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Pat Narduzzi's construction career continues with a rebuild at Pitt

PITTSBURGH -- When first-year Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi talks about his first job ever -- "working construction, of course" -- he doesn’t just tell you, he shows you. He operates an invisible jackhammer just like you expect a former college linebacker would.

"I don't know if you've ever used a jackhammer before," Narduzzi says, "but it was a 45-pound jackhammer, like the 90-pound, I believe. The 45s are bouncing back at you, OK? Those 90 ones are just falling to the ground -- easy to use. But on the bridges you couldn't use the 90-pound because you might go right through the bridge. So the 45 you're trying to get up underneath the rebar."

Narduzzi’s father, Bill, got him the job on Route 80 in New Jersey upon the family's move there nearly 30 years ago. (Bill was an assistant coach at Columbia in New York.)

Narduzzi worked 12-hour days. The pay was pretty good. But the labor, he said, often felt "like you were in jail" -- which meant it had the effect on him that his father had desired.

"His feeling was 'This will make you get your degree. You won't do this for the rest of your life,'" Narduzzi said. "And that was kind of that tough, hard-nosed type of guy he was."

Bill died not long after that move, following an extended battle with Hodgkin's disease. He was 51. But the lessons he imparted on his son left their mark, from working those arduous days in construction to building back up a Pitt program for which he will be the fourth new head coach in six years.

Narduzzi has trouble explaining how he became the only of his father's six children to trail him into his chosen line of work, but there is no mistaking the parallels between the two.

Narduzzi played for his father when he was the head coach at Youngstown State. He’s also flipped the basement of every house he’s moved into in his career -- a nod to his father's stint as a high school woodshop teacher.

Early in his coaching career, before the offseason demands became what they are today, Narduzzi opened up a painting business. He once found himself in a bidding war for a job with longtime New Hampshire head coach Sean McDonnell, then an assistant at Columbia. They decided to attack the Englewood, New Jersey, mansion together.

"One afternoon in the house, he starts screaming," Narduzzi said. "He's in the master bedroom; I go in there, he dumps a whole bucket of paint on the carpet in this lady's house. I'm talking, this is probably a $1.5 million [home]. Yeah, I mean it was not good. So I'll never forget that day with Sean when he spilled the whole bucket of paint in there. We're in there just ... spent two hours trying to clean it up before she got home. Got it cleaned up pretty good."

None of these close calls bled into Narduzzi's day job, as he rose through four different stops at three different schools before catching the eye of the man who would prove to be among his biggest mentors in coaching: Mark Dantonio.

They crossed paths during Dantonio’s first spring as a Youngstown State assistant, just before Narduzzi transferred to Rhode Island. Then when Dantonio took his first head-coaching job at Cincinnati, he figured he could bolster his staff and decimate a rival with one move, hiring Narduzzi from Miami (Ohio), where he was defensive coordinator for a team that finished 2003 ranked 10th in the AP poll.

The duo's dozen years together brought unprecedented success at Cincinnati and Michigan State, making Narduzzi a popular name come silly season every year and leading to some heart-to-hearts with Dantonio.

"You go through this enough times, you get a little despondent a little bit," Dantonio said. "You want to be a head coach. And I think that was three years in a row running that somebody approached [Narduzzi]. He had opportunities, but he said no for whatever reason. And you want the right time to come at the right place. So I knew that if we won again like we did he'd have that opportunity."

Now Narduzzi, 49, is at Pitt, the rare coach to get his first head-coaching gig at a Power 5 program. Reminders of the hard work and odd jobs he had to perform to get to this point are everywhere, from his father's old Size 12 wingtips that he keeps untouched in his closet to the familiar faces he now sees in ACC meetings.

One of those guys is Syracuse coach Scott Shafer, who worked with Narduzzi for six years at two schools and who, like Narduzzi, lost his father, also an Ohio coach, at a young age.

"Pat's seen it modeled throughout the course of his life, starting with his dad and then moving up throughout the college ranks," Shafer said. "The one thing that Pat and I always talk about is how indebted we are to the coaches that gave us opportunities to work for them: Floyd Keith at the University of Rhode Island. Joe Novak at Northern Illinois. ... He's been around so many great coaches in his career, he's ready.

"We don't talk about that as much. He knows what he's ready to do, and he's had a plan for years and he'll take it and run with it and he'll do a great job. And Pitt's really fortunate to have Pat Narduzzi at the helm."

In the spring, Narduzzi put in an offer on a house in Wexford, Pennsylvania, about 15 miles from Pittsburgh’s campus. He, his wife and four kids are used to the drill of establishing new roots. But as they settled down this time, for once, the heavy lifting was already taken care of.

"No work to do in that house," Narduzzi said with a laugh, "and even if I did, I'm not doing it any more. I'm out of the construction business."