Monday, November 7, 2016

Narduzzi is right on track at Pitt

Pitt football fans have been frustrated this season because the Panthers will probably be 5-5 after this weekend, and the losses all seemed winnable, even against Miami for most of the game. But the truth is, this is the kind of season that usually happens when a new head coach starts out at a new program.

The first season for a new head coach usually has enough veterans to eek out a decent, or even good season.  In the second and third season, however, those veterans start to depart, along with any other veterans that aren't in the plans, and who have to be replaced by the players that the new head coach brings in. The problem with that is that those players are too young and inexperienced to fill the gap. It's often not until year four that those talented young players turn into talented veteran players, and that's when most head coaches have their first breakout season.

Just to use some examples, Walt Harris took over Pitt and went 6-6. In seasons two and three he went 2-9 and 5-6. Then he won 7 or more games for the next five seasons. Mark Dantonio was 7-6 at Michigan State in his first year, went 9-4 his second year, then 6-7 in his third year. That's a 22-17 record in the first three seasons. In his fourth year he went 11-2.

Dabo Swinney had a head start as an interim coach at Clemson, and actually coached seven games before his first full season. He still ended up going 6-7 in his second full season before turning it around and getting double digit wins the next six years. He was a combined 19-15 in his interim season and first two full seasons. 

There are many other examples. Charlie Strong was 7-6 in each of his first two seasons at Louisville. In season three he went 11-2. In Mike Gundy's first three seasons he went 4-7, 7-6, and 7-6. In season four he went 9-4 and didn't win double digit wins until season six. At Baylor, Art Briles went 4-8, 4-8, and 7-6 in the first three seasons before going 10-3 in season four. At Washington, Chris Petersen when 7-6 and 8-6 in his first two seasons before starting 9-0 this season. Mike Leach was 3-9, 6-7, and 3-9 in his firs three seasons at Washington State before going 9-4 in season four. At Tennessee, Butch Jones went 5-7 and 7-6 before breaking through to go 9-4 in season three. Even the great Nick Saban took time to turn around programs. At Michigan State he was 25-22-1 in the first four seasons. At LSU he lost 12 games in his first three seasons before being co-National Champion. Even at Alabama he went 7-6 in his first season.

Now looking at Pat Narduzzi, he went 8-5 in his first season and will probably be 5-5 after this weekend. The Panthers will be the favorite over Duke and Syracuse to end the regular season. For the same of argument, let's say they win those two since they've yet to lose a game in which they were favored (don't say Pitt won't win another game because it just makes you look crazy). That would make Pitt 7-5. With a bowl, the Panthers could be 7-6, which would be disappointing but still in line with many other coaches in their second year, or 8-5 which would make him 16-10 in his first two seasons. That would be a highly impressive first two years in a middle of a turnaround.

In year three Narduzzi could have a slight downturn since it will be his big gap year between Paul Chryst's players and his own players. Players like James Conner, Scott Orndoff, Adam Bisnowaty, Dorian Johnson, Tyrique Jarrett, and Ejuan Price will be gone and will have to be replaced by younger players. Those younger players are very talented, and if they're talented enough their lack of experience won't matter, but it definitely could. Either way, in year four, Thomas MacVittie will be starting for the second year, and the offense and defense will be loaded with talented starters brought in by Narduzzi. Players in their prime at that time will include Quadree Henderson, Tre Tipton, Aaron Mathews, Charles Reeves, Alex Bookser, Chawntez Moss, Todd Sibley, George Aston, Damar Hamlin, Keyshon Camp, Amir Watts, Henry Miller, Paris Ford, Therran Coleman, Rashad Weaver, Elijah Zeise, Phil Campbell, Bricen Garner, Kaezon Pugh, Chase Pine, Saleem Brightwell, Cam Bright, Jay Stocker, and Rashad Wheeler. Potential wildcards, who will still have eligibility but could leave early for the NFL, are Jordan Whitehead, Chris Clark, Dwayne Hendrix, and Brian O'Neill.

Looking more closely at this year, the offense has been much better than the defense, and when looking at the roster it's easy to understand why. Chryst recruited extremely well on offense but also recruited poorly on defense. Against Miami, the Panthers had two starters on defense that had at least five P5 offers coming out of high school- not surprisingly their two most decorated defensive players, Ejuan Price and Jordan Whitehead. Narduzzi brought in fourteen defensive players with at least five P5 offers just last year. Players like Watts, Camp, Pine, Pugh, Hamlin, just to name some, will be much better in Narduzzi's defense than those that were starting this year. Not only are they more talented than the players starting this year, but they were also brought in by Narduzzi specifically for his defense. 

