Pitt on stable ground in Pat Narduzzi’s 5th season, but with work to do
Pat Narduzzi likes to approach every season in the same manner.
Coaches, almost invariably, are creatures of habit. Change interrupts their thought process and their players’ focus.
To the liking of Pitt’s administration and fans, Pitt’s football program is blessed with rare (at least, for this decade) stability at the top.
Narduzzi is entering his fifth season as Pitt’s coach, the longest tenure of anyone since Dave Wannstedt spent six seasons as the head man.
— ACC Football (@ACCFootball) July 18, 2019
Two weeks and a day before the start of training camp, Narduzzi said Thursday morning from ACC media days in Charlotte, N.C., “I think the stability at Pitt is as good as it’s been.”
That’s the first important step as he ventures into his fifth season with a contract that extends through 2024. But certainly not the only one.
“I’m a guy who’s always felt stable,” he said. “I felt like I had stability wherever I’ve been because of the way we work. We’re going to work and work and work.
“I’ve never worried about contact extensions or contract lengths because I’ve never had to worry about it and hope I never have to worry about it. I’m just working on the next thing that needs to be done.”
That next thing is to assemble a more consistent string of victories. Even with the 2018 ACC Coastal championship on his record, Narduzzi is 28-24 for a .538 winning percentage that is just shy of Wannstedt’s .575 (42-31).
There’s more work to be done.
“It’s never where you want it to be,” Narduzzi said. “Is it where you expect it to be? Or, maybe the better question would be, ‘Are you disappointed with where you are?’
The program still needs to take several more steps to reach its goal of an ACC championship. The Coastal title-clincher last season was followed by the three-game losing streak Pitt will take into this season.
“Could you always be better? Yeah. You’re always looking to get better, score more points, get more sacks and be a better program,” he said. “I don’t think anybody can be disappointed, being Coastal champions and being in the ACC championship game.
“So I think we’re going where we want to go. Would I like to get there faster? No doubt about it. Everybody would.”
Narduzzi will get a quick read on his team before the end of August. Pitt opens Aug. 31 at Heinz Field with ACC Coastal rival Virginia, only the second time this century the Panthers will open with a conference game (Florida State in 2013 is the other).
Despite Virginia boasting two of the best players in the ACC (quarterback Bryce Perkins and cornerback Bryce Hall), Narduzzi said it won’t change his staff’s workload or mindset.
“I don’t care if we’re playing Youngstown State or Virginia or Notre Dame or Alabama in the opener. To me, it’s all the same,” he said. “We’re approaching every game like it’s a must-win situation because you can lose.”
But the players are a different story.
“Will it change the kids’ approach? I think absolutely yes,” he said.
“I’ve heard them mention it. I’ve heard the whispers of ‘Coach, we have to be ready to go.’ ” (Narduzzi put an emphasis on go.)
“To me, that’s what it’s all about. It’s what they think. I think the kids will have a different approach.
”I think it will be a little more locked in. I think sometimes when you start off with an opponent you’re supposed to beat, sometimes your kids feel that and maybe practice like that.”
Narduzzi likes his team’s work ethic — most coaches do — but he also likes the way the roster is constructed.
“The thing I like about this football team right now is our depth and really our roster. I feel like there are not a lot of weaknesses,” he said.
“Go back and look at the quarterback situation in our second and third year and even last year. Something happens to Kenny Pickett last year, we’re like ‘Oh, my gosh.’
“Now Nick Patti’s come along. Jeff George’s come along. (Freshman) Davis Beville.
“The depth at each one of our positions is something (to feel good about). You obviously have to stay healthy still, but that’s the thing that gives me optimism. The type of depth we have across the board at every position.”
Narduzzi spent part of the offseason building more depth by signing graduate transfers Nolan Ulizio, Nakia Griffin-Stewart and Kylan Johnson at three positions of need (offensive line, tight end and linebacker).
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with those three guys,” Narduzzi said. “But Ulizio, Nakia and Kylan Johnson, three players that we did not bring in to sit on the bench.
“Are they going to start? First thing you do is buy into the program, which I think they have. All three of them are on campus.
“But they’re going to earn their stars and their reps, and they should be contributors, for sure. Are they going to start? You have to compete (first).”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .