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Tim Benz: Is Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi overrated? Depends how much you care

September 15, 2018
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi looks on during drills on the firs day of practice Friday, Aug. 3, 2018 UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

Early this week, we told you about a CBSSports.com poll in which Penn State’s James Franklin was voted the most overrated coach in the country along with Willie Taggart of Florida State by a group of anonymous coaches.

I disagreed. Based on the responses of the coaches, it comes off as if they have more of a problem with Franklin’s coaching personality than his coaching prowess. So it seems like that criticism may be misplaced.

If Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi got any votes at all, they were very few and unmentioned. I can’t say I’m surprised.

To be overrated, don’t you need to be rated first?

I don’t mean “rated” as in “rated in the top 25.” At 5-7 last year, Pitt wasn’t rated at season’s end and didn’t receive any votes in the AP preseason poll this year.

I mean “rated” in the sense of coaching cache. Nationally, Narduzzi doesn’t come up in these kinds of conversations at all. Much like the program itself, the coach isn’t top of mind outside of his own conference, maybe even outside of his own market.

Based on Heinz Field attendance at games in recent seasons, you could even argue within his own market.

So let’s look at that question from a different perspective. Let’s forget how Narduzzi should be viewed outside of Pittsburgh and focus on how he’s viewed here.

Frankly, the answer to that question may be close to the same, since I don’t know if Narduzzi elicits a lot of opinions one way or another outside of Tier 1, dedicated Panther fans.

For better or worse, Walt Harris and Dave Wannstedt seemed to do that. Narduzzi and the rest of the Panther program seem to be quietly getting along. The refrain I hear most often from Pitt faithful is: “Narduzzi has the team pointed in the right direction.”

Does he? If it’s believed he really does, then I’d say, yes, Narduzzi is overrated. Because the last direction we saw Pitt moving was backward.

After failing to climb very far under Narduzzi in the first place.

The Panthers slipped to 5-7 in 2017 after being 8-5 the first two years of the Narduzzi era.

At first, 8-5 looked pretty good. And “pointed in the right direction” was a fair evaluation since Pitt was 6-7 or 7-6 four years in a row.

But after his debut season of 2015, Narduzzi’s conference record slipped the next two years, and he doesn’t have a bowl win.

The facts are, Narduzzi is 21-17 overall, 14-10 in the ACC, and 0-2 in bowl games in his first three years. On top of that, he has been in charge of a defense that has been between 65th and 109th in yards per game and points per game the last two years.

This from a guy who was deemed to be a defensive mind coming to Pittsburgh from Michigan State, where he was defensive coordinator.

Even though the bar wasn’t set particularly high, with Narduzzi replacing the mediocre reign of Paul Chryst, I’m not sure those numbers would’ve excited Pitt fans if they had known what they would be in advance.

Yet, Narduzzi seems to inspire confidence that better times are a-comin’ from the Golden Panther types.

Maybe it’s Narduzzi’s old-school, no-frills, unpolished personality that plays well. That no-nonsense, just-football persona washes well in Pittsburgh.

Until you stagnate. Then it seems like you are guy who is all hat and no cattle. Plenty of football panache, but no X-and-O answers to make things better.

The question of whether Narduzzi is living up to expectations is up to the fan base itself to answer.

If you thought Narduzzi would’ve made more progress by now, you have every right to say Narduzzi’s impact has been overrated to this point. The needle hasn’t moved much in terms of standing or status.

If those passing opinion on Narduzzi were expecting just a slight improvement on what his predecessors accomplished for the short term, then you’re probably fine with where things stand.

Let’s just admit that’s all it has been thus far. If you feel better about recruiting and the overall tone of the program, OK. We’ll see in a year or two. Although, we’ve heard that song during many Pitt coaching tenures over the last two decades.

For the most part, things have stayed in the “barely above-average” category.

So is Narduzzi overrated? If you think he has advanced Pitt much beyond a so-so program in the ACC, then that answer is yes.

If you are OK with the fact he isn’t further along than that, then that question probably wasn’t worth asking in the first place.

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