The current defensive line has been good, mostly because of Price, but a defensive line that has the likes of Hendrix, Watts, and Camp could be potentially outstanding. As for the linebacker and defensive back units, it's a fact that both have been way below par. The seniors in those two groups are Matt Galambos, Bam Bradley, Mike Caprara, Ryan Lewis, and Terrish Webb, and unfortunately all have been highly overmatched. 

Quentin Wirginis will replace Galambos next year, and he'll be an upgrade. Pine and Pugh will be among those that should play a lot at linebacker as redshirt freshmen, and while both will be inexperienced they are both much more talented than their predecessors. Elijah Zeise will also be back from an injury, and he looked promising in camp this season. At defensive back, Hamlin will likely replace Lewis, and Stocker, Garner, and true freshman Paris Ford will replace Webb. Both positions are obviously huge upgrades. 

When at Michigan State, Narduzzi stayed with his system and said to be patient until he got the players that fit it. In his third season for the Spartans, his pass defense finished 112th in the nation. In year four they finished 60th. In the next three years they finished 11th, 9th, and 3rd. In other words, having players like Hamlin, Ford, Coleman, etc. makes a big difference. You need the players. 

Offense shouldn't regress either, especially if Matt Canada stays. Canada thinks MacVittie has NFL potential and at 6'5" and 230 pounds, with speed in the 4.5s, you can see why. Moss and Sibley will be dynamite at running back for the next three years and even Aston will be with the Panthers for the next two years. At wide receiver, Weah is back for another year, Henderson is back for two more years, and Tipton and Mathews are back for three more years. Their natural progression alone should make this unit a strength eventually, and that doesn't even include any players that haven't made their move yet. Tight end is a major strength with Clark and Reeves, and the OL still has Jaryd Jones-Smith and Officer back next year, Booker back for two more years, and O'Neill back for one or two years depending on if he goes early to the NFL after next year. Justin Morgan, Brandon Ford, Gabe Houy, Owen Drexel, and Carter Warren are the next group, and while it's still early they have a ton of upside. The cherry on top would be Thayer Mumford, who turns this very good group into an excellent group. 

Bottom line, it usually takes about three or four years to turn a program into a big winner, and often there isn't much winning going on while that transition happens. The fact that Narduzzi is still winning most of his games despite his defense having very few players that are capable at the moment, is pretty impressive. But when we will really see Narduzzi flourish is when he has the players on defense that are much more talented. The offense started seven players against Miami that had at least five P5 offers, and that doesn't even include Conner, Weah, Aston, or O'Neill- four really good players. When the talent on defense matches the talent on offense, the Panthers will finally arrive. 


14 comments:

  1. "You need the players." Enough said. It won't appease the crazies, but well stated as usual. Also, I believe Narduzzi will have the players. There is no reason Pitt can't be the class of the Coastal. It is not exactly murderer's row.

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  2. Does recruiting follow the same arc as on the field success? I'm with Narduzzi 100%, but the on-the-field talent seems like a chicken-and-egg situation. How do you win games without guys like Lamont Wade? And how do you get guys like Wade, if you aren't winning enough games?

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  3. Chris I am glad you wrote this article. I sincerely hope you are correct in your assessment. For now I will remain skeptical.

    One question I have is why doesn't Narduzzi have alternate defenses to make use of the people he has now. Is it that the present personnel would be ineffective in any scheme? I think a good head coach would be able to adapt to his personnel so for that reason I am disappointed with Narduzzi in year two. If year three is going to be worse than year two because of this stubbornness or lack of adaptability, then Narduzzi will deserve all the criticism that will be coming his way. Matt Canada seems to be adaptable using the speed of his smaller wide receivers with all the sweeps and such. Why can't Narduzzi do the same on defense?

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  4. Nice article. Thanks Chris for the needed dose of positive energy in a sea of negativity that is swamping most Pitt internet blog articles..."The Earth is slow but the Oxen are Patient"

    Myself I am enjoying the games and especially the offensive show that the young men in Panther uniforms are providing us this year - whatever else this team is fun to watch develop and you never know what will happen next...yes they are losing some games but it does not feel like the SOP syndrome to me. I don't get what some vocal few are braying about Coach Narduzzi being another lost cause - he still has 3 years on my clock to come through.

    H2P
    Tommymac

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  5. Chris:

    What about Anthony McKee? You didn't include his name in the above article nor has he appeared in any game this year to the best of my knowledge. It seemed that he and Brightwell were thought of as equal-level talents when they were signed, but Brightwell has played this year and has shown some promise. What does this tell us about McKee at this stage?

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    1. He's too young to discount yet but since he hasn't made a move when he had a chance this year he's obviously behind a little. But he still has plenty of time.

