing were the main sports back then) along with the apparent need to have at least two (or even three) pansies on the schedule to pad the win column, football teams scheduled were much more evenly matched – mainly because there were only a few conferences formed back in the 50’s-60’s.

Pitt, of course, was not in any conference as we were an “Independent” program so Pitt set their own schedules with some conference teams on it but mainly other Independents.  Also, remember that the Army and Navy service academies were strong then. For instance, in JM’s 9-1 season of 1963 this was the schedule and results:

Those first three AAWU teams were from the Athletic Association of Western Universities – leftovers from when the PAC-12 was blown up due to scandals in the mid-50’s.  But those Independents on the list above played good ball with Navy ending 9-2, Syracuse 8-2 and Penn State at 7-3.

Here is the emailed conversation…

Duzz looks relaxed.  Entering year seven I expect another year of better than even record, but no top 25.   I think Duzz is another John Michelosen – good coach, good guy, but no glory.  

Well, I won’t press the comparison, but Johnny M.’s teams played a ten-game schedule against genuine opponents every week.  And they had the 1963 team, played in the Sugar Bowl and the Gator Bowl, and finished in the top 20 in four of his eleven seasons.

How have Pat Narduzzi’s teams done?  In six seasons, there have been no top 20 finishes, and their only true bowl game was the Sun Bowl (Ed: I think he wrote that because it was the toughest opponent PN faced in all his bowl games). 

Here are the records (as recorded and as adjusted for the automatic wins (cupcakes) that teams inflate their W-L records with now). 

Regular Season Records Under Pat Narduzzi 

                                    Cupcakes                     Adjusted Record 

2015                8-4     Akron                                     6-4 

                                   Youngstown State 

2016                8-4     Villanova                               6-4 


2017                5-7     Youngstown State                3-7 


2018                7-5     Albany                                   6-5 

2019                7-5     Ohio                                     5-5 


2020                6-5       Austin Peay                         5-5             

I like Pat Narduzzi.  I think he is good for Pitt.  May he stay a long time!  but I do not think he is going to turn Pitt into the “elite program” (whatever that is) that the fans want.

Just for fun, I modified Johnny Mike’s season records to include two cupcake wins each season.  Here is what it would look like:

1955    9-3 

1956    9-2-1 

1957    6-6 

1958    7-4-1 

1959    8-4 

1960    6-3-3 

1961    5-7 

1962    7-5 

1963    11-1 

1964    5-5-2 

1965    5-7 

Not excellent perhaps, but not too shabby.  And when was the last time we had an 11-1 season?”

Anyway readers – that is an interesting take on the past vs. present of Pitt football. I remember my parents and their Pitt friends’ heavily martini laden Friday night conversations about Michelosen (and head coaches Dave Hart and Carl DePasqua) and the teams back in the day. 

If we current fans think Pitt has basically stunk over the last 30 years look at the years my Mom and Dad were strongly associated with Pitt as undergrads, grad students and on the faculty from 1938 to 1969. Much worse as far as wins and losses. but I will bet it was a lot more fun back then to be a fan watching the Panthers play on Saturday afternoons in Pitt stadium and enjoying football more as a real sport rather than the revenue-based business it is now.

Note: Regarding that 1938 season which was the last Sutherland had at Pitt here was the games:

Note the first loss of the season – to Carnegie Tech! Not “Carnegie Mellon” by the way… “Carnegie Tech”. Prior to that game Pitt had given up an average of 5.3 points per game then the Mighty Skibos put up 20 to beat us. Then a 7-0 loss to #3 Duke (Oh, how times have changed.)