As SI.com’s Pete Thamel reported Tuesday, Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi will take over as head coach at Pittsburgh. That means at least one thing for the Panthers’ future: good defense.
Narduzzi has been one of the country’s most respected defensive coaches for the past several seasons. He’s spent eight seasons at Michigan State and has led the program to three straight top-10 finishes in total defense and rushing defense in the last three years, the only school to accomplish that feat. The Spartans finished the 2014 regular season ranked seventh nationally in total defense (293.5 yards per game) and sixth in rushing defense (97.5 yards per game).
Narduzzi became the Big Ten’s highest-paid assistant after Michigan State’s Rose Bowl run last January when the school bumped his salary up to more than $900,000. His name has come up in a number of coaching searches in recent years, including Colorado State’s search this offseason (the Rams hired Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo on Monday). But this summer Spartans’ coach Mark Dantonio correctly predicted Narduzzi would wait for a Power Five job (per MLive.com) before leaving East Lansing.
"Pat wants to be a head football coach at the BCS (now Power Five conference) level, and I think he wants to do that at one of the major conferences,'' Dantonio said in July. "But it's got to be the right situation. And right now, from the standpoint of his salary, it's gonna have to be a BCS job.”
Narduzzi seems to have found that fit with the Panthers, who lost coach Paul Chryst to Wisconsin earlier this month. The cupboard isn’t exactly bare at Pitt. Its defense finished 28th in the country in total defense (349.3 yards per game) this year. Narduzzi could have a good foundation returning on offense, as well, with ACC Player of the Year James Conner at running back and electric receiver Tyler Boyd, both only sophomores this year.
But defense will drive Narduzzi’s future with the Panthers. The program has had strong defensive players in its past. In fact, Narduzzi arrives just one year after 2013 Outland Trophy winner Aaron Donald dominated on the Pittsburgh defensive line. If Narduzzi can recruit the level of talent to Pitt that he’s had at Michigan State, the Panthers are in for a bright future. Guys like defensive end Shilique Calhoun, cornerback Darqueze Dennard and linebacker Max Bullough have helped make Michigan State one of the best defenses in not just the Big Ten, but the country.
Now Narduzzi can finally prove his worth as a head coach, and ACC offensive coordinators had better prepare for Pitt's defense.