Greg Gattuso brings a bit of Pittsburgh to Albany
Greg Gattuso said Albany, N.Y., reminds him of Pittsburgh.
He calls the similarity between the cities “the best compliment I can tell people in Albany ... the geography all the way to the erratic weather.”
Which might be the reason he brought a little bit of Pittsburgh with him in 2014 when he became head coach of the Albany Great Danes, who visit Heinz Field on Saturday to help Pitt open its season. Three members of Gattuso’s staff have deep Pittsburgh roots:
-- Running game coordinator and tight ends coach Nate Byham, who played at Pitt from 2006-2009.
-- Safeties coach Jarred Holley, who patrolled Pitt’s secondary from 2009-2012.
-- Assistant head coach, offensive line coach and Gattuso’s lifelong friend Jim Sweeney, who played at Pitt from 1980-83 and then spent 16 years in the NFL, including the last four with the Steelers.
Gattuso and Sweeney have been friends for more than 50 years, since they were in the first grade together at St. Catherine of Siena in Beechview.
“When I got the job, I called him (to offer a position on his staff) and he drove to Albany a day later,” Gattuso said. “I think it took him three seconds to decide.”
They were teammates on Seton-La Salle’s 1979 WPIAL championship team, winning on a muddy field at North Allegheny. “My kind of field,” said Gattuso, the running back on that team.
Their coach was former Steelers director of football operations Tom Donahoe, now a senior adviser in the player personnel office of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
Today, Gattuso and Donahoe remain close friends. “We talk constantly,” he said.
“I told him when he signed on to be our high school coach, he never realized we would stay in touch this long. He is one of the most important people in my life.
“What a great mentor. He knows football, but he knows more about doing the right thing and how to treat people.”
Donahoe, regrettably, won’t be at the game Saturday due to his Eagles duties, but he sent Gattuso a good luck text message.
Gattuso understands the business of football seldom takes a day off after July. “I told him defending the Super Bowl isn’t easy,” he said.
But Gattuso will have plenty of friends there.
He grew up in Beechview, went to Penn State and played on its 1982 national champion and was an assistant at Pitt under Dave Wannstedt from 2005-2010. Prior to that, he was the head coach at Duquesne for 12 years and remains the winningest coach in school history (97-32 from 1993-2004).
It was his friendship with Pitt assistant athletic director Chris LaSala that triggered Saturday’s game, which will be Albany’s first all-time against a Power 5 school.
“It was one of the first things I did (when he was hired),” Gattuso said. He called LaSala, and it wasn’t long before Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi gave it his OK.
“To come back to Pittsburgh to me is special,” Gattuso said. “It feels like I’m going to know everyone in the stadium.
“I’m one of those rare birds in Pittsburgh who is a Pitt and Penn State fan. Every Saturday morning I check the Seton score and Sunday morning I check the Pitt, Penn State and Duquesne scores.”
When Wannstedt was fired in 2010, Gattuso coached at Maryland for three years before going to Albany in 2014.
“People in Pittsburgh think the world revolves around Pittsburgh and I’ve always been like that,” he said. “But sometimes in life you have to move on.”
Gattuso’s life took an unexpected turn when Wannstedt was fired after consecutive nine- and 10-win seasons. But he’s impressed with how the university has found stability in Narduzzi, who has a contract that runs through 2024.
“Pitt is committed to Narduzzi,” he said. “That’s the right thing, not losing your coach every two or three years.
“That was the shame of it. Dave was the right guy at the right time. When that thing ended the way it ended, it hurt the program.”