Column | It’s time to give Pat Narduzzi the credit he deserves


TPN File Photo

Pat Narduzzi’s coaches at a game against the University of Delaware’s on Sept. 21, 2019.

By Dalton Coppola, Assistant Sports Editor

Having reservations about Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi is understandable. His tenure at Pitt was relatively mediocre up until last year’s improbable tear through the ACC. Not to mention that even in last season’s run he had several blunders — including but not limited to his clock management and inability to adapt mid-game.

In his seventh year at the helm, he accomplished what he set out to do when Pitt hired him in 2014 — he won an ACC Championship. But it’s what Narduzzi has done in the wake of the confetti falling at the Bank of America Stadium that should excite Pitt fans.

For the first time since Pitt fell to Michigan State in the Peach Bowl, the media spoke with Narduzzi and some of the newest additions to the program on Wednesday — offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. as well as transfers junior quarterback Kedon Slovis, first-year receiver Konata Mumpfield and senior linebacker Shayne Simon. All have different roles in the program but every single one of the new Panthers credited Narduzzi’s character and energy as a reason they chose Pitt over other offers.

It’s time to give Narduzzi credit. He said he’d build a program and a culture at Pitt and he’s done just that. Pitt is no longer a second-class program — it’s a place people want to play.

With the increasing use of the NCAA’s transfer portal in college football, coaches are tasked with getting players to stay at their program. Narduzzi has navigated the transfer portal with success, as Pitt has one of the lowest transfer rates in the country. On top of keeping his own players to stay, he’s also been able to acquire not only players but coaches from other programs.

Narduzzi even revealed that Notre Dame tried to poach quarterback Kenny Pickett before last season started — yet he kept his Heisman finalist from leaving for the annual contender.

Mumpfield, a top 10 player in the transfer portal, held offers from LSU, Mississippi State and Georgia, among others. Growing up in Georgia, Mumpfield was a fan of SEC football. Despite the offers from perennial powerhouses and even teams he grew up watching, Narduzzi won over the first-year All-American.

“Coach Narduzzi, he was a very energetic person,” Mumpfield said. “I really liked his energy and how he flew to people. That was really my initial attraction.”

SEC programs have outbid Pitt for big-time prospects for decades now — the Panthers weren’t competing for championships or producing NFL prospects. Since Narduzzi took over, he has produced a number of NFL Draft picks, and now he also has a championship trophy for recruits to pose with.

One of Narduzzi’s most successful projects is Pickett’s development. It’s something he can point to when recruiting quarterbacks — he’s proved that he can produce an NFL level quarterback.

Slovis, a Southern California native and transfer from USC, said Narduzzi was his head recruiter from Pitt. Head coaches often let positional coaches do the recruiting for them. But when Narduzzi saw Slovis hit the portal, he was determined to land the highly touted transfer.

“That was my guy,” Narduzzi said. “We kept it away from other coaches. Just let them deal with the bowl game and it was almost a week and a half focused on just him … the culture, the program, the returnees — that’s what we sold on our end.”

Narduzzi had backup plans in place in case Slovis didn’t join the Panthers. Rumors of two other top quarterbacks in the transfer portal — Chubba Purdy and Zach Calzada — joining the Panthers swirled on social media. Narduzzi said he had two other quarterbacks that wanted to commit prior to Slovis’ announcement. But he told the other two quarterbacks to hold off for some time because Narduzzi was confident he would eventually land his No. 1 choice.

The most impressive aspect in this equation is that Narduzzi did it all without having yet hired an offensive coordinator. Slovis appreciated Narduzzi’s character, efforts and transparency during the process, which he said is a big reason why he came to Pitt.

“There’s only so many real dudes and real people out here in college football and he’s definitely one of them,” Slovis said. “Having him be the guy I was talking to most really allowed me to get comfortable with that and him being my head coach.”

Narduzzi built Pitt’s culture up to the point where he has to tell top-rated players that there’s no place for them on the roster — a few years back, this would’ve been inconceivable. It’s a testament to Narduzzi.

Not only are players leaving programs for Pitt, but coaches as well. Narduzzi stole Cignetti from Boston College this past month. The offensive coordinator coached at Pitt from 2009-10 before moving on to various roles in the NFL — including working directly with Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning. Cignetti grew up in Pittsburgh and said the opportunity to return home for a program like Pitt is a dream come true for him and his family.

“It’s truly a dream,” Cignetti said. “When Coach Narduzzi called me, I was just so excited to get this process moving … being in the ACC for the past two years and seeing what an unbelievable football program that Coach Narduzzi has built here, and to be able to step into a championship football program — just unbelievable.”

It took seven years being here, but Narduzzi brought Pitt back to a level that can compete among the nation’s best. Narduzzi built something at Pitt that is sustainable. Say what you will about Narduzzi’s ability to manage games, but there’s one thing nobody can take away from him — Pitt is back.