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Rossi: Pitt has its coach, now needs a QB

| Monday, Dec. 28, 2015, 10:51 p.m.
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi looks on during the national anthem before the Military Bowl on Monday, Dec. 28, 2015, in Annapolis, Md.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi looks on during the national anthem before the Military Bowl on Monday, Dec. 28, 2015, in Annapolis, Md.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Didn't notice a red cape draping down Keenan Reynolds' back. Though, Roger Staubach never actually fended off defenders with a Vibranium shield, either.

But Staubach was no more Captain America than Reynolds is Superman.

They're real. They're quarterbacks.

They're really special quarterbacks, a fleet admiral and an admiral among Midshipmen who have excelled on the gridiron for the United States Naval Academy.

And as he continues to “pound the rock” in building Pitt into at least Navy's equal on the college football map, Pat Narduzzi must find what his program has lacked longer even than a capable coach who will stick around for a while.

Everything he has said — and done (contract extension, hello?) — suggests Narduzzi is that coach for Pitt.

He'll need a really special quarterback if the Panthers are to prowl for 10-win seasons and bowls that matter.

Somebody who can do the seemingly impossible, as Reynolds did at Navy, and at least make people wonder who is the best there ever was, too.

The next Dan Marino isn't walking onto the Oakland campus.

The first Keenan Reynolds could, should and must make that walk.

If a service academy can land a quarterback of Reynolds' skill, substance and significance, the University of Pittsburgh can identify, target and capture one of its own.

What does Pitt lack?

Its conference, the ACC, consists of Florida State and Clemson, but its Coastal Division is comprised of a bunch of basketball schools.

Pitt's new chancellor and athletic director have paid to hire and keep Narduzzi, and also for him to afford competitive salaries for assistants.

The Panthers don't play on campus. So what?

The smaller crowds at Heinz Field for Pitt games are more about Pitt having not won enough — especially in the few big home games the Panthers have played at the stadium — to win over the general audience.

The Pitt students show up to our Mustard Bowl on the North Shore.

The would-be Pitt supporters who weren't Pitt students will pack the place when there is a hot dog leading drives into the Heinz-ketchup red zone.

But the hot dogs can't be only at tailgates on Saturday afternoons. Narduzzi has to find one to fling footballs in the stadium.

He had to realize that while watching Pitt go 1-5 against Iowa, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Miami and Navy. At each of those schools was enrolled a superior quarterback to whoever took snaps this season at Pitt.

Navy's Reynolds could have won the Heisman Trophy. He should have finished higher than fifth in the voting.

He can throw. He can run. He can think.

At one point, as Reynolds rushed for 144 yards, passed for 126 and produced four touchdowns in a 44-28 drubbing of Pitt in the Military Bowl, I actually believed the man could fly.

He looked like it early in the second half while taking a reception 47 yards and also taking the wind out of any Pitt comeback hopes.

I might doubt Narduzzi can ever find a quarterback the caliber of Reynolds, but only because Nick Saban never has pulled it off.

But I don't doubt Narduzzi.

He won eight games with a Pitt team that lacked top-25 talent (if not top-50) at most positions.

He only needs a top-10 talent at one position. It's the one that pro sports-loving Pittsburghers haven't seen filled since Dan You Know Who.

I never have believed a stud quarterback prospect wouldn't take on the challenge of turning Pittsburgh onto college football. Not sure that anybody has tried selling a stud quarterback prospect on the concept.

Narduzzi could sell thermal underwear in Hawaii.

He sold Pittsburgh to this Pittsburgher in August.

“Pro town. College town. You know what?” Narduzzi said. “Pittsburgh people really just want to see their teams win. They expect it.

“The Pittsburgh people I've know sure do. So when you ask me about my job here and what Pitt can be in this community, I guess my answer is that we need to win.

“But I'll have a better answer after we've played some games.”

Thirteen are in the book Narduzzi has started authoring.

Eight were wins. Six were conference wins. Five were road wins.

All the wins were without James Conner. He'll be back, and good luck tackling him next season.

Took a blown-out knee and cancer to knock that young man down.

But like see-ya-in-the-NFL receiver Tyler Boyd, Conner soon will leave Narduzzi without any weapons inherited from former coach Paul Chryst.

No big deal, really.

A really special quarterback makes weapons of all runners and catchers.

Narduzzi can “pound the rock” day and night. He better turn over every one to find what Pitt football needs.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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