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On December 23, 2014, Pittsburgh football fans got an early Christmas present: Pat Narduzzi. After spending eight successful years as Michigan State’s defensive coordinator, Narduzzi officially became the Panthers 36th head football coach.
During his tenure in East Lansing, Narduzzi built a reputation as one of college football’s brightest defensive minds. Under his direction, the Spartans total defense ranked in the nation’s top 10 each season from 2011 to 2014. Since 2010, Michigan State was one of two FBS programs that allowed less than 20 points per game and less than 300 total yards per game.
This bodes well for a Pitt defense that ranked 10th in scoring defense (26.3 ppg) in the ACC a year ago.
Pat Narduzzi brings a certain inensity and fire to a city that thrives off hard-nosed football. The son of a head coach, Narduzzi grew up 70 miles from Pittsburgh in Youngstown, Ohio, a town that takes pride in its industrial heritage. He embraces the culture of the, “Steel City” and wants to instill that mindset in Pitt’s program.
“I am highly motivated to build this program into national prominence,” Narduzzi said. “We’re going to do it with relentless energy.”
Combine Coach Narduzzi’s passion with Pitt’s tradition of excellence and it could be a match made in heaven. Narduzzi remembers watching players like Tony Dorsett, Dan Marino and Jimbo Covert tear up the gridiron in the late 1970s.
“The history and tradition we have here at Pitt is incredible,” Narduzzi reflected.
Don’t let his appreciation of historical significance fool you. Narduzzi has coached his fair share of superstars as well. It’s a homecoming of sorts for the 49-year-old who will be reunited in Pittsburgh with former players Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell.
In 2003, when Narduzzi was the defensive coordinator at Miami of Ohio under the late Terry Hoeppner, Ben Roethlisberger headlined as the RedHawks starting quarterback.
Also now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Le’Veon Bell carried the ball 382 times for Michigan State in 2012. Narduzzi joked that current Pitt running back, James Conner’s 298 carries last season were a “light load.” Despite playing on the opposite side of the ball, Narduzzi certainly made a strong impression on Bell.
“When I watched the way he acted with the defense, I could just always tell that our players loved him,” Bell remarked. “He’s just an overall great guy. He’s a player’s coach. He always puts those guys first.”
That same degree of chemistry and camaraderie has been transferred over to Pitt’s program. In fact, team chemistry was the first “camp goal” that Pat Narduzzi emphasized this past summer. In a change from recent years, he made all 105 Pitt players stay in dorms during training camp.
The players weren’t the only ones slumming it in the dorms though. For the entirety of the camp, Narduzzi and a rotating cast of assistants also stayed in the dorm with the players.
“I [stayed] in the dorm with them to see how they live, see what type of music they’re listening to, what they’re eating,” Narduzzi claimed. “If they love each other and have that relationship, and the coaches love the players, we’re going to win some football games.”