Pat Narduzzi

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Pitt players being blocked from media leading up to Penn State game

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It worked for Pitt last year, so Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi figures why change anything?

For the second year in a row, Pitt will block off the media from being able to discuss the next game with Panthers players. Narduzzi will be the sole voice heard from the Pitt program this week as the Panthers prepare for a road game at Penn State.

The in-state rivalry between Penn State and Pitt was renewed for the first time in 15 years last season with the first of four straight games. The Panthers hosted the first game in the four-game set and held on to defeat Penn State 42-39. The Panthers roughed up Penn State early on to build a substantial lead, but Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley did their best to nearly pull off the comeback before a late deep ball interception from McSorley thwarted the comeback effort with the momentum on Penn State’s side. Little did anyone know at the time of the Week 2 matchup last fall that Penn State would later go on to win the Big Ten and Pitt would score another wild upset against eventual national champion Clemson.

The decision to shut off media access to the team last year at Pitt followed over a year of hype for the revival of the in-state rivalry, especially from the opposing offensive line coaches. Penn State blanked Akron in their season opener over the weekend, 52-0, while Pitt avoided a disaster at home by prevailing over Youngstown State in overtime, 28-21. Penn State has opened as a sizable favorite in the game this week, with an 18-point spread in their favor.

Pat Narduzzi was on committee to find new Pitt AD Heather Lyke

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After losing its athletics director to another school, the University of Pittsburgh has a new athletics director ready to get to work. Heather Lyke , previously of Eastern Michigan, will reportedly take on the job at Pittsburgh according to multiple reports including The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Detroit Free Press and Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com.

Lyke, a Michigan alum and former senior associate athletic director at Ohio State, will replace Scott Barnes, who left to take on the same role at Oregon State. She will be the first woman to be an athletic director in Pitt’s history.

Lyke was a trailblazer during her time at Eastern Michigan. She was the first ever MAC Cartwright Award winner for all-around athletic department excellence in the 2013-2014 academic year. Among the accomplishments at EMU under Lyke’s tenure include the highest overall athletic GPA in school history and the highest graduation rates for athletes in school history. Last season saw the most successful football season in school history in decades leading to the first bowl trip for the program since 1987.

Lyke will leave EMU at a time the school is potentially set to invest in improving athletics facilities in a big way, and her leadership will be a big part of the reason why the university feels it appropriate to even consider spending so much money to improve the athletics programs even if students and faculty on campus have concerns about such budget proposals.

As for the future of the Pitt football program, the hiring of Lyke seems to have no drawbacks. Pat Narduzzi has done well since being hired to be the head coach, so there is little reason for Lyke to be looking to make a change on the sideline to hire her preferred coach. Narduzzi was actually on the selection committee for finding a new AD, so it stands to reason the new AD has the support of the football coach. This is not a situation where the new AD will be asked to make a quick change, so that’s good for Narduzzi and the football program. Whether Lyke has any desire to figure out a long-term stadium solution on Pitt’s campus might be worth watching, although that might be a reach.

Expect one of the football-related questions to Lyke be about the non-conference scheduling plans. Among those first questions will be Lyke’s thoughts about the Penn State series. The two in-state schools (now with two women athletic directors), resumed their previously abandoned series last fall and will meet again for the next three seasons. As is custom, new ADs tend to draw their line in the sand on such in-state rivalry questions.

And if she says the football team is going to bring back the mustard-yellow helmets on a full-time basis, then she may be the best hire Pitt has made in years right out of the gate.

VIDEO: Pitt RB James Conner working out with Panthers

AP Photo/The News & Observer, Robert Willett
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Pittsburgh running back James Conner is continuing tow work out with his Panther teammates despite an ongoing battle with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his neck and chest. If you need video evidence to serve as a reminder just how tough Conner is, here he is putting work in, complete with a summersault at the end of his drill.

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi previously said he believes Conner will be able to play for the Panthers in the fall.

“I saw him yesterday in the hallway and he’s been working out with our kids to keep his sanity and he’s having fun doing it,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said last week. “That’s the key is he’s having fun beating cancer and he’s got a great attitude and he looks good right now. He’s doing well and looks well. Doesn’t look like he lost weight. Looks like he could still play. He doesn’t look like he has cancer.”

