‘I’m here at Pitt’: Narduzzi squashes MSU speculation


TPN File Photo

Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi called the NCAA “nonexistent” in his Zoom press conference Monday

By Trent Leonard, Sports Editor

Wednesday’s National Letter of Intent Day was mostly a formality for Pitt football. The Panthers had already earned 17 commitments for their class of 2020 during the December signing period, leaving little drama to play out.

Pitt did add two more recruits to finalize its incoming class — kicker Ben Sauls from Tippecanoe High School in Ohio and three-star cornerback Rashad Battle, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound athlete from Georgia’s Creekside High School. But the Panthers’ most important commitment of the day didn’t come from any player.

Rather, it came from the team’s own head coach, Pat Narduzzi.

Rumors started to swirl about Narduzzi leaving Pitt to fill the Michigan State head coaching position shortly after 13-year Spartans coach Mark Dantonio retired Tuesday afternoon. Narduzzi previously served as Michigan State’s defensive coordinator under Dantonio from 2007-14, a time during which the Spartans won two Big Ten championships and were consistently among the best defenses in the nation. Narduzzi received the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation’s best assistant coach, in 2013.

Because of Narduzzi’s previous ties to Michigan State and success with the program, his name quickly came up as a possible successor to Dantonio. Media circles are often too quick to speculate that a coach will bolt for his former team, but for good reason. Programs value continuity, while coaches often embrace the blend of familiarity and nostalgia that comes with returning to an old flame. Pitt fans witnessed this effect in 2016, when long-time men’s basketball coach Jamie Dixon took the head job at his alma mater, TCU.

Some also made the argument that Michigan State is a more attractive destination than Pitt. Since 2008, the Spartans have finished seven seasons ranked in the top 25, including three top-10 finishes and a coveted College Football Playoff appearance in 2015. The Panthers have finished a season ranked just once over that same period.

But context is important, and there existed a number of reasons why it would be ludicrous for Narduzzi to leave. Chief among them — Michigan State’s program has lost its luster in recent years, going a combined 27-24 over the past four seasons. Competing in the same division as Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State presents a much harder path to division titles.

Dantonio also left East Lansing amid controversy. His retirement came one day after former Michigan State recruiting director Curtis Blackwell filed an update in an ongoing lawsuit claiming Dantonio and his staff committed multiple NCAA recruiting violations.

And if Narduzzi were to part from Pitt, the timing would be extremely odd. His defensive-minded vision finally came to fruition last season, as the Panthers led the nation in sacks and finished No. 15 in total defense. Pitt enters the 2020 season with a bevy of NFL-caliber talent that Narduzzi worked hard to recruit and develop, including Jalen Twyman, Paris Ford, Patrick Jones II and Damar Hamlin. It would make little sense to bail on a team seemingly on the verge of a breakthrough.

Still, as the saying goes, money talks. And though Narduzzi is under contract through 2024 as part of a seven-year extension signed in 2017, Michigan State would surely write him a blank check to become its new head coach.

During a press conference at the Panthers’ South Side practice facility Wednesday, Narduzzi implied that Michigan State had reached out to him about taking the job, saying his “phone was blowing up” Tuesday night.

Athletic director Heather Lyke told reporters that she realized the urgency of the situation and called Narduzzi to connect and see where his thoughts were at.

“We obviously talked about the situation that presented itself yesterday afternoon and wanted to make sure he knew that we wanted him to be at Pitt,” Lyke said.

After sleeping on the decision that night, Narduzzi let Lyke know Wednesday morning that he wasn’t going anywhere. He informed the media of his decision shortly after.

“I’m here at Pitt. And I want to be here at Pitt,” Narduzzi said. “That’s where I’m gonna be. It’s pretty simple.”

Narduzzi, clearly feeling himself and in a jestful mood, doubled down on his commitment to the program with a tweet Wednesday evening. The video — which likely utilized some assistance from someone within the program’s social media team — depicts Narduzzi’s head photoshopped over top “Wolf of Wall Street” character Jordan Belfort’s face while he gives the movie’s famous “I’m not leaving” speech.

With that, it’s safe to say that Narduzzi is locked up to lead the Panthers for the near future. In the words of Belfort — the show goes on.