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November 10, 2017

frUstratioN Continues

Filed under: ACC,Embarrassing,Football,Narduzzi — Justin @ 11:01 am

Hi everyone! Long time no see. I wish I had more time to write these days but unfortunately I lack the time to put the thought into things that I prefer to write. I still haven’t finished Stranger Things season 2. There’s not going to be a lot of deep thought here, just frustration.

I had a feeling heading into this season that it was a transition year. Pitt lost a lot of talent on offense and the defense was still going to be a work in progress. Matt Canada left, forcing the offense into their 3rd coordinator in 3 years. Narduzzi did a good job with his first two picks so I gave him the benefit of the doubt on Shawn Watson. But it was clear the offense would take a step back no matter what.

2017 has gone so much worse than even the most pessimistic fan imagined. Barring back to back huge upsets, Pitt will not be a bowl for the first time since 2007, Wannstedt’s third year. Unlike Wannstedt, Narduzzi doesn’t have numerous positives going for him after the third season. It was clear that Bill Stull’s injury wrecked the offense, the defense had a lot of young talent, and a there was also a freshman RB who looked like he could be one of the best players in the country next year in LeSean McCoy. Pitt wasn’t ranked in the preseason only due to the upset of WVU. It was clear there was a young, talented team there. It didn’t work out like we all hoped, but that’s not the point.

Ask yourself. What glaring positives does Pitt have heading into 2018? There’s a small recruiting class that doesn’t have any wow players, no freshmen are sticking out, and only Darrin Hall has emerged as a great player for next year. Meanwhile, the list of players who regressed is a huge concern as to the caliber of coaching they’re receiving. Brian O’Neill, Quadree Henderson, and Jester Weah have all regressed. Those three were expected to be the studs on offense and they have all turned in disappointing seasons. The defense has a little bit of young hope, but a QB with 51 career passing attempts lit up them up yesterday. A guy with only one game of real experience heading into Thursday was far and away a better QB than Ben DiNucci and Max Browne. While UNC’s QB Elliott was making plays, DiNucci stared down wide open receivers before he tried to run or get sacked.

The way QB was handled this year alone is pause for concern. Max Browne was the starter, until DiNucci got the nod vs. Georgia Tech only for Browne to be given the starting nod again vs. Rice for…reasons? Then with Browne out, the coaches had so little faith in redshirt freshman Tom MacVittie that they burned Kenny Pickett’s redshirt. Pickett later inexplicably played against NC State while the game was still in contention despite the fact that he wasn’t ready to run a hurry up offense. Since then, he hasn’t played a single snap.

Perhaps the most frustrating part is that football more than any sport can see a team improve immediately with the right coaching. Pitt’s offense was OK in 2015 without James Conner, but it wasn’t only his return that made them one of the most electrifying units in college football. It was Matt Canada. Notre Dame went 4-8 last year and was the laughing stock of college football. A few coaching switches later and they’re three wins away from the playoffs. Iowa State hasn’t had a winning season since 2009 and they’re currently 6-3, ranked 21st, with victories over two top five teams.

The right coaching and the right scheme can show immediate dividends. I will add that often times a coach and a situation are a bad fit. Charlie Strong is a hell of a football coach. He was a bad fit at Texas for some reason. Narduzzi is a great defensive mind, one of the best in college football. For some reason, his scheme isn’t working here whether it be different offenses, the wrong players, the wrong coaches teaching it, or something entirely different. Shawn Watson’s offense is starting to show signs of improvement, but it could also be inferior competition. Regardless of that improvement, QB play and terrible situational play-calling are going to make Pitt fans tepid at best heading into 2018. Pitt isn’t going to fire Watson. He’ll get another season.

The question is, will Narduzzi get a 2019 here? There’s no reason to fire him for one bad year given how well his first two went. But, a repeat of 2017 in 2018 will possibly put Pitt into another coaching search. It sucks, because after 2016, it looked like Pitt finally got one right. Hopefully the young players all take steps forward, but the regression of last year’s key players makes that seem unlikely.





18 comments

I am afraid the coaches are loosing this team. Perfomance with some exceptions looks lackluster, half hearted and not effective or consistent TEAM effort. Narduzzie is starting to sound like he has hit a wall in dealing with it. Where was the team that finally seemed to be coming along last night? What happened to special teams since last year with many of the same guys back? Why does the QB coach let Dinuccie throw off his wrong footing when even he knows he is doing it and its wrong? Why can’t D use more than one read on receivers and why can’t we have a 3rd string QB like NC? I am also am scared by recruiting results. This results in my loosing confidence in Narduzzie’s ability to be the GM of a program.

