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CARDIAC SPILL OP-ED: To Succeed in 2016, Pitt Should Not Fire Pat Narduzzi

This time last year, Pitt football was still fighting for bowl eligibility. This Friday, they'll instead be looking to finish their best regular season since 2009. The difference in this team and previous years' is apparent, but the team's success can only be sustained into 2016 if Pat Narduzzi is retained as head football coach.

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After several seasons of relative unrest at the head coaching position, Pitt Football may have finally found its guy in first-year head coach and former Michigan State Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. The new head ball coach has so far thoroughly exceeded expectations for his debut season, and his energy and success on the recruiting trail so far promises better days ahead. However, we must be careful not to count our chickens before they hatch. A potential nine-win season is exciting, but Pitt should be very careful not screw up this momentum Narduzzi has created. The easiest way to ruin everything would be to fire him at season's end. This would be an awful idea.

In general, I am against firing first-year head coaches, especially in college football: the roster that the new coach has to work with is almost entirely players his predecessors recruited. Often, this forces the new staff to either work in a system that is not their own to try to best utilize player ability, or, as we saw during Todd Graham's brief tenure, push the players into filling roles that do not maximize their skill set. Either way, it's a square peg/round hole situation, and some potential is always wasted. Considering that it would be unfair to ask the players to once again attempt to learn a third new system in three years, this alone should be reason to keep Narduzzi for 2016. But he has done more than just survive his year with someone else's players: even though Paul Chryst did not exactly leave the cupboard bare, it is still a huge credit to Narduzzi and his staff that he was able to work with the players given to him immediately, with improvements apparent in many of the team's units on both sides of the ball. It is highly unlikely that whoever comes in to replace him would be able to replicate that success.

If you remember back to last year, Pitt getting Narduzzi was a bit of a coup. The timing was lucky on both ends, with Narduzzi finally feeling ready to take a major program at the same time relatively few big teams had an open job - and when I say "open job," I definitely don't count Michigan. Other than the chain that led to Narduzzi coming to Pitt (Nebraska taking Oregon State's coach, Oregon State taking Wisconsin's coach, Wisconsin taking Chryst from Pitt), the only other Power 5 teams looking for a head coach last offseason were Florida and Kansas. This will definitely not be the case this year: it's not even the offseason yet, and already there is a long list of power-conference programs who will be looking for new head coaches. While some of these jobs probably aren't as attractive as Pitt would be (Syracuse and Iowa State immediately come to mind), there are many big-time, big-money schools in the mix as well: USC is a blue-blood, South Carolina and Missouri are in the moneyed SEC, and, even in-conference, Virginia Tech and Miami could both be considered jobs at least as inviting as Pitt. And we haven't even begun to talk about the teams that could have an opening come January.

Speaking of Miami, before anyone points it out in the comments let me just say that I am well aware of how fun and popular "Fire Al Golden" was as a movement. It is fun to have something to make fun of within a program. It makes my job, as a joke human being, a whole lot easier. But remember that these calls for firing a coach sometimes work, and that's dangerous. Canning Pat Narduzzi, who has a family, just for a laugh? That's terrible.

Athletic Director Scott Barnes has been making many of the right moves since he was brought in earlier this year. But firing a successful and popular first-year head coach would burn through all the goodwill he has accumulated with the fans he has worked to accumulate, especially considering that Narduzzi is in no way on the hot seat by any metric and absolutely no one is calling for it right now. Hopefully, he is equally excited to see what Narduzzi can do in the future, and makes the right decision here.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter (@PittPantherBlog) for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the columnist on Twitter: @N_THEYSTAYTHERE.