Pitt's progress; patience pays off for ACC Coastal champions | MCU Times

Pitt’s progress; patience pays off for ACC Coastal champions

PITTSBURGH (AP) – Randy Juhl made a lot of fun. The longtime Pittsburgh administrator served as the school’s interim athletic …

PITTSBURGH (AP) – Randy Juhl made a lot of fun.

The longtime Pittsburgh administrator served as the school’s interim athletic director in the winter of 2014, when the Panthers hired Pat Narduzzi to give the program a boost after Paul Chryst took home Wisconsin.

Shortly after Narduzzi was introduced, Juhl rejected the notion that Pitt had a limited ceiling in the Atlantic Coast conference. According to Juhl’s calculation, if the university can help find a cure for polio – as Jonas Salk did in 1955 – then it can “definitely win 10 football matches.”

It may have taken longer than Juhl or Narduzzi expected, but the Panthers’ number 20 (9-2, 6-1 ACC) is on the verge of doing so. The newly-crowned Coastal Division champions must win in Syracuse on Saturday to reach 10 wins in the regular season for the first time since 1981.

And yes, that’s a big deal, tangible proof that Narduzzi believes the standards have been raised over the course of his seven solid, if not always spectacular, years at the job.

“It’s a long time ago,” Narduzzi said Monday. “For me, it means something. In 40 years, there will be something to prove when we go up there this weekend.”

Even though the Panthers have already proven something of the sort over the last two months. The team chose to finish in fourth place in the Coastal in the preseason instead of sprinting to a stop in early October and stayed there when quarterback Kenny Pickett turned the school’s record book into a dry-erase board and second-time wide receiver Jordan Addison became virtually invisible.

Four years ago, the Panthers emerged from a blah non-conference plan to claim a surprising Coastal Championship. Their reward? To be drilled by Clemson.

At the time, coming to Charlotte felt like a feat. Not so much this time. The celebration early Saturday night at cool Heinz Field after a 48-38 thriller over Virginia was lively, but not over the top.

There is still more work to be done. Much more, one of the reasons Pickett – whose school records this season include the most career yards passes, most yards passes in a single season and the most touchdowns responsible for among a litany of others – chose to turn back in 2021 instead of going to the NFL.

“I do not think I would be here if I did not think this team was special,” Pickett said. “I knew we were capable of doing this. Saying what you want to do and going out there and doing it, that’s a great feeling.”

One that has been rare with Pitt for more than four decades. The Panthers’ last appearance in a bigger bowl came 17 years ago when they were blown out by Urban Meyer, Alex Smith and Utah in the Fiesta Bowl. The current crop of the Panthers was not even in elementary school at the time, and most were not even in high school when Narduzzi took over the program the day after Christmas in 2014.

In an era where patience can be a scarce commodity at the FBS level, Pitt has stuck with Narduzzi while setting up teams that have flirted with a big breakthrough, while also sticking his toes out repeatedly.

It looked like it could be more of the same in 2021, when an impressive road victory in Tennessee was immediately followed by a stunning home loss to Western Michigan. Narduzzi stressed that everything was still on the table for the Panthers, and they have responded by winning seven out of eight, including wins over Clemson, North Carolina and Virginia Tech.

Elsewhere, it’s not good enough to be somewhere between 5-7 and 8-4 – as Narduzzi has done in each of his first six seasons – to keep earning the right to come back. Pitt has instead doubled Narduzzi’s methodical approach to team building, one that hit a crescendo when Pickett found Addison to division clinching, 62-yard touchdown in the final minutes against the Cavaliers.

“Anything that gets great takes time,” he said. “Sometimes people are impatient.”

Narduzzi is impressed with his team’s maturity, while still being a thing from week to week. He believed Pitt was in control of success after topping the volunteers. Seven days later, the Panthers gave away 44 points at home to a team that is currently at the end of the Mid-American Conferences Western Division.

“They’re slipping back to it, ‘Hey, we’re good again (and getting sloppy),’ ‘Narduzzi said.

Four years ago, Pitt finished Coastal at Wake Forest, then went to Miami for a somewhat pointless regular season finale and was immediately teased. This group seems to be more focused. Making a trip to Charlotte is no longer the goal. Pickett’s balance sheet, which governs the nation’s third highest scoring team, Addison’s play and the defense’s ability – at least recently – to deliver in must-have-it moments, has raised expectations internally and made Juhl’s words seven years ago predictable.

Finally.

“You have to win an ACC championship to be anything,” Narduzzi said. “That’s just how it is. Our children also have a different attitude to it now, I think. ”

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