Judging by that one short video clip shared on Narduzzi’s Twitter account, Conner certainly doesn’t look as though he has missed a beat.

Pat Narduzzi believes Pitt RB James Conner will play in 2016

Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP
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The college football world was stunned when Pittsburgh running back James Conner, who missed the bulk of the 2015 season due to a knee injury, announced he is battling cancer. Despite his ongoing bout with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his neck and chest, Conner is said to be in great physical shape and looks he could even be ready to play for the Panthers this fall once he beats cancer.

“I saw him yesterday in the hallway and he’s been working out with our kids to keep his sanity and he’s having fun doing it,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said recently to ESPN.com reporter James Shanker. “That’s the key is he’s having fun beating cancer and he’s got a great attitude and he looks good right now. He’s doing well and looks well. Doesn’t look like he lost weight. Looks like he could still play. He doesn’t look like he has cancer.”

Conner declared his intention to play football again when he announced his cancer to the world last December.

“I will play football again,” Conner said in early December. “I will be at Heinz Field again. I have the best coaches and teammates in the country. I thank God I chose Pitt because now I also have the best doctors in the country and together we will win. I know this city has my back.”

The former ACC Player of the Year is receiving financial support from Pitt to handle the costs of the treatments, which is allowed by the NCAA for special circumstances. This is certainly a special circumstance. Per NCAA rules, Conner and his family are required to have personal insurance but schools may pick up the tab for remaining costs not covered by the student’s insurance coverage. Pitt is able to lend its support because cancer is affecting Conner’s ability to play football.

The college football world will continue to root for Conner as he works his way back to the football field.

Was Notre Dame’s big rig recruiting visit an NCAA violation. Maybe. So what?

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File
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On Thursday morning Notre Dame parked its 18-wheel equipment truck out front of the home of five-star wide receiver Demetris Robertson. The photo of the truck at Robertson’s home did not take long to go viral among the college football world, but this is hardly a new stunt on the recruiting trail, nor will it be the last time a program does it. Heck, Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi sent Pitt’s equipment truck on the road for a recruiting visit Friday morning as well. Of course, this recruiting strategy may have ruffled some feathers from rival programs who were quick to make note this may actually be a violation of NCAA rules.

The violation, a minor one at the most, would be from the act of promoting the visit by sharing an image of the truck on Twitter (NCAA bylaw 13.4.3.5) This would be deemed by some to be promoting the recruitment of a prospective student-athlete. It was another tweet that caught my eye, however.

Notre Dame offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford shared an image of the truck, which appeared to be parked in the same spot as Robertson’s own footage of the truck, suggesting the Irish were, technically, promoting the truck’s presence on a recruiting visit.Sanford later posted another image of the truck while it was in Georgia.

According to a report from Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com, a Notre Dame spokesperson stated it was believed to be permissible to use the equipment truck as a mode of transportation. Of course, that would mean Sanford spent 908 miles in the truck from South Bend, Indiana to Savannah, Georgia.

The wording of the NCAA bylaw is open for some interpretation, as most seem to be.

NCAA bylaw 13.4.3.5: “Member institutions and their representatives of athletics interests are prohibited from financing, arranging or using recruiting aids (e.g., newspaper advertisements, bumper stickers, message buttons) designed to publicize the institution’s interest in a particular prospective student-athlete.”

If Notre Dame committed a recruiting violation, OK. the punishment for that violation would amount to little more than a mild slap on the wrist, probably. If that’s what it takes to win the commitment of a five-star wide receiver, I’m guessing newly extended Brian Kelly would be fine with it. The point of recruiting is to make the biggest impression when on the road, and bringing a massive equipment truck with you is just one way to leave a lasting impression that will be the talk of not just the recruit, but the town (and perhaps other future prospects at that school and nearby schools). Don’t think Notre Dame sent their equipment truck without a larger vision beyond just the recruitment of this one, talented recruit. Unless the NCAA sends out a memo saying no equipment trucks may travel certain distances are travel across state lines, we should be seeing more equipment trucks on the road in the recruiting season. If you’re not bringing it with you, you are not trying hard enough.

So don’t blame Notre Dame for sending its equipment truck to Georgia. Don’t blame Jim Harbaugh for sleeping over at the homes of recruits. Don’t blame any coach for thinking outside the box, because really all you are doing is admitting your coach didn’t think of it first and that upsets you on some level.