Comment by Pitt60 11.10.17 @ 11:59 am

I’m not sure that Weah has “regressed”…. I wasn’t that enamored with him to begin with …. I think he played over his head last season and had a good QB throwing to him. He isn’t helping out this year’s QB enough and has as many head-scratching drops as wow catches.

May be the same for O’neil.

Henderson may be banged up … i think he needs to add some muscle so that he can pull away from tackles and take a little beating.

I am starting to believe that the level of talent in the ACC is superior to that which we faced prior and that until we get 4-5 playmakers on each side of the ball, we will be looking at 5-6 win seasons on a consistent basis.

Comment by Tomas 11.10.17 @ 12:36 pm

Like so many here, I have spent countless hours trying to answer the question: What’s wrong with Pitt? I’ve read all the speculation, from coaching, to talent, to facilities, each one providing an intriguing argument that ultimately falls short of capturing the true nature of the dilemma. While Pitt has certainly found some unique ways in which to fail, they are far from the only other Division 1 program to be mired in mediocrity for an extended period of time.

Why?

I have a theory and it goes like this: Pitt’s misfortunes are only a symptom of a far deeper problem that plagues NCAA college football… and it all starts (and ends) with money.

About 25-30 years ago, College football started to follow the money. Big money. Huge money. Endless bowl games, mass media coverage, and huge TV deals. The Conference Carousel was merely the latest volley in a barrage that started many years ago. Every FBS school that wasn’t a perennial top 25 performer (and even some that were) scrambled to land a lucrative conference affiliation that guaranteed them big dollar pay days in exchange for nothing more than loyalty… well… and maybe their soul, but most never saw it coming. The inexorable march towards more bowls, bigger pay days, and a playoff system ultimately created the need for conferences to have established winners. Teams that are perennially in contention for a top-four spot. It is imperative that each conference have at least one representative in the “final four”. In order for a team to qualify, that requires an undefeated season, or at worst one loss. Statistically, in any given conference, there are only a few teams with enough name-brand recognition and talent to get there, and all of them need to stack up at least 11 wins until ultimately they knock one another off and one or (rarely two) is left standing, What does this mean? In a nutshell, it means every conference needs sub-par teams. Doormats. Mediocre programs that bring just enough clout of their own that every so many years, some of them even crack the top 25. Put another way, in the ACC, Florida State and Clemson need wins. Occasionally a Miami or a Virginia Tech make a run at something and throw a wrench into the works, but that’s OK because they have enough pedigree to pass muster in the top ten. After all, you need a few of those – you can’t beat ONLY unranked teams – at some point you have to put some work in, but the conference still needs mediocre teams – they can’t all be great, or they’d eat each other alive. this did, and to some extent still does happen from time to time, but now the sakes are so much higher. So the question becomes this: how do conferences guarantee that they will have favorable odds for the top-tier programs. How do find enough teams/schools/athletic departments/business offices that are willing to accept the status quo? Money. Lots of it.

Pitt, and many other teams, have spent the better part of the last three decades playing a game they can’t win. Their reputation has been reengineered and re established – their image has been tarnished and expectation have been reset. Theres virtually no amount of coaching or recruiting that can reverse that trend decisively, or at least so it would seem. The only thing that could move the needle would be … you guessed it… tons of money. Higher paid coaches, better facilities, more marketing – and if there were an actual upside to Pitt investing those dollars, they might actually do it. But there isn’t. Because every team, regardless of wins or losses, gets that HUGE check from the conference at the end of the year. Where’s the incentive to win? Where’s the incentive to improve? If I get roughly the same money every year whether I win or lose, what difference does it make. Think about that for a moment – where have you seen it before. If you’re a baseball fans, there’s a MLB baseball park just down the road from Heinz Field that’s home to a team that has made it’s living over the last 20+ years losing baseball games. If you do it right, it’s a profitable business model as long as you can manage expectations. Of course, the model in the NCAA is much different, but the concept is the same. You can’t have parity if you always have the “HAVES” vs. the “HAVE NOTS”, and you can’t have “HAVE NOTS” unless you find a way to keep them happy. So you pay them. You sit them down in a room and say “Sit down, shut up, keep doing what your doing, and everyone gets PAID”. It’s obviously more subtle than that, but the conundrum is clear and the question remains: how do you incentivize a team like Pitt to get better if their already getting rich cashing the checks YOU gave them, and do you really even WANT them to get better? That’s the question I’d like a clear, concise answer to, but I’ll never get, and neither will you, because the truth hurts, and the game needs loyal, rabid fans.

