PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – Pitt football coach Pat Narduzzi got it right.
It just took a couple tries.
But I’m not going to bury him, not going to heavily criticize him and I sure as heck won’t whine about his ways like so many media members have done in a self-serving capacity.
You see, in my opinion Narduzzi was initially wrong when he kept a veil of secrecy around the reasons for keeping standout Jordan Whitehead out of last Saturday’s victory against Marshall.
The head coach, rightly so, was asked about Whitehead following the game on Saturday and then again at his weekly news conference earlier this week.
Both times, Narduzzi was vague. So vague that, again in my opinion, it left open far too much room for speculation about what was going on with one of Pitt’s standouts.
Was he hurt?
Was he in trouble off the field?
Did he do something abhorrent?
Was it grades?
Could Whitehead be on the verge of facing an even longer-term absence?
Was he just nicked up or was his leg broken in 22 pieces; did he miss the Marshall game because of a broken thumbnail or a nail had gone through his thumb?
Any speculation was valid because Narduzzi had been so vague.
Then, on Tuesday, Narduzzi issued a statement that offered clarity. It read:
“As head football coach, I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility for the well-being of our players. That includes protecting their privacy when appropriate. Jordan Whitehead did not play in last week’s game for reasons that are personal in nature. I won’t comment further on the topic other than to say I fully anticipate that Jordan will be available to play this coming Saturday against Georgia Tech.”
That probably could have been stated after the game on Saturday to alleviate all of this — most of all to alleviate the questions Whitehead was probably getting from people. Such a statement after the game would have assuaged all speculation that cast any aspersions toward Whitehead by people who like to sensationalize and, predictably, had spread stories that he was involved in something deeper.
It wouldn’t have taken much from Narduzzi, either. All he needed to do — either after the game or at Monday’s press gathering — was to let the press know if Whitehead was hurt or if it was a personal matter.
Wham. That simple.
Had he done that, the speculation would have ended.
And you know what? I think he will do just that if such an occasion arises again. I think this was a good learning situation for a guy who is still in his infancy as a head football coach.
For that reason, I think the criticism of Narduzzi should be very light. He made a mistake and by virtue of releasing a statement on Tuesday, realized it and quickly corrected it.
That’s what stand-up men do. From what I know of him and the dealings I have had with him, Pat Narduzzi is a stand up man, for sure.
Let me say this in a way that is, unequivocally and plainly a compliment: Narduzzi has never struck me as being anything but a football coach. That’s a good thing. He doesn’t seem interested in the side of being a football coach that leans toward being a politician.
Narduzzi does the requisite booster hand shaking and program pumping, but since he got his boots on the ground here in Pittsburgh, he’s come across as a man most comfortable standing on a practice field or a gameday sideline commanding a defense and — by extension now — an entire team.
That isn’t a bad thing. That’s actually a huge compliment. It’s also the Youngstown in him. It’s what draws many of us to him.
It’s also probably why he dealt with this situation the way he did initially, giving the media his own special brand of “mind your own bidness.”
Unfortunately, even if his heart was in the right place, as a head coach at a major university, you probably have to do things a bit different now.
There doesn’t appear to be one ounce of phony in the man.
Good. I hope he stays that way and am confident if anyone will, it’s him.
In this instance, it seems like Narduzzi was trying to protect one of his kids and in the throes of carrying that out, it backfired just a bit.
For that, he shouldn’t be vilified. I’m sure he’ll handle it differently next time.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his bio here.