Pitt needs to fire Pat Narduzzi.
Pitt needs to build an on-campus stadium.
Pat Narduzzi can't recruit.
Josh Conklin can't coach defense.
These are a few of the wild opinions that have been mentioned after Pitt's embarrassing 59-21 loss to Oklahoma State yesterday. That, of course, came on the heels of a not-quite-as-ugly-but-still-bad 33-14 loss on the road to Penn State last week.
I should preface this by saying, I don't really blame fans. Fans are passionate about the program and, as with any team, even a little bit of adversity tends to cause some panic. If there's one thing I've learned in running a large blog for the past 7-8 years, it's that losses almost always cause an undue amount of stress. The one time that's not true is when they come in bunches and fans just become numb to them (see the basketball team last year). But Pitt fans would be better served by taking a step back and looking at the big picture when it comes to Pat Narduzzi and the direction of the program.
The stadium debate is a nonsensical one and doesn't even merit much discussion. It's not keeping the Panthers from winning or getting better recruits and, as we've discussed many times before, many recruits have actually cited that sharing the off-campus practice facility and stadium with a pro team is one of the reasons for coming to Pitt. The idea that Pitt can't compete on the field without a smaller on-campus stadium is so far removed from logic that it barely warrants a mention. Ideal? Maybe. But it's hardly a difference-maker in terms of what Pitt can achieve as a program.
You know what was a difference-maker?
Playing in the dump that was Pitt Stadium where the school couldn't capitalize on revenues from private suites, had poor interior facilities, and had to worry about the upkeep of an aging stadium that had far outlived its usefulness. If Heinz Field was a dump and the facilities were bad, that would be a different discussion. But the Panthers are playing in a great stadium and have lots of amenities at a great practice facility. The biggest issue is that it's too large and provides some poor visuals when it's not full. Literally, that's the biggest problem.
That's an inconvenience, not a major issue, folks. A real issue is playing in a crumbling stadium with no real money to renovate it. Having 40,000 people in a 70,000-seat stadium is unfortunate but it's not the reason Pitt isn't 10-2 every year.
So it's back to Narduzzi we go. Save for a 51-28 loss to Miami last season, those two defeats sandwich that one as the worst losses (by the numbers) for the Panthers under his administration. As a whole, Pitt has generally won its games or played its competition (even stiffer competition) closely. Blowout losses have happened but aren't the norm.
One thing that has kind of amused me in the hours following the Oklahoma State debacle is the amount of panic that the defense is the worst ever. This isn't about giving those guys a 'Get out of Jail Free' card. Rather, it's about the fact that just last week, many of us were lauding the defense for keeping a high-powered Penn State offense to 33 points despite giving them great field position the entire game. This week, Josh Conklin and everyone associated with the defense needs to go.
These are the types of reactionary positions a drubbing like yesterday can cause. It's fine and I've come to live with it.
I won't argue that those losses were both ugly. That would be false and, if we're being honest with ourselves, the games could have actually been even worse. And, at 1-2, the hope was that even if Pitt wasn't able to win one of those two contests, that they would have at least been closer. But most of that was based more on what the Panthers were able to do in wins against Clemson and Penn State last year and less about the team's actual ability to keep things close against two of the best teams in college football this season. And that's simply not a reasonable take because the team lost so much.
Personally, I myself have referenced Narduzzi's ability to keep games close. More than once. And while that's true, that only goes so far. Narduzzi isn't going to go up against top teams and keep every one close. It's just not a reasonable benchmark.
Here's the ugly reality. On paper, Pitt isn't anywhere close to having the talent of Oklahoma State or Penn State this year.
Sure, you can catch lightning in a bottle and pull off an upset, like Pitt did last season. But that isn't the norm. To expect Narduzzi to win both of those games as he did last season and hang with the likes of Penn State and Oklahoma State again this year is unreasonable.
It's even more unreasonable considering what Pitt lost. The Panthers' defense (against the pass, particularly) was bad last year. Real bad. Pitt was able to mostly overcome that, though, with an offense that included four guys that were drafted into the NFL and a few of others that will have a good chance to play on Sundays. Pitt's offense, as people are finding out, was a supremely talented group.
None of that is to suggest that Pitt shouldn't be more competitive. If the goal is to compete for ACC titles then Pitt shouldn't be losing by 38 points to anyone - even the best teams in the country. But fans should keep in mind that ugly losses happen to even very good teams. Louisville yesterday was a perfect example. The Cardinals were ranked in the top 15 and expected to be able to hang with Clemson - especially at home, where the game was played. Clemson laughed all of that off and beat a top 15 team on the road by 26 points.
One of the biggest condemnations against Narduzzi that's being thrown around now is about his recruiting ability. He needs to recruit better players but that is hard without winning more games. And unfortunately for Pitt, this is a bit of a rebuilding year with so many losses. While it would be great for the Panthers to land more premium talent, you can only sell an 8-win team so far. At some point, they will want to see more wins and, in Year 3, that time is going to come for Narduzzi.
Another interesting dynamic that fans shouldn't forget is that Pitt has had some downright rotten luck with recruiting under Narduzzi.
- Jordan Whitehead, Narduzzi's first major recruit, has had some injury issues and this year, missed the first three games with a suspension.
- The team landed major talent Damar Hamlin in 2016 but he has been banged up by injuries.
- Arguably the second best recruit in that class, George Hill, had a cardiac condition and had to quit football before even playing for Pitt.
- This year, they added Paris Ford - their best incoming recruit this season. But academic issues forced him to miss almost all of training camp and he's unlikely to play this year.
Pitt has certainly missed on some guys and needs more talent. But what's also hurt is that Pitt has landed some nice talent but all of the top guys under Narduzzi have had issues through not really any fault of his own.
In terms of this year, it's important to note that the Panthers' season is far from ruined, too. I don't know that I necessarily expect Pitt to compete in the Coastal Division from what we've seen, particularly at quarterback this season. But it's worth noting that the team hasn't even played an ACC game yet, either. I wouldn't expect a turnaround like Penn State enjoyed last year after the Pitt loss in the least. But my point is that a lot of Nittany Lions fans didn't expect to go on the tear they did after losing that game. Even if the Panthers aren't likely to rattle off a pile of wins like Penn State did last season, there's no reason they can't be more competitive - particularly because they've just faced the two toughest teams they'll probably see all year.
I get that Pitt fans are frustrated and that's understandable. A best case scenario for the Panthers would have been winning one of these two games and not only did they fail to do that, they didn't even keep things close. But reality is that those are just two goose eggs on Narduzzi's resume. In his time at Pitt, he's brought a ton of enthusiasm, seems to have just the right mix of aggression and tact, and has won a few big games, by the way.
Narduzzi needs to keep the team competitive in the ACC and not let things steamroll out of control. Even if Pitt doesn't contend for the Division, something like a 5-7 year would be a significant step back. But for a coach that's pulled off some big victories and won no fewer than eight games in each of this first two seasons here, I'm going to wait quite a bit longer before I even think about hitting a panic button.
You should, too.