By Joe Scalzo
After playing football at Ursuline High and one season at Youngstown State, Pat Narduzzi decided to transfer to Rhode Island after his father, Bill, was fired as the Penguins head coach in 1985.
“Rhode Island had just beaten Akron in the playoffs and I felt like I was going to a better program,” said Narduzzi, now the defensive coordinator at Michigan State. “But there was a totally different attitude. They had good players but there wasn’t the same commitment.
“Football is important in Youngstown. The people here live and breath it. It’s a tough town and it’s a game played by tough people. That’s where it begins.”
Narduzzi, 45, has carried that attitude with him through his coaching career, which began at Rhode Island and continued to Northern Illinois (2000-02), Miami (2003), Cincinnati (2004) and Michigan State (2007-now). His next stop may be at Akron, where he’s one of four finalists for the Zips’ head coaching job.
When asked about the Akron opening Saturday night, Narduzzi had no comment, but said he always focuses on his current job, not his next one.
“If it [being a head coach] happens, I’ll be ready for it,” said Narduzzi, who last week interviewed for the vacant Illinois job that went to Toledo coach Tim Beckman. “But I’ll tell you this — I’m not dying to do it. I’m happy where I am.
“I don’t look for jobs. They come looking for me.”
Narduzzi oversaw the Big Ten’s top defense this season, helping Michigan State go 10-2 before losing to Wisconsin in the inaugural Big Ten championship game, 42-39.
“You can’t gauge a season on one game or one play,” said Narduzzi. “I think we outplayed them in that game but it was a great season.”
The Spartans gave up 272.7 yards per game — almost 20 fewer than the next-closest team, Illinois — and were second in the conference in scoring defense (17.0, behind Penn State’s 15.7).
Led by former YSU assistant Mark Dantonio, who was Jim Tressel’s defensive coordinator from 1986-1990, the Spartans have gone 14-3 in the Big Ten over the past two years, helping the Spartans shake their underachiever reputation.
“That perception is still there — people always ask when we’re going to collapse,” said Narduzzi. “But we’ve instilled confidence in the kids. The players know we love them and they know we’re going to coach our tails off for them, so they play their tails off for us.”
MSU’s season started with a 28-6 win over Youngstown State — a game in which the Penguins gained 254 yards and kept things close into the fourth quarter.
“I was impressed with [offensive coordinator] Shane Montgomery’s offense,” said Narduzzi. “I thought they should have been a playoff team and I think they played one of their better games against us.
“It was neat to coach against them and it was a personal game, that’s for sure.”
Narduzzi is still miffed about the way his father’s firing was handled — “My dad built Stambaugh Stadium and if my dad hadn’t been there, Jim Tressel may not have been as successful without the best I-AA facilities in the country,” he said — and said then-athletic director Joe Malmisur shook his father’s hand after his last game and said, “Screw those people — come see me in the morning.”
“I thought then maybe my dad had a chance to still be there,” Narduzzi said, who then caught himself and said, “But that’s a whole different story. I could give you a 10-page story on that situation.”
Regardless, Narduzzi knows the positives and negatives of being a head coach as well as anyone, which is one of the reasons he’d be OK with remaining a coordinator, if necessary.
“If you’re a head coach, you’re more like a CEO,” he said. “You don’t have the same relationships with players and you don’t do as much strategizing.
“If I’m ever a head coach someday, it’s something I’ll miss.”