Narduzzi sounds confident in Pitt’s process


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Pat Narduzzi. – GETTY

Almost exactly one month ago, on March 6, I was inside the Rooney Complex's indoor facility watching Pitt football during its first padded practice of the season.

I have the receipts for that, too:

Then, I drove south to cover Pitt basketball's ACC Tournament run, and the world melted down as the coronavirus pandemic spread. The ACC shut down, then the NCAA as a whole, then well, everything. You know what's going on at this point.

But for Pat Narduzzi and his Panthers, there's still a season to tackle. They still have high expectations, and they still want to make waves in their 2020 campaign. Problem is: All the normal preparation is gone. Players and coaches alike must practice social distancing. No face-to-face instruction is happening. And nobody knows exactly when it will return.

Speaking Friday during a Zoom conference call with Pittsburgh reporters, Narduzzi discussed all that and more. Following is a transcription from the event, where he talked recruiting, getting ready, some advantages Pitt may have throughout all this and much more.

The process since that March 6 practice: 

Narduzzi: We left almost 34 days ago on March 6's practice, practice number three, first day in pads, all excited, and all of a sudden we're here today with just really crazy circumstances as we all know. Probably a week and a half prior to even spring break starting or a week prior to spring ball starting, me and Chris LaSala had a conversation in an email exchange, just talking, saying, 'I want to know where all of our players are going.' ... You look at [Habakkuk] Baldonado, I was like, 'I hope he's not going back to Italy for spring break.

None of the kids are really worried about it, as you can see, how some of the spring breakers acted during some of those rough times early in March. So we had a big list of where our players were. I wanted to know where they were, where they were going and just make sure — so we kind of prepared them before we left, after that practice [we] talked to them about being smart. I'm sure some of them were like, 'OK, coach. We're good. We're young. We're good.' But, you know, it scared us as coaches, so we were kind of on top of where our players were going and what they were doing. We had a couple go to Mexico. No cruises, thank God. But right now, our football team, our staff is all healthy and obviously we're all thankful for that.

That's kind of where we've been. We really haven't lost a step in any phase of our football program right now. Like I said, we were really prepared before we walked out of those offices. Even when we went back to the office after spring break, we had two days in the office, that Monday and Tuesday before, really, we decided, I went down in the weight room, and I kind of shut that thing down. I said, 'Guys, it's time to go. It's time to go back home.' ... So we shut the office down, I think it was the 17th of March, that Tuesday, and ever since we've really been doing our job from home ...We can continue to do this. The thing we miss the most is that interaction with our players. It's the interaction. It's having them there every day in your building. You're eating breakfast with them, you're watching what they're eating. You miss that part."

Recruiting hasn't slowed down. It's actually maybe sped up for us, although these kids aren't coming on campus, these great student-athletes out there all over the country, we're having more phone calls, FaceTimes with players than ever before. Because I've got nothing else to do ... We've got more focus and we're trying, as coaches, to get out there. As a matter of fact, we even got coaches now playing video games with recruits. We've always kind of talked about it, but we've got coaches — I won't mention names — but we got coaches playing some of the Maddens and some of those games just to get around them. That's like all we can do. I'm not set up for that yet at my house, but I talked to my son about maybe setting that thing up.

What is the college football game, overall, going to look like without spring/summer work? 

Narduzzi: Every practice, every strength-and-conditioning day is important for our student-athletes. They're trying to get it done on their own, but we know if they do it on their own they wouldn't need coaches. So going back to the spring ball question, Jerry, we're just not sure what's going to happen there. There'll be, depending on when we get started back up, whenever that may be and those are decisions they don't pay me to make. I just follow directions. But when that time comes, the conferences, the NCAA will hopefully have a clue on how we're gonna address the different practices that some people got. In the ACC, I think the top number was nine and the low number was zero. There were some teams that got zero practices in. And obviously we were fortunate to at least get three. We watched those practices over and over again because you can really — you got time to analyze them even more. I wish that practice three was better than it was to be honest with you. So it's not easy. But hopefully everybody's going to be on the same kinda grounds for the most part. Nothing's ever going to be equal. It never has been. It never will be. But hopefully the NCAA's going to try to keep it as even as possible. We just gotta deal with it the way we can. The thing I talk to our players and coaches about is 'control the controllables.' There's only some things we can control and right now it's academics and it's the knowledge that you're picking up on these Zoom sessions every day.

Is there a fear teams won't be in sync early on? 

If everybody's not in sync, it'll be even. Were we in sync in the opener last year? Probably not. But you're never as good as you want to be. The one thing I can tell you is we're going to be healthy ... Players will be healthy, and that's our job as coaches, to get them as close to being ready as we possibly can.

