In a lot of ways, Pat Narduzzi would be a radical departure, not just from Bill O'Brien, but from what plenty of Penn Staters expect to see in their next head coach. He's not an offensive guru, he's got no experience leading a program, and he's got no Penn State ties. But what he does have is maybe the best defensive mind in the country, perhaps the fastest rising stock among assistant coaches anywhere, and the ability to excel on the recruiting trail. Oh, and presumably the desire to jump at the chance to take the position, and the accompanying couple-million-dollar pay raise, and treat it as a destination job.
First, a note as to his bona fides: Michigan State's led the conference in scoring defense and in total defense, by more than 3 points and 50 yards per game, respectively. This was only slightly better than their 2012 performance, when they led in those two categories by 2.8 points and 46 yards per game. The year before that? First again, in total defense. Pat Narduzzi has built a defensive dynasty in East Lansing, at a program long known for high scoring shootouts. Think about how bad the Michigan State offense has been at times over that stretch, and then realize that they won twelve games and the Rose Bowl this year despite an offense that ranks in the bottom half of the conference in literally every single category.
His has been the rare college football team in this day and age that is led by its defense, that overcomes and has, at times, even supplants offensive incompetence by just doing the damn scoring itself. There are plenty of numbers that detail how good the Spartans' defense was this year, but here's my favorite: the Michigan State defense outscored the opposing offense on three different occasions this year.
Pat Narduzzi's scheme doesn't just call for tough, hard-nosed run stuffers. It's not merely like the stout Penn State defenses of old that hold their own and don't give an inch. No it does that, and then some. It's designed to create havoc as well as turnovers, it's loaded with playmakers, and then it releases these wrecking balls into space and unlike other programs that give so much freedom to its most athletic players, the Michigan State ones are well disciplined and couple that aggressive, unrestrained play with smart, heady play. It's not "bend, but don't break," it's "we will break you." It's the Penn State of old on steroids, and until this Bill O'Brien era, this had long been a program that won with defense. Hiring Narduzzi would be a return to Nittany Lion tradition, even if his will have to start now. And who better to get every ounce of potential out of a ramshackle group that struggled so mightily at times last year before the reinforcements arrive?
True, there are some questions about how Narduzzi would do as a head coach; first and foremost, he'd have to assemble his first coaching staff, and Penn State doesn't have much in place for him to keep on the offensive side--Stan Hixon is following Bill O'Brien to Houston, Charlie Fisher just got fired, and Mac McWhorter has been allegedly flirting with retirement for a while. But it's not hard to imagine more young, hungry coaches wanting to jump aboard Narduzzi's ship. O'Brien cobbled together a staff that included no two coaches from the same program. Narduzzi would likely do the same. That said, he'd have to avoid the pratfalls many coordinator-turned-coaches have, in failing to adequately address the other side of the ball.
One question that doesn't need to be asked is whether Narduzzi can bring in top classes, or motivate his players. News reports gush about his recruiting ability--even if his almost unfathomably good defenses are loaded with 3-star, rather than 5-star players--and revel in the stories of his "halftime rants" which are often accompanied by damaged equipment. For every way in which Narduzzi would be a departure from BOB, there's no doubting that he shares a singular passion for winning football games, and similarly earns the love and respect of his players.
Some may question the wisdom of giving a long-time coordinator his first head coaching job. But other coordinators who've been hired to lead programs have excelled. At Louisville, Charlie Strong turned a middling-at-best program into a big fish in a small pond with 11- and 12-win seasons the past two years. Dan Mullen took over a Mississippi State program that had made one bowl game in the previous eight years and took them firmly into the middle of the pack in the crowded SEC. And if we want to include coaches who were elevated into the head coaching position, well, that includes some of the nation's best coaches, guys like Jimbo Fisher and Dabo Swinney. And lest you think we're too good to go down that route, well, tell that to coming-off-two-national-championships-under-Urban-Meyer Florida, who slummed it up with Will Muschamp, who only brought the Gators to the Sugar Bowl and a top-10 finish last year before the wheels came off in 2013.
Here's the point: Somebody's going to give Pat Narduzzi a chance, and it's going to come soon. He's clearly waiting for the right job, having turned down the vacant UConn position this year. I'd rather hire than have to play him.
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