Leading up to Saturday’s Pitt-PSU game, our beat reporters looked at key position battles: linebackers and defensive backs; linemen; and running backs and receivers. In the final battle, they took a look at the coaching matchup.
Daniel Greenwald, Pitt beat reporter: Penn State head coach James Franklin went from being a decent coach at Vanderbilt to being an average coach with the Nittany Lions. Franklin’s first two years at PSU haven’t exactly been barn burners. The Nittany Lions have gone 7-6 in back-to-back seasons since Franklin took over. In his career as a head coach, Franklin averages 7.6 wins a season, which is uninspiring. His big talk has mainly proven bluster thus far.
Pitt coaching gem Pat Narduzzi has been just the opposite. Narduzzi has said little, instead putting the vast majority of his energy and focus into coaching. Despite Franklin’s public proclamation before Narduzzi’s first season at Pitt that Franklin would “take back the state” for Penn State, the head coaching matchup has leaned decidedly in Narduzzi’s favor.
Narduzzi was an great coaching hire for Pitt. While working under head coach Mark Dantonio as the defensive coordinator at Michigan State, Narduzzi was part of teams that had four Top-25 finishes in six seasons. The Spartans reached as high as No. 3 in polls in his final season there (after a Big Ten title and a 24-20 Rose Bowl victory against Stanford). In 2013, Narduzzi earned the highest possible distinction for an assistant when he was named the Broyles Award winner, given annually to the nation’s top assistant coach.
He introduced himself to Panthers faithful by nabbing a commitment from safety Jordan Whitehead, the No. 1 rated recruit in the state of Pennsylvania at the time. The Panthers also snagged highly coveted corner Damar Hamlin from Oakland’s back yard, Central Catholic High School, this offseason. That doesn’t exactly sound like Franklin is “taking the state back,” does it?
Give me Narduzzi, who has meshed with the city of Pittsburgh and has been a flag bearer for its gritty, hardworking mentality since Day 1.
Jarrod Prugar, PSU beat reporter: Both schools have master recruiters leading their programs. Pat Narduzzi gives Pitt stability at the coaching position for the first time since Dave Wannstedt was in charge. James Franklin has said everything he’s needed to in order to get the Penn State program back to what it was prior to the Jerry Sandusky scandal fallout.
What remains to be seen from either coach is an ability to win in big games. Saturday, the winner of this game will earn his first “signature win” for his respective program.
It’s unfair to both coaches to just look solely at Franklin and Narduzzi and not the rest of their staffs. Both teams have new offensive coordinators — Joe Moorhead for Penn State and Matt Canada for Pitt. With the depth of coaching Penn State has, the Nittany Lions get the edge as a staff, while Narduzzi and Franklin are locked in a head-to-head draw at head coach.
ADVANTAGE: Penn State
Image credit: CSN Philly