Solutions? There aren’t really any good ones on the horizon. A system that rewards based on performance would be challenged in court, and even if it was upheld, where do you draw the line? 6 wins? 8? Is it graduated? And there’s a strong case to be made that some teams might just accept their smaller payout and get worse. Either that or they’d get mad and leave, and the conferences can’t have that because that would jeopardize the money train. The other problem is that for a team like Pitt to get better, they’d have to pour in a ton of capital up front – essentially go into the red, to rebalance the equation and receive a bigger payout – and it might not be worth it. So what about a salary cap… oh wait… the NCAA doesn’t pay players, but perhaps it should, and a cap would spread the talent out across more teams. Still, that creates a moral dilemma in some ways – it’s not the NFL. You could institute a cap for coaching and staff – that would disperse talent as well, but how exactly do you set that bar and where do you set it. Lots of big-time programs would go completely ballistic if they couldn’t pay their assistants more than many programs pay a coach and a couple of coordinators combined. It’s fun to think about, but in the end it would require the NCAA to admit that it really IS all about the money, and that’s not something they’re ever going to be willing to do.

Why bother? Who cares, right? It’s a great game, everyone is making money, what could go wrong? Well, the way I see it, plenty. A couple of years into the 4-team football playoff and I’m already tired of it. Why… that’s blasphemy! The playoff was supposed to be the ultimate answer to the quest of college football perfection! And perhaps it is… but the problem is, we already knew the probable outcome before the season even started. And we know the probable outcome for next season, and the season after that. I could tell you who’s going to be in the top ten next year with 60-70% accuracy – maybe a little better. I can do that year after year, and in all likelihood, so can you. Those kinds of odds will get you banned from every Las Vegas casino you walk into, yet its becoming a fact of life in college football. How many times can a person watch some permutation of Alabama/Clemson/Ohio State/Oklahoma. You get an outlier every couple of years like a Washington that makes things interesting, but in the end, its the usual suspects. At some point, I want to watch something else, but when I change the channel, I get more usual suspects in the next tier of bowls – the Florida Sates/Floridas/Georgias/Auburns/LSUs/Michigans of the world that rounded out the top ten I could have guessed two years prior. Between that list of teams, and a few other unexpected, temporary success stories, I can look forward to that every single year for years to come. And that gets boring. Really boring. Boring enough that I start to lose interest if I’m not a fan of those bespoke teams. And that’s a real problem, because there’s not enough of their fans to keep the whole thing rolling without the rest of us chumps. If we ever get smart – I mean really smart – we stop watching the games, the cash machine grinds to a halt, and the whole thing implodes. With all the bad PR and public scrutiny the game of football has come under lately, that’s not as insane as it sounds. When little Johnny’s parents decide that he’s not going to play football because its too dangerous, Johnny might not be the same kind of fan the NCAA is used to. He may just decide that the whole system is rigged, and there’s really no point in getting involved. He tunes out, rolls a fatty, and plays Call of Duty for entertainment.

It’s not a GREAT GAME unless there is GREATNESS BEHIND THE GAME. Right now, it’s mostly money behind the game. But I guess it’s easier to just sit back and collect that big check and let the next guy worry about it.

Comment by 55 11.10.17 @ 4:46 pm

I have no confidence in HCPN righting this ship: our recruits are average; there are no emerging stars; and what talent we have has been under-coached.
We have played against numerous teams with young players (last night) only to get smoked by them. UNC is not only young but was decimated by injuries. No worries…for them.

Great teams find ways to win. Good teams sneak out wins. Pitt is like Charlie Brown – always finding a way to lose.

Comment by Gasman 11.10.17 @ 5:58 pm

Pitt-Navy anyone.

Comment by Alcofan 11.10.17 @ 6:42 pm

At least we finally have a great college band. lol. Maybe the team will follow??? not!
At this point , who gives a fart.
I have a new slogan for next year: “TARP THOSE SEATS”.
According to some news accounts we had some possible 2019 recruits at the game. After last nite, they will never come back again.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 11.10.17 @ 6:58 pm

I believe 55 speaks the truth.

Comment by PittinTampa 11.10.17 @ 8:31 pm

Great post 55. And if that isn’t fixed enough, they come out with a pre-season poll with all the ‘name’ schools ranked high to help assure they stay ranked high. How do you objectively rank teams before they play a game? Recruiting stars?

It’s all about the TV eyeballs (ratings)They pull the same crap with the NCAA BB Tournament when ranking & seeding the teams.

Comment by Jackagain 11.10.17 @ 8:34 pm

Excellent article 55…

Comment by Reed 11.11.17 @ 8:59 am

55…..We’re not worthy. Excellent post.

