There’s an argument to be made that Pat Narduzzi is the No. 2 football coach in the ACC. After all, the conference was decided in a title game between Pitt and Clemson in 2018, with the Narduzzi-led Panthers finishing second only to Dabo Swinney’s Tigers. However, that is not how analysts at CBS Sports perceive the situation, as they released a ranking of the ACC coaches on Wednesday, placing Narduzzi 11th out of the conference's 14 coaches.
”I contend that Pitt’s mid-to-late-season run in 2018 is worth a bigger bump in the rankings for Narduzzi, because that team’s identity was built from the DNA of a football lifer,” wrote Chip Patterson, one of the CBS analysts. “Picked to finish fifth in the ACC Coastal, Pitt started running the ball down teams’ throats and knocked off five eventual bowl teams on the way to a 6-2 conference record and an ACC Championship Game appearance.”
The logic, at least initially, appears to be based on results, as Swinney checks in at No. 1. But the next few selections are questionable. No. 2 goes to Duke’s David Cutcliffe, and he is followed by Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall. While both posted eight-win seasons in 2018 and appear to be on an upward trajectory, neither actually accomplished anything last year, other than Independence Bowl and Belk Bowl wins. Those two are followed by Dino Babers, who led his team to its first 10-win campaign since 2001 but logged two four-win seasons before that in 2016 and 2017.
The top five is rounded out by Dave Clawson of Wake Forest, who has treaded water around the seven- or eight-win mark for three straight years. Boston College coach Steve Addazio, who has made a career out of seven-win seasons, beat out Narduzzi for the last spot in the top 10. Clawson and Addazio both have resumes that bear similarities to Narduzzi's, but the Pitt coach is the only member of the trio who has won a division title in the ACC.
Narduzzi also holds a head-to-head advantage over each of Addazio, Babers, Clawson, Cutcliffe and Mendenhall, and his collective record against the five coaches is 13-1.
Other selections shoehorned into the top 10 include Justin Fuente, who is helming a Virginia Tech team that has lost 15 players to transfers after a six-win season, and first-year ACC coach Scott Satterfield of Louisville. They placed eighth and ninth, respectively. It's possible that Fuente could bounce back, but it doesn't appear that will happen in 2019. And it remains to be seen if Satterfield, a coach from the Sun Belt, can adapt to the ACC.
While the ranking is not definitive and leaves “plenty of room for debate at every spot except No. 1” by Patterson’s own admission, the result for Narduzzi seems like a slight after he finally reeled in a tangible accomplishment. No. 2 in the conference might be a stretch, but given the other options, a top-five finish would not have been outlandish, as Dabo Swinney, Mack Brown and Dave Doeren are the only coaches that seem to be firmly in front of him.
However, with this ranking and early reports that Pitt will begin the 2019 slate as a home underdog to Virginia, it seems Narduzzi will enter yet another season with much to prove.