In terms of getting ready for a season, how many days do you really need? 

That's a big question that we addressed yesterday on an ACC head coaches' Zoom session ... We've kind of got a plan. I'm not going to get into details, nor am I supposed to share any details, but we've talked [about] a minimum of four weeks. If everybody's got three, we gotta do it in three. Ultimately, in the end, we all want to have a college football season. We all want to play the game we love, coach the game we love. Nobody wants to miss college football this fall, but it's really whatever's best for the country. But we really talked about a minimum of four weeks we'd like to have in the worst-case scenario. But we prefer maybe six weeks. So somewhere between six and four [weeks] is hopefully where it lies. And let's hope we're even better than that ... Right now, the USA is a big team and we're all in this thing together. It's about as big a team as you're going to get.

Do you worry about the future of the game, at least this fall, since it's hard to imagine 50-60,000 people showing up at Heinz Field? 

No question. Do you worry about the future? I think the world changes every day in everything. And I don't think where we were in January will be the same in June. I think the world changes, and it changes daily, and a lot of times for the better. So wherever this virus takes us, we'll go. But sports in general, professional and collegiate sports, are not going anywhere. Will it affect the fan attendance eventually? I think so. But I think that's been affected — I these gigantic, big-screen TVs affected that years ago. I think that this might affect it a little bit until everybody feels comfortable. I think it will affect all of our families. All of our families, you know, are the same way ... I talked about maybe this weekend going out and walking 18 holes and playing some golf. I got some looks at the house like, hey, you better get a hotel room if you leave the house. I think everybody's a little bit scared. Luckily, the city of Pittsburgh is in good hands. I think UPMC, I think anybody that needs to go out and get some elective surgeries can go because we've done a great job with social distancing, and they don't have too many cases there, knock on my wood desk here. This is about as good a time as any to get some of those elective surgeries that you need done. Get 'em done.

What is the impact of not having camps? 

Not having summer camps, which I know you probably heard in the last hour or so that we're not going to have summer camps, it's always, anything that's happened — it's the impact of spring ball and the impact of not being around our kids ... There's so many things that impact us and it's something that we just gotta adapt and change and modify what we're doing. Without summer camps, you know, nobody's going to have summer camps ...  We'll make it happen without it. We're just going to rely a little bit more on those personal relationships that we've built here throughout the last few months during this quarantine time and, again, rely on our videotape ... I still got kids sending videotape to me. They're out there throwing the ball or catching the ball somewhere on the field, somewhere remote, so we're still getting a lot of video from those kids, and we'll kind of go from there.

Are you still optimistic you'll be able to hold recruiting visits in June? 

We're prepared for it, Chris. We're certainly prepared for that, for those official visits. I got a recruit texting me. Sorry for my lack of focus. We're certainly prepared for June visits. If the June visits don't happen, maybe the NCAA changes the calendar and we go to July visits, but we're preparing until we don't have that preparation available anymore. That's the toughest thing as the coaches. I'm a big calendar guy: What are we doing? How are we doing it? The thing's constantly getting juggled ... You just continue to, like I said, modify, change and adjust to what you're doing and we'll adjust it somehow. And if there's no visits, there's no visits. But we sure hope, for the sake of everybody on this call today and the city of Pittsburgh and the United States that we're open by that time. But we'll see.

How many scenarios are you preparing for? 

We're waiting to see. We can plan and plan and plan. I think everybody in the football world would like a 12-game season and do it like we normally do. Nobody wants to see an adjustment, because it would be like the weird 2020 season continues to get weirder. It's like, how can you play eight games? It wouldn't be what we want ... We all want a 12-game season and we're prepared for that, and it's just 'When is the season going to start?' I hope that's really the main thing. What we want to make sure is it doesn't start up and get shut down. That would be, probably, a disaster. So I think it's so critical that the medical experts and everybody make the right decision of when we can get going and then again, we gotta be careful as coaches around the country that we don't mess this thing up. We've gotta continue to teach our guys how to wash their hands. I don't think ... this washing hands and social distancing's not going to change. Maybe we go from six feet to five feet. I don't know what it's going to be, but we're going to continue to massage this activity that we have and how we do our business.

Could football players be back on campus if general students aren't? 

Yeah, you most certainly can. We were doing it for two days after spring ball, maybe some people were still not here and we were still working out with several guys, but I think we've only got 12 guys on our campus right now in the sport of football that are still here in Pittsburgh. Everybody else is home, so we do have 12 here, I think, on campus, if my number's right. But I think we could. I won't be making that decision. That'll be somebody way above me.

Listen to the remainder of Narduzzi's call right here: 

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