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New 7-year contract for Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi brings peace of mind on many fronts

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, 11:21 a.m.
Pitt head coach Patt Narduzzi celebrates with quarterback Kenny Pickett after  beating #2 Miami Friday, Nov. 24, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt head coach Patt Narduzzi celebrates with quarterback Kenny Pickett after beating #2 Miami Friday, Nov. 24, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi stands on the sideline during the Virginia game Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi stands on the sideline during the Virginia game Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, at Heinz Field.

For those unfamiliar with the way college football works (and how high school kids think), giving Pat Narduzzi a new contract through 2024 with four years left on the old one might seem strange/unnecessary/excessive.

Lucky for Pitt, athletic director Heather Lyke doesn't think so. She gets it.None of those three adjectives apply in this case because locking down Narduzzi well into the next decade makes sense.

It gives Pitt officials peace of mind that, perhaps, Narduzzi will ignore (or, at least, reject after some consideration) attempts to lure him from Pitt.

Coaching vacancies pop up frequently in the middle of recruiting season — the new signing period opens Dec. 20 — and Pitt needs a coach focused on its program, not someone else's.

Todd Graham left Dec. 11, 2011, and more than half of the 16-man 2012 class new coach Paul Chryst signed in February was virtually useless.

Did you notice the decommitments to Florida State's program last week when coach Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M?

Narduzzi was hired after the 2014 season to provide strong leadership, a defensive mind and continuity at the top of a program that needed it desperately.Members of the search committee and Chancellor Patrick Gallagher were aware of Narduzzi's successful eight-year run as Michigan State's defensive coordinator.

They also knew Spartans coach Mark Dantonio was 58 at the time and had suffered a mild heart attack during the 2010 season.

But they were told by Michigan State officials that Dantonio planned to coach for at least 10 more seasons.

After three Pitt coaches prior to Narduzzi had runs of two weeks, 11 months and three years, Pitt needed another coach such as Dave Wannstedt, who would have stayed at Pitt into retirement.

But let's be clear: No one can guarantee Pitt will be Narduzzi's last job — not even Narduzzi — but the signing shows Pitt's commitment to the program. Yahoo Sports reported the deal also includes salary bumps for assistants.

"We are deeply committed to helping (Narduzzi), his staff and his student-athletes achieve at the highest levels in the ACC and nationally," Lyke said in a statement. "Coach Narduzzi is a tireless worker, dynamic leader and passionate about building outstanding relationships with our student-athletes and everyone connected to our Pitt family. He and his staff are fully dedicated to building a national-caliber program the right way, on and off the field."

The other reason Pitt decided it was time to give Narduzzi unprecedented security is to assure recruits (as much as possible) that the coach who signed them would stay through their five years.

Two years ago, that was the intent of the contract Narduzzi worked out with former athletic director Scott Barnes that stretched into 2021. It's part of what Lyke is thinking now.

Those 13 members of Pitt's 2018 recruiting class, which Narduzzi hopes will grow in the next two weeks, know their coach is signed well beyond their time at Pitt. It's no disaster when a coach leaves, but in Pitt's case, it slowed progress.

If Narduzzi can build the program into an ACC contender, even a champion, losing the coach won't be the program-killer it was in the past.

Narduzzi, 51, has a 21-17 record in his three years, including victories against eventual national champion Clemson and Big Ten champ Penn State in 2016 and ACC Coastal winner Miami this season, halting the Hurricanes' 15-game winning streak (longest in the nation at the time).

Pitt's 5-7 record shouts regression, but fans (for the most part) can tolerate it amid injuries and inexperience. The honeymoon ends in 2018.

Narduzzi's victory total is the most for a Pitt coach in his first three seasons since Jackie Sherrill won 28 from 1977-79.

Although college coaches' contracts routinely are broken, Narduzzi repeatedly has expressed a desire to stay at Pitt

"I wouldn't have taken this job if I didn't want to be here," he said at the time of his first new contract in 2015. "I don't like to move around. I don't like dealing with realtors."

In statement released by Pitt on Wednesday, he said, "When I initially accepted the head coaching position at Pitt three years ago this month, I said we could achieve great things if we were all moving in the same direction.

"Thanks to Chancellor Gallagher and Heather, we are all definitely moving in the same direction with a shared vision for excellence on the field, in the classroom and in the community."

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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