PITTSBURGH – When Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio announced his surprising retirement on Tuesday, the eve of signing day, rumors immediately began to swirl about Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi being the guy to fill his mentor’s shoes in East Lansing.
“The rumors, squash them,” Narduzzi said on Wednesday. “I've got decisions to make, too; I’m here at Pitt. I want to be here at Pitt and that’s where I’m going to be.”
While Narduzzi reaffirmed his commitment to Pitt, the coach admitted the decision wasn’t as easy or simple as when he was mentioned as a possible replacement for ousted Rutgers coach Chris Ash last fall.
“It was not as simple as that one, I can tell you that,” Narduzzi said. “This one’s not as simple just because you’ve been there before. It’s not as simple to just say, you know, I’m not going to listen anymore.”
Athletic Director Heather Lyke said she called Narduzzi on Tuesday evening after the Dantonio news broke.
“I wanted to make sure he knew we wanted him to be at Pitt,” Lyke said. “It’s a relationship business, that’s what we’re in. So just connected with him and got his thoughts on what he was thinking and made sure that he knew that Panther Nation wants him here.”
Though Narduzzi emphatically stated he wants to stay at Pitt on Wednesday, it did not sound as though he had reached that conclusion when he spoke with Lyke on Tuesday.
“The reality is you got to sleep on things in life, right,” Lyke said. “You know, so, these are decisions – career, family, life decisions that you don’t make in an hour. So we talked and met again this morning.”
Lyke didn’t elaborate on her conversation with Narduzzi but said several times she is confident he wants to stay in Pittsburgh.
Narduzzi spent eight years as the Spartans’ defensive coordinator under Dantonio, following a three-year stint in the same position when the two coached together at Cincinnati. In the eight years Narduzzi spent at Michigan State, the Spartans had seven winning seasons and Narduzzi’s defenses were the best in the Big Ten in 2012 and 2013. Narduzzi was recognized with the Broyles Award in 2013, which is given to the nation’s top assistant coach.
“You know how much success you had at another place and you enjoyed it, too. If you didn’t enjoy it, you wouldn’t have stayed there eight years,” Narduzzi said of his time at Michigan State. “So there’s always that pull. Like I said, it’s not an easy decision.”
Though the focus of the press conference was on Narduzzi’s future at Pitt, he was able to speak about the two commits the Panthers signed on Wednesday to round out their 2020 class, defensive back Rashad Battle and kicker Ben Sauls.
Battle, a cornerback from Georgia, holds a four-star rating from Rivals and a three-star rating from 247Sports. Pitt snagged Battle after he decommitted from Maryland. Narduzzi said he can see the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Battle playing cornerback, free safety or strong safety. The addition of Battle gives Pitt four defensive backs in the incoming class.
Sauls is rated the nation’s No. 12 placekicker by 247Sports. Pitt continued to pursue Sauls even after he committed to Iowa State. Current kicker Alex Kessman will be in his final year of eligibility this fall, and Narduzzi stressed the importance of getting Sauls now, so the Panthers don’t have to rely on a true freshman kicker in 2021.
With the addition of Battle and Sauls, Pitt now has 18 commits in its 2020 recruiting class. Narduzzi noted Sauls reached out to him on Tuesday to see what his plans were now that the Michigan State job is open. With Sauls signing on Wednesday, it’s safe to assume Narduzzi assured him he’s here for the long haul.
“I want to win championships here and that’s our goal,” Narduzzi said. “We got a great football team coming back. Don’t underestimate that. I’m excited about our players.
“Our players are committed, and their head coach is committed.”