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University of Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi likes his chances in a Royal Rumble alongside the ACC’s other 13 coaches. That confidence comes from a combination of his midwest upbringing and a body fueled by Pittsburgh’s finest Italian cuisine.
Narduzzi shared as much and more with me late last week when he took time out of his vacation to talk exclusively to OutKick.
Before Narduzzi and I talked fisticufs and, more importantly, pizza, the 57-year-old coach and I discussed his time with the Panthers and the current landscape of college football’s NIL era.
*Questions I asked are noted in bold while Pat Narduzzi’s answers follow in italics.
Since you’ve been at Pitt, you’ve coached nine first team All-Americans and countless NFL Draft picks. Who’s the best of the players you’ve coached in your time as Panthers coach?
“Kenny Pickett, without question. And that’s not only because he’s a quarterback and a leader, but because he’s got all the tools. He’s the whole package. I think he’s going to win a Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers…We’ve had a lot of good players here at Pitt in the last eight seasons I’ve been here. But Kenny Pickett, without a question.”
Though Naduzzi singled Pickett out as being the best, one more recent NFL draftee wasn’t far behind.
“Calijah Kancey the defensive tackle who was just a first rounder (19th) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he’s outstanding as well. But I have to say Kenny because of the position he plays. To be able to play that position and be as accurate and pass like he does sets him apart.”
Pat Narduzzi Has Coached Against Quite A Bit Of Talent
After Narduzzi shouted out Kancey and Pickett, I sought his answer about the opposition. With teams like Florida State, North Carolina, Miami, Clemson and Virginia Tech among the conference’s elite year-in and year-out, Narduzzi likely had plenty of options to choose from.
In your eight seasons at Pitt, who’s the best player you’ve coached against?
“I would probably say Trevor Lawrence down at Clemson. That guy caused us chest pains. I think that guy’s special. He can run, he can throw it. He’s really so accurate deep. And I think if you have an accurate passer that can sling it deep and complete balls against our defense, to me, that’s the guy that’s gonna hurt you the most. We just didn’t have an answer for him.“
Trevor Lawrence, currently of the Jacksonville Jaguars, played his high school ball in Georgia where spring ball is a regular occurance. That’s generally the case with most high school’s in the south. And though Pitt certainly has a national recruiting presence, a large portion of their roster hails from the midwest and northeast (with a heavy reliance on Pennsylvania and Ohio), which lead to my next question for coach Narduzzi.
Are high school recruits from the midwest and northeast, or more specifically – not the south, at a disadvantage because traditional “spring ball” doesn’t exist in those portions of the country (largely because of weather)?
“No question I think that Ohio and Pennsylvania are hurt by a lack of spring ball, no question. There is more spring “training” if you will, in those states, where kids go out and do drills and they call it spring ball, but it isn’t spring ball. Down south where they put on helmets and shoulder pads and actually have a scrimmage and spring games, that’s spring ball. But until (teams up north and in the midwest) put the pads on, you can’t call it spring ball.“
Narduzzi added that actual spring ball unquestionably helps those athletes who do not have such practices within their states.
“It’s like basketball. If you don’t play basketball in the summer, what are you doing for yourself? Football’s a different sport, but how do you get better at your trade if you don’t go out and do it all the time?”
Show Me The Money!
At the risk of unintentionally ruining Narduzzi’s vacation, I opted to pivot toward the current landscape of college football – and college athletics in general – that sees student athletes regularly cashing in.
What are you thoughts on athletes getting paid outside of their normal Pell Grants and scholarship money?
“There’s a thing called cost of attendance out there that started to surface maybe 8, 9 years ago. When I was at Michigan State years ago (as defensive coordinator from 2007-14) there was talk of this cost of attendance, but I don’t think a kid ever got extra money beyond a scholarship. I think it’s important to understand these student athletes need to get extra money. They should get paid something. What are they getting paid, I don’t know. But every university’s a little bit different as far as what they gave it. And the money is based on where your college was located. And I was happy with that. If they would’ve said ‘we’re going to triple that, whatever the cost of attendance is – triple it, quadruple it.’ I don’t care what (the increase) is. Just to give these kids more and make it even across the board. Factor in what does it cost to go to Youngstown State, what does it cost to go to Pitt, to Harvard and give these kids proper payment. But it’s out of control right now and I couldn’t imagine it 10 years ago.
But make no mistake, the kids deserve something in their pocket. What people don’t realize though is everyone thinks these universities are making so much money. And yes, they are, but football and basketball are generally supporting all the other sports. And if the NCAA starts to do some of the other things they’re talking about doing, there won’t be any other sports. There’ll be football and basketball and that’s it. You talk about Title IX and that’ll be over with and that’s a shame. The federal government has got to get involved to try and get this under control a little bit. Most schools and universities just aren’t making money. They make it and it goes right back out the door to fund the other sports.”
