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Mack: Don't Expect Changes At Pitt

ACC struggles will continue, with or without Pat Narduzzi

Chris Mack
October 04, 2018 - 6:30 am

Five years in to the experiment that is the University of Pittsburgh’s membership in the Atlantic Coast Conference and just five weeks in to an already disappointing football season, it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to wonder how the move can possibly be looked at as a positive for a once proud program that now looks to be stuck in a quagmire of perpetual mediocrity. 

There are certainly times in sports when it feels like answers for a problem have to be mined for, as different facts, statistics, and observations are culled and then pieced together like pieces of a puzzle to give you the full picture of a situation. 

Pitt’s football struggles, however, are not one of those instances. 

Is it what feels like death by a thousand papercuts? Sure. Can you find a number of different issues at play in what now looks like it will be, at the very best, a 6-6 season, and at worst, a 3-9 travesty? Absolutely. 

Running the gamut from the location of their home field all the way down to who their backup holder is, the Pitt Panthers’ problems are great, and they are many, to paraphrase Steelers' legend Chuck Noll. 

There’s one glaring complication though that never gets its just due: Pitt football simply does not have the athletes they need to compete in the Power Five.

"(They) gotta get players to make plays," said former Panthers' Head Coach Dave Wannstedt on Wednesday. Joining The Fan Morning Show on 93.7 The Fan, the current Fox College Football Analyst stated it fairly simply, saying "I wish there was an easy way. Go recruit, you know?"

In the ACC though, Pitt's a distant also-ran in the recruiting of southern football hotbeds like Florida and Georgia. And that comes after the Southeastern Conference has picked over the best available talent.  

In the Ohio Valley, Midwest, and Northeast they get passed over by the 4- and 5-star recruits for championship caliber programs in the Big Ten and Big XII. 

The sad reality may be that Pitt is struggling to compete with Power Five teams because they simply don’t belong in a Power Five conference, at least as far as football is concerned. 

A lot remains to seen before deciding where Pitt basketball goes from here now that Jeff Capel is in charge, but that’s a conversation for a different day. Capel will deservingly be given time to figuring out the right path for a once proud hoops program. 

What kind of time will Pat Narduzzi be given though? Now in his fourth season at Pitt, but with a seven year contract extension on the books, a coach once heralded for his ability to fashion the sort of defenses that menaced quarterbacks across the Big Ten now struggles to slow down North Carolina and Central Florida. 

"I guess I was hoping that the defense, with the depth that they had, would be able to carry the offense a little bit from the standpoint of [having] a young quarterback," continued Wannstedt. "I don't know, they've got enough seniors on that team, those guys know what to do, the players gotta make some plays."

If it’s safely assumed that Narduzzi is due around $2 million per year for the next seven years, it’s hard to believe Pitt’s Board of Trustees has the stomach for another enormous buyout after spending in the upper seven figures to have Kevin Stallings go away. Even if encouraged by prominent boosters to push Narduzzi out if 2018 results in a other bowl-less December, Athletic Director Heather Lyke has to decide if she’d rather spend some of that Scrooge McDuck-ian pile of ACC cash on paying a guy not to work, or continuing to invest in a very concerted effort to bring the rest of the athletic department up to ACC standards. 

Either way, it feels like Pitt football is trapped in a cycle of obscurity that will continuously lead it down one of two circular paths: Remaining on the quiet outskirts of contention with a coach who simply doesn’t have the talent to break through, or hiring a new coach and going through the whole teardown and rebuild process again only to find in another 4-5 years that they’re still tooling around in the same competitive neighborhood that they can’t really compete in.

The money is the motive though (thank you, Lil Wayne), and as long as membership in the ACC continues to fund the university’s other athletic endeavors - not to mention what it does to assuage those egos that still insist on Power Five membership - Pitt will remain in a conference where they’re merely an afterthought, especially in football. 

For the foreseeable future, there’s no reason to expect anything to change. Not the coach, and certainly not the continued well-worn path of least resistance that finds Pitt football slowly meandering toward year after year of 5-7, 6-6, and 7-5 finishes with nary a celebration outside of the occasional BBVA Compass Bowl trophy presentation. 

It doesn’t take a doctorate to figure that out.