Comment by The Hagen 11.11.17 @ 9:48 am

55 – 1 thing to add to your great article: although all conference teams get the same check at the end of the season, the rich keep getting richer. If you are one of the “Chosen”, the fat cat alumnae kick in millions every year. The “Scab Labor” teams get zip. The chasm widens!

Comment by Savannah Panther 11.11.17 @ 10:26 am

Wonderful insight, 55. I have relatives who are big LSU fans. They own a decked out RV for the tailgate parties. I had no idea how much those fans contribute. This is a rigged system as you point out. If Pitt wants to win, a hell of lot more money would have to come from the fans, and I don’t see that happening. Lower expectations, hope for the best. HTP!

Comment by 66Goat 11.11.17 @ 1:09 pm

Does it really matter any more?
How can it be any different next year?
We play Notre dame, UCF and Penn State early next year, all will be loses. Miami and Georgia Tech will also be loses. Virginia tech most likely be a loss. We do not have enough players with raw talent.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 11.11.17 @ 10:48 pm

Hate to say me too but agree on the catch 22 and Pitt’s lack of necessary comittment for a competitive PROGRAM. When your coaches are payed with the bottom 10% of the 125 D1 coaches that’s where your play is.3 OC’s in 3 years and you wonder why we can’t get good QB recruits to committ? SYRACUSE PASSED US IN 2 YEARS OF BABERS. Even BC is ahead of us after 5 yrs with their coach. I do not mind loosing but can not abide sloppy, half hearted play and incompetance by coaches.

Comment by Pitt60 11.12.17 @ 5:43 pm

The coaches emphasize schemes and positioning. Getting the people in the right place within the system. Making the right reads.

But it seems there is no attention to fundamental execution, so a lot of missed tackles, interference, dropped balls, etc.

So the players usually get to where they are supposed to be, but don’t do anything once they’re there.

Comment by 66Goat 11.12.17 @ 8:05 pm

At some point pure skill and natural talent must begin to show up.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 11.13.17 @ 2:39 am

@Savannah Panther – I wanted to touch on that but ran out of time. That’s the answer to why to Top Tier programs keep playing. They get the big check, but they also keep their own private money train rolling, Ticket sales, merchandising, and donations rake in additional millions. Not that it hadn’t been exposed by those paying attention, but the NCAA is a joke – at least in the big-money sport of football. the hypocrisy is astounding. The NCAA wields power indiscriminately – it can punish with absolute authority – yet it spends its time litigating case against kids who got a pair of shoes on the side. And they make it sound like this is vital in order to protect the integrity of the game, when in reality they themselves flushed the game’s integrity down the toilet years ago.

I think we all sense subconsciously that the fix is in. It’s the reason many of us just can’t get excited about Pitt football. I believe this sentiment permeates the sub-Tier 1 school fan bases to a greater extent than many realize. The feeling of hopelessness will, at some point, marginalize the game.

But I’m now more convinced that this whole scam is about milking the game – casting it’s revenue net as wide and deep as possible short term before the game becomes marginalized and the model implodes, at which point nothing can salvage the sport. Its coming for the NFL as well – Goodell would love for you to believe that ratings and revenues are down because of political turmoil and players kneeling for the anthem – pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. It may come sooner for them – college football tugs at the heart strings in a way that pro football can’t because we live under the illusion that the competition is somehow more honest. The reality is that at least the NFL is legally classified as “Entertainment” – that’s more honesty than the NCAA is selling.

Comment by 55 11.14.17 @ 9:40 am

We’re already talking about looking for a new football coach? You gotta be joking. Come on man. You need to re-evaluate Pitt’s position in the college football world.

The only thing we should be even hoping for right now is stability. There is zero right now in this entire athletic department, from the very top down. Zero stability. Even the chancellor of the university, in chancellor years, is just an infant. We aren’t going to win big time consistently until we have stability 1. in the athletic department, and 2. right on down to the individual programs.

What is hiring new coaches every 2-4 years in Pitt’s current environment going to accomplish? Nothing. Nada. We’re not going to any better as a program, as an athletic department, as a university.

Before we even starting dreaming of 9 or ten win seasons, we should be praying for stability. Firing coaches? Get out of here. Tell you what though, if we can bait Urban Meyer, I’ll take this whole thing back.

As far as I’m concerned, both the basketball coach and the football coach should both get AT LEAST 3-4 more years. These programs are both near decade long rebuilds in NORMAL circumstances…and Pitt definitively isn’t close to that right now at any level.

Comment by Pitt of Glory 11.15.17 @ 9:04 am

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