With so much money now involved and athletes seemingly transferring based on NIL deals, do you find you and your staff having to re-recruit players already within your program?
“With the way I was brought up and the culture we’ve built at Pitt, we hope we don’t have to re-recruit you. We just treat you the right way every day and I think if you treat players the right way each day you don’t really have to re-recruit. I don’t feel like we have kids coming into my office or our offices saying: ‘What are you going to do for me?’ That’s not happening at Pitt right now.
I think it’s happening at a lot of other places though. You just want to take care of these kids every day and that’s what we do here and that’s what we’ve built here and why we’ve had success. It’s genuine, it’s real, it’s a relationship…If you do what you said you were going to do when initially recruiting, you shouldn’t have to re-recruit. The kid should see it every day and I think that’s what our players see at Pitt.“
Narduzzi Talks ACC Royal Rumble
With the business out of the way, it was time to talk wrestling coaches. And by wrestling coaches, I don’t mean the men coaching up college wrestlers. Nope. I’ll leave that discussion for the fine folks over at Rivals or whomever is flooding social feeds with the latest college news from the mat.
If the 14 ACC coaches enter a WWE-style Royal Rumble, who’s coming out as the winner?
“I’m coming out as the winner, there’s no question about it. That’s because I’m from Youngstown (Ohio), I’m a fighter. I grew up there and I have that city of Youngstown toughness.”
Then who would be the second-to-last coach left standing before you claimed victory?
“I’m taking (Syracuse coach) Dino Babers with me. Dino’s a big, strong, strapping man. I think Dino might be the guy. (Miami coach Mario) Cristobal is a big dude. He is big, but I’m going Dino.”
Both Narduzzi, who’s manned the Pitt sideline since 2014, and I – who’s manned the refrigerator since long before ’14 – were born and raised in the midwest suburb of Youngstown, OH (as coach alluded to above). The town is situated almost exactly in-between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, an hour from each. Because of that proximity, Narduzzi’s hiring at Pitt was essentially a homecoming. That’s been a positive for many reasons, one of which is a familiarity and taste for
You grew up in Youngstown and now reside in Pittsburgh, two cities known for their food. So who has the better eats and what are you chowing down on in the ‘Burgh?
“There’s so much good food in both those cities. Coming from East Lansing after eight years (at Michigan State), it was nice to get to Pittsburgh where there’s so many great places to eat. There’s just great pizza in both places, I can’t pick which city’s I prefer. There’s so many different styles too.“
*Editor’s note – my physique will tell you that I strongly agree with Narduzzi’s pizza opinion.
The plethora of styles didn’t stop coach Pat Narduzzi from quickly rattling off his hometown favorites before shouting out his prefered Italian spot in the Steel City.
“In Youngstown, I’m going with either Avalon or Wedgewood whenever I go back to the area. It’s the little Mom and Pop restaurants that I love about Pittsburgh. I find different places all the time. There’s a place called Sarafino’s, a little place that’s just incredible. You get different stuff on the menu every month. The owner leaves there and goes to Italy for a month and a half and comes back with new recipes.
There’s so many little spots like that here in Pittsburgh. I found a spot like that that’s two blocks from my office and it took me seven years to find out about it. I was like ‘are you kidding me (it’s so good)’. There’s just so many good places, that’s the thing.“
Greatness Of Pitt Uniforms Recognized By Coach Pat Narduzzi
After coach Pat Narduzzi and I verbally carb loaded, we briefly shifted the conversation back to football so he could get on with his vacation and I could indulge my sudden pizza craving. In this instance, uniforms were the dessert that at least one of us were craving.
Pitt’s current digs are amongst the best in all of college football and even secured and honorable mention in last fall’s rankings of CFB’s Top Five unis.
How quickly would you resign as coach of the Panthers if the administration or athletic department told you that Pitt would be moving away from their current uniforms (which were brought back/introduced in 2019)?
“We didn’t have those when I first got here (in 2014), but they’re awesome. It’s been great to get those colors back to where they’re supposed to be. And we’ll add some more flavors (of the uniform) in the next couple of years. But they certainly are nice to look at…And I wouldn’t resign if they changed the uniforms, that wouldn’t be real smart. But put it this way – I would not be real happy if someone came in and said we’re going to go back to some other colors. Wouldn’t be too happy.“
What should make Pat Narduzzi happy is a return to the sideline. Pitt’s slated to kick off their ninth season under Narduzzi (he carries a 62-41 record) on Sept. 2 when the Panthers host Wofford. That leaves coach just under two months to prep for the season and any pending Royal Rumbles.
Follow along on Twitter: @OhioAF