Familiar faces collide as Pitt readies for Youngstown State

Pat Narduzzi grew up rooting for Youngstown State, his first opponent as Pitt's head coach. AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Pat Narduzzi wants the focus this week to be on his Pitt players, the ones who will actually take the field Saturday against Youngstown State. But this will be Narduzzi's debut as a head coach, and it will come against the program his late father completely rebuilt, and, well, the family circle is just too perfect to not relent just a little bit and head toward memory lane.

"(The kids) don't have anything to do with that. It's just another game," Narduzzi told ESPN.com. "It's my first game here at the University of Pittsburgh as the head football coach, and that's special in its way, and that's kind of the way I want to keep it. It happens to be Youngstown State, which, there's a lot of history, but I can't let the emotions get into it.

"But obviously it's a team I grew up loving, and cheered them every Saturday, listening to them on the radio if it was an away game, and I was just running around the house as a little kid. ... I was a ball boy for those guys for I don't know how many years. So there were some great years there."

It is all so ironic, of course. Bill Narduzzi was YSU's head coach from 1975-85, producing a 68-51-1 record as he lifted the program from Division II to Division I-AA, all while his son Pat tagged along and grew attached to the sport and profession. Bill served as athletic director for three years as well. Pat eventually joined the program in 1985 as a promising linebacker, but his father's contract was not renewed after the season, an indignity that stung particularly deep considering Bill had been battling cancer for several years. (He died in 1988.)

Bill's replacement was Jim Tressel, who is now the YSU president, and who this past winter hired ex-Nebraska coach and local son Bo Pelini, whose debut Saturday as the Penguins' head coach coincides with Narduzzi's at Pitt.

This will not be the duo's first rendezvous, of course. They faced each other in the Big Ten when Narduzzi was Michigan State's defensive coordinator, and they played in high school when they were budding stars. Narduzzi led Ursuline's defense in a shutout win against the quarterback Pelini's Cardinal Mooney offense.

"Back when you played those days, you didn't know who they were; it was,'That guy over there,'" Narduzzi said in his office this spring. "But I haven't seen anything on tape of really what happened there. I know we got after them pretty good."

Narduzzi and the Michigan State staff visited Pelini and his coaches at Nebraska when the Cornhuskers were in the Big 12, and Narduzzi continues to speak highly of his former prep rival.

Narduzzi and his family's time in Youngstown might have ended unceremoniously, as a knee injury after his dad's dismissal precipitated a transfer to Rhode Island, but Narduzzi has said he is remembering the positives. He might have the plushier job now as the boss at an ACC school, but he knows what this kind of opportunity means for kids at YSU. He need not look further than 2012 for a reminder, as the Penguins entered Heinz Field three years ago and ruined Paul Chryst's debut as Pitt's head coach with a convincing 31-17 triumph.

On Saturday, familiar faces will vie for a strong first impression.

"I have a lot of respect for (Narduzzi)," Pelini said at his Tuesday news conference. "I think he's a good football coach. I think he's going to do a heck of a job there at Pitt. Obviously he's a Youngstown guy, and obviously other than this game I wish him well. I hope they win them all."