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  6. Always bringing it into perspective Chris!! H2P

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  7. This article makes sense. But I think you have to understand the skepticism from Pitt fans, they've heard this story before. Many times. Most of the stuff you're saying about Narduzzi could've more or less been said about Dave Wannstadt in his first couple years.

    I think the possibilities you propose could certainly come true. There's more reason for optimism than there has been in the past. However, you are acting like basically 75-85% of Narduzzi's recruits becoming above-average to great players is a given, and that just doesn't happen anywhere, especially if you're not Alabama or Ohio State.

    So while there's plenty of reason for hope, it's not exactly irrational to be a doubter at this point.

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    1. I'm not assuming anything with any specific untested players. I'm just playing the percentages and the percentages are that the more talented prospects you have the more talented players you'll have. I never said they'll all pan out. And I didn't even mention over half the roster. I just mentioned the most talented players.

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    2. I keep telling people that the last 35 years mean nothing. Every time you hire a new coach you start the process over again. It's why Chryst leaving was just as bad as Wanny or Graham leaving. The 4-5 year timeframe to build a team resets. Ideally, you build a great program. When the coach leaves after 6,7,8 years you can hire internally for some continuation. You still usually have a little bit of a rebuild but not the 4-5 year issue. Thank you for rational thought in a sea of irrational.

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  8. And, by the way Wannstedt did go 9-4 in his fourth year and 10-3 and a No. 15 ranking in his fifth year. And he didn't have the help from the administration that Narduzzi has. Any good coach follows the same general pattern that I laid out. And the fact that Narduzzi will probably have a winning record in his first two season, without his players, shows that he's no slouch.

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  9. Hopefully you predictions pan out. Narduzzi had better be thick skinned because if next year is as bad or worse than this year on the defensive side, the fickle Pitt fans are going to be on his case as well as the Pittsburgh press. Also next year if things don't improve, he will also have a loss to PSU. His win over PSU this year keeps looking better and better.

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  10. Good article, Chris. Thanks for walking some of us back from the ledge. If you look at ratings (S/P+ and F+) it tells pretty much the same story. Most coaches have wild swings-Peterson went from 23 to 75 then back up to 11 and 6. Petrino went from 18 to 24 to 28 now up to 3. Narduzzi seems to be right about average through the first two years. It will be interesting to see the progression of his recruits-as I think that is the better measure of a coach. Thanks again, and H2P

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  11. Chris, I completely disagree with your assessment. While I agree that these rebuilding and rebranding take time--you seem to be completely contradicting yourself. You say that "in the second and third season, those existing defensive players that aren't good enough eventually depart". My issue, is if they aren't good enough, why wait til they graduate, bench them now. My point is this: Narduzzi was at the bowl game vs. Houston, when these players gave up 28 points and lost with 12 minutes left. He knew it was going to be a total rebuild. Maybe not all 11 defensive players, but at least the 1/2 the LB core, and 3 of the 4 DB's. My issue is that he didn't make any changes. He brought back Pitts, Maddox, Lewis, Webb, Mitchell Briggs, Caprara and Galambos, Grigsby. Why not tell those players that they would be valued backups and special teasers (at least some of them) and start the young talent. What is the wait. We're not talking about playing 22 Freshmen, but maybe 3 or 4 or 5, in certain key spots. Now according to your thinking, you play the veterans until they "eventually depart" and then after 4 years, you bring in your recruits??? Makes no sense. They had teh best recruiting class this year than at any time in the past 20 years! What are they waiting for? Now my major issue is really at this point is that they are getting worse, not better. The defense is actually regressing! Whats next, Giving up 600 yards passing?? I mean what are they doing??? The couldn't wait to bring back Maddox. They took out Lewis (who is terrible btw) and they couldn't wait to bring him back in? I do not get that at all. Move players around. They could have stuck with Jackson at CB and Coleman and move Matthews to CB. Change it up. Why does he feel the need to keep Maddox and Lewis and Webb and Mitchell in the defensive backfield??? Its a classic case of a stubborn coach not making adjustments when its a glaring fail on his part and the players part to improve. Stupid and Stubborn. What should concern all Pitt fans is that this team regressed this year vs. an easier schedule and with the same players. Nobody has gotten better or improved with the exception of the NT and Henderson, and perhaps Weah. Each time he calls a TO on defense, the opposign team converts. I'm not sold. He's not gotten good recruits from the area AND this is a pretty talented team, with 4 excellent OL, all american returner, DE leading the nation in sacks, James Connor, AND a senior QB, and a defense that cannot stop anyone. Its really all on the hands of the coach. WHo seems to enjoy acting like Bill Bellicheck with the record of Hue Jackson.

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