The University of Pittsburgh recently hired Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator at Michigan State University, to be their latest football head coach. Narduzzi was widely considered the best candidate for the job and along those lines, it has to be considered a home run hire – for now.
Narduzzi is the Panthers eighth head coach since 2010. Since 2010, Pitt has the had the following head coaches: Dave Wannstedt, Phil Bennett, Mike Haywood, Todd Graham, Keith Patterson, Paul Chryst, Joe Rudolph and now Narduzzi. That is eight head coaches in five years. Kim Kardashian’s marriages last longer. If anything, Pitt football needs stability.
Some mistakenly thought that Chryst was going to provide that stability but there was never a doubt that his dream job was going back home to Wisconsin and coaching his alma mater. It wasn’t a matter of if but when. Bear Bryant said upon why he left a successful Texas A&M program to go coach at Alabama, “Mama called.” Well, that was the case with Chryst. He is from Wisconsin, played at Wisconsin and coached at Wisconsin.
Many Pitt fans and alumni were hoping that Pitt would hire someone who would make Pitt his “destination” job. Usually those who reach their destination job are from the local area, and/or played for that school and possibly coached there or that person would be at an age where this would be his last stop of his coaching career and not lured by the temptation of going to a bigger college football program or on to the NFL.
Pitt has someone who met those criteria in Wannstedt. Pitt would have likely been Wannstedt’s destination job. From nearby Baldwin, PA, Wannstedt played football at Pitt and later was an assistant coach at Pitt and coached on a national championship team at Miami and then on Super Bowl winning teams in Dallas. He would go on to become the head coach for the Chicago Bears and later the Miami Dolphins. Wannstedt had the lure of a bigger college football program and the NFL behind him.
Few can argue that Pitt underachieved under Wannstedt and that is when Pitt’s coaching carousel began, and everyone knows a carousel goes round-and-round but never gets anywhere.
Being very successful as defensive coordinator at Michigan State, many believe that Narduzzi will succeed Mark Dantonio as head coach at Michigan State once Dantonio retires. Dantonio, 58, had a heart attack in 2010, and one wonders how much longer Dantonio will endure the stress and rigors of being a head coach of a major college football program. Pitt may be setting itself up again as a stepping stone football program.
Pitt has not had a head coach last longer than 10 years since John Michelosen’s last year in 1965. It does not happen often, but sometimes a school that no one would consider a destination job can become one if they find the right individual.
The key components are timing, opportunity, personal satisfaction and finding someone who finds the grass on his side green enough for him to stay, and of course, continued success.
In his press conference Narduzzi said about Pitt, “I wouldn’t call it a destination job.” But before Pitt fans become alarmed, would anyone have considered Wisconsin a destination school before Barry Alvarez took over?
In the five years before Alvarez took over as head coach of the Badgers, Wisconsin won only 14 games. Alvarez, originally from nearby Washington County in Pennsylvania, would coach for 16 years and then remain at Wisconsin as Athletic Director.
In the 18 years before Texas native Hayden Fry found his destination job at Iowa, the Hawkeyes won only 53 games. Iowa became Fry’s destination job and would go on to coach there for 20 years.
Would anyone have considered Florida State a destination job before Bobby Bowden? In the three years prior to Bowden’s arrival in Tallahassee, the Seminoles won a grand total of four games. Bowden, originally from Alabama, would be head coach at Florida State for 34 years.
Former West Virginia head coach Don Nehlen, who like Narduzzi is from Ohio, spent 21 years as the Mountaineers head coach. West Virginia became Nehlen’s destination job.
Pitt fans certainly hope that Narduzzi will be successful and Pitt becomes his destination job, but just in case, they better hope that Dantonio’s heart holds out at Michigan State.
John Baranowski is a Sports Historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites.