It’s easy to wonder if Pitt’s administration has to ask Bill Hillgrove his opinion before they hire a coach, because more times than not they’re also hiring his cohost.
Hillgrove, the play-by-play man for the Pitt men’s basketball and football teams, has hosted radio programs with former Pitt men’s basketball coach Jamie Dixon and current head coach Kevin Stallings. Hillgrove added “The Pat Narduzzi Show” with Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi to his list of hosting commitments last year.
The show airs every Wednesday during the football season at 6 p.m. and is recorded live at Cupka’s Cafe 2 in South Side. The show’s format is standard for a sports radio show, featuring game reviews and previews sprinkled with a few interviews in between.
Hillgrove guides the conversation and lobs questions at Narduzzi. The football coach then has the chance to talk at length about the previous week’s game, the upcoming game or anything else relevant to the team.
Every show features a guest from the football team. Recent guests include redshirt senior offensive lineman Alex Officer and redshirt senior punter Ryan Winslow, both of whom shared stories about their journey at Pitt.
Wednesday night’s show featured appearances by junior wide receiver Quadree Henderson and redshirt junior linebacker Oluwaseun Idowu. Despite the current three-game losing streak Pitt finds itself in, Narduzzi was still complimentary of his team, saying he “couldn’t ask for a better group of guys.”
The players usually get five to 10 minutes to answer questions from Hillgrove. These conversations are less football-oriented and offer fans a detailed look at the players’ personalities, something they don’t usually see on the field.
Hillgrove captains the ship well, which is to be expected from a professional with his experience. His passion and vast knowledge of both the team and its history illuminate the show. Hillgrove occasionally tells stories and name drops former Panthers such as Curtis Martin and Bill Fralic.
For Narduzzi, the radio show is an extension of his press conferences. He answers Hillgrove’s questions but never reveals too much about the team. Hillgrove and Narduzzi even seem to have developed a running bit about how Narduzzi doesn’t “do injury reports” — Narduzzi refuses to disclose information about any player injuries.
Even though fans won’t hear about injuries, they can hear valuable insight on upcoming games. Narduzzi often points out specific players the team is anticipating as threats. He singled out Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki before week two and recently focused on Rice redshirt senior defensive end Brian Womac.
For fans looking to learn more beyond what they see at games, the player interviews are the best parts of the show. These mini profiles are a change of pace from the constant focus on the team’s games. On a recent episode, redshirt senior defensive lineman Allen Edwards recounted a story from when he was 8 or 9 years old in which he was hit by two cars.
Moments like these reveal the players’ relationships with Narduzzi, as he will sometimes chime in on the stories or offer compliments about the player joining him and Hillgrove.
Aside from some interesting anecdotes from the players, the show doesn’t offer much to anyone who isn’t a Pitt football die-hard — but that’s kind of the point.
Local radio shows about local teams aren’t supposed to offer overly critical analysis, they’re supposed to make you feel OK about rooting for your team. After Pitt’s 59-21 loss to Oklahoma State, Narduzzi — half jokingly — pushed aside conversations about the game, saying “what last week?” and feigning ignorance.
The playful joking has become more common as Hillgrove and Narduzzi are developing chemistry with each other. While he may not reveal much, Narduzzi does speak passionately and often glowingly about his players. That complements Hillgrove’s own passion for the team. The two remain the ultimate optimists, which may bother some disgruntled Pitt fans, but is only a product of trying to appeal to a local audience.
These coach-hosted radio shows are meant to promote the team and give the coach a platform for optimism even during the worst of times. That’s exactly what this one does.
Narduzzi isn’t trying to be Howard Stern and push the boundaries of radio. He’s trying to promote a football team and give fans a chance to feel as though they’re getting a personal look at the program.
The Pitt-centric conversations are by — and for — people immersed in Pitt culture. You won’t find any useful criticism or many keen observations about the team at large. But what can you expect from a show hosted by the team’s coach and loyal commentator?