Mark Madden: Pitt football long on problems, short on fixes |
Mark Madden, Columnist

Mark Madden: Pitt football long on problems, short on fixes

Mark Madden
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Attendance for Pitt games at Heinz Field is one of several problems plaguing the football program, according to columnist Mark Madden.

Pitt football might not quite be broken, but elements of it certainly are.

Pitt sold 47,144 tickets for its opening-night loss to Virginia. You can be encouraged by that, or discouraged by more than 21,000 left unsold. (It didn’t look like every ticket-buyer showed up, either. About 35K in the house is a reasonable estimate.)

You can look at the 30-14 defeat as just one game, or gird yourself for more disappointment courtesy of a coach that’s a lot of hype and not enough results.

But certain things about Pitt football can’t be fixed.

Pitt football needs a stadium on campus.

Funding it would be hard. Finding a location would be difficult. Pitt’s lease at Heinz Field runs through 2030.

This used to seem not a big deal. But the further we get from Pitt Stadium’s last season in 1999, the more antiseptic Pitt games at Heinz Field seem. The latter just isn’t an occasion. You’re playing in somebody else’s house, and it’s a constant reminder Pittsburgh is a pro town, not a college town — and that Oakland isn’t Pittsburgh.

Attendance at Pitt Stadium has been exaggerated and romanticized after the fact. Pitt averaged about 40,900 fans at Pitt Stadium from 1973-99.

But it was home, and it felt like home. Pitt Stadium was obviously much better for student turnout.

Pitt committed football suicide when it built Petersen Events Center on the site of Pitt Stadium. The foolishness of that move will forever ripple negatively. In the world of collegiate athletics, basketball isn’t a pimple on the backside of football. That should have been a new football stadium.

Pitt needs to play Penn State and West Virginia every year.

This won’t happen given the limitations of each school being in a different conference. But it needs to, anyway.

Pitt and Penn State are finishing up a four-year series this year. Pitt and West Virginia start a four-year series in 2022. But that’s not enough. Those games need played every year, like it used to be.

Pitt joined the ACC in 2011. Not one ACC foe has gained traction as a rival and won’t. Pitt fans don’t buy into the ACC and don’t feel part of it.

When the Pitt-Penn State series was initially severed after the 2000 game, Pitt could have extended it by taking one home game to every two for Penn State. Pitt should have done that, at least temporarily.

Pitt needs more good players from the WPIAL.

Many of Pitt’s all-time greats are local: Jimbo Covert, Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett, Bill Fralic, Dan Marino and Joe Schmidt, just to name the retired numbers.

But today’s WPIAL doesn’t produce as many players of that ilk. The ones it does don’t go to Pitt, or even seriously consider Pitt.

Marino went right down the street from Central Catholic to Pitt in 1979. The 2018 version, Pine-Richland quarterback Phil Jurkovec, picked Notre Dame.

Pitt used to build a recruiting fence around Western Pennsylvania. Now there’s no fence or very much to fence in.

Pitt could use a better coach than Pat Narduzzi, who does more hyping and complaining than coaching and winning. He’s all hat, no cattle.

OK, so Pitt won the ACC Coastal Division last season. That just got the Panthers’ heads kicked in by Clemson in the conference championship. (It was like the Pirates getting a wild card.)

But perhaps Pitt can’t get a better coach.

Narduzzi has averaged seven wins per season, which is better than or equal to all of his predecessors dating back, incredibly, to Jackie Sherrill from 1977-81. (Sherrill averaged 10 wins per season, but then Pitt tightened admissions standards for football players. That, more than anything, neutered Pitt football.)

Giving Narduzzi a seven-year extension in 2017 was nonetheless unnecessary. College coaches can get out of their contracts at will. Narduzzi isn’t a good enough coach to merit the one-way security his deal provides. If Narduzzi leaves, it’s no big deal.

It’s frustrating to list all of Pitt football’s problems, especially when so many are unlikely to be solved.

Pitt football is exactly what it is. Any coach good enough to make better of it wouldn’t have a reason to take the Pitt job. The other circumstances won’t change.

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