Column | It’s do or die for Pat Narduzzi in the 2021-22 season

According+to+staff+writer+Frankie+Richetti%2C+with+a+talented+roster%2C+Pat+Narduzzi+needs+to+put+it+all+together+or+else+his+job+could+be+on+the+line.

Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

According to staff writer Frankie Richetti, with a talented roster, Pat Narduzzi needs to put it all together or else his job could be on the line.

By Frankie Richetti, Staff Writer

When universities attempt to build a winning college football program, stability is key. Stability is necessary from both the players and the staff to maintain sustained success.

Pitt Athletic Director Heather Lyke cited stability as one of the reasons she offered head coach Pat Narduzzi a new seven-year contract extension back in December 2017.

“Stability is something that we have never had at Pitt with the right people, so why wouldn’t you consider that?” Lyke said. “That’s really the thought process I had early on.”

Lyke also believed she hired the right man for the job, but when does that trust break? With a favorable non-conference schedule, and an elite assortment of talent, Narduzzi must produce results, or he should be firmly on the hot seat. 

When Pitt hired Narduzzi in December 2014, fans and media alike saw it as a home run. Viewed as one of the best defensive coordinators in college football at Michigan State, he was thought to be a perfect fit for Pittsburgh’s blue-collar mold.

The honeymoon phase of Narduzzi’s tenure seemed to prove fans and pundits correct — leading the Panthers to an eight-win regular season, including going 6-2 in conference play and being ranked in the AP Top 25 for two straight weeks in his first season at the helm.

Narduzzi followed up his strong 2015 campaign the next year with flashes of excellence, like when the Panthers took down the eventual Big Ten champions Penn State, who finished the season ranked in the AP Top 10. In the same season, Pitt upset eventual National Champions Clemson, in Death Valley, after coming into the game as 20.5 pt underdogs. Almost five years later, the 43-42 loss to the Panthers is still Clemson’s last loss at home.

But the 2016 Panthers weren’t consistent and finished the season just 8-5, despite how impressive they were in the two aforementioned wins. That’s the theme of Narduzzi’s tenure in Pittsburgh — inconsistency. Since 2016, Narduzzi has done just enough to stay off the hot seat.

The Panthers were just 4-7 in 2017 but super-senior quarterback Kenny Pickett, as a true first-year, upset the No. 2 Miami Hurricanes. After a subpar season, Panther fans received a morale boosting fifth win as well as something to cling to while heading into the offseason. 

Narduzzi led the Panthers to the ACC Championship Game the following year after clinching the ACC Coastal division title. But Pitt fans were left with a bitter taste in their mouths when the team trended downwards and finished the season losing their final three games, finishing with a 7-7 record.

Narduzzi built an elite defense laden with NFL talent the past two seasons, but was left with little to show for it. The Panthers’ combined record in both seasons was 14-10 with a 9-9 record in ACC play.

Considering Narduzzi had a defense that finished top 20 in the nation in team defense in each of the previous two seasons at his disposal, the seasons were wildly underwhelming. In fact, Narduzzi’s entire tenure as head coach is underwhelming.

Kickoff is almost here, and there are lofty expectations heading out of camp. Pickett, the most experienced quarterback in the conference, is back under center. Redshirt senior tight end Lucas Krull and sophomore running back Israel Abanikanda seem poised for breakout years.

Sports Illustrated said the wide receivers have the potential to be one of the best in the conference” led by ACC’s Rookie of the Year runner-up sophomore Jordan Addison.

On the opposite side of the ball, the Panthers will feature a stout defense once again.

At the corner spots, PFF ranks junior Marquis Williams and senior Damarri Mathis as a top 10 defensive back pairing in the country by Pro Football Focus, with plenty of young depth waiting behind them. It’s tough to forget about Pitt’s talented front seven as well.

In an interview with Packer and Durham earlier this month, Narduzzi went on record saying, “We’ve got more depth than we’ve ever had.”

The recipe for success is there.

There’s stability within the staff. The roster is loaded with experienced players and balanced out by an influx of youth, who are ready to contribute this year. It’s arguably Narduzzi’s best team since arriving at Pitt.

It must translate to wins though. If it doesn’t, Narduzzi’s job should be in jeopardy.

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