Every summer, Pat Narduzzi and his family return to his wife Donna’s roots and vacation in Rhode Island.
An annual part of the trip is a fishing excursion with Narduzzi’s college teammate, roommate and close friend to this day, Vinny Turco, who knows better than most what makes the Pitt coach tick.
“He’s competitive when he fishes, too,” Turco said. “He wants to catch the biggest fish.”
Football season brings out the more public side of Narduzzi’s personality, and Saturday at Acrisure Stadium he gets to stamp himself among the all-time most successful Pitt coaches. With a victory against Rhode Island, his alma mater, Narduzzi will win his 56th game and tie John Michelosen for third behind Pitt legends Jock Sutherland and Pop Warner.
Speak to anyone who knew Narduzzi when he was a three-year starting linebacker at Rhode Island (1987-89), and one word dominates the narrative: intensity.
“He’s the son of a coach, so that’s going to tell you a lot,” Turco said. “His dad (former Youngstown State coach Bill Narduzzi) was a hero and idol of his. We all knew he was going to be a coach. His father preached to him at a young age about work ethic. You have to work Monday through Friday in order to play the game on Saturday.”
Said former Rhode Island coach Bob Griffin: “Coaching has been ingrained in him since birth.”
Rhode Island had a record of 8-25 during Narduzzi’s three seasons as a starter. Terry Lynch, who coached on Rhode Island staffs with Narduzzi in the 1990s and is now the color analyst for Rams radio broadcasts, said the losing never changed him.
“Pat’s a winner. Pat wants to win, as we all do,” Lynch said. “I know there was some frustration there, but he kept grinding and he kept pushing. As an undersized linebacker in this league (Colonial Athletic Association), he got after you.
“He would bring it every single time. Getting guys in the right spot, kind of being that quote-unquote coach on the field. He’s got that DNA in him, always intense from snap one to however many he played in that game. It’s like what you see now.”
Turco had an up-close look at Narduzzi’s intensity, not just as a linebacker who thrived on the big hit, but as a thinking man looking for an edge.
“It showed in practices,” Turco said. “He was very cerebral for a football player. He was very intense, very competitive, fiery. The thing I remember about Pat, he always wanted to talk about football. He loved the game. He loved the planning, the execution, the competitiveness, the physical play. He’s an old-school, throwback football guy.”
“I think I was the only player that had an eight millimeter projector in my dorm room,” Narduzzi said.
Lynch and Narduzzi were Rhode Island assistants together and shared an office for five years in the 1990s.
“When we first got hired,” Lynch said, “we had to move things around (in the office) and restructure rooms and paint rooms. He would attack that like he was attacking a football game.”
Narduzzi had further details on that period of time.
“Did construction in those offices, even though it was against union rules,” he said Monday. “Let’s do it ourselves, or it wouldn’t get done. I was the foreman on the job.”
Out of the office, especially on recruiting trips, the attacks continued.
“He was a freaking bulldog to try and get kids, wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Lynch said. “He would come back and say, ‘So and so and so and so (schools) were on this kid. I don’t care. I’m going to get him.’
“And he would work his rear end off to try and get him. Nine out of 10 times, if it was comparable league-wise, we’d get him with Pat. He’s a freakin’ hound. He’s compassionate with people, but he’s as intense as they come. It’s funny, watching him all those years and watching him now, he doesn’t change. He’s still the bulldog.”
While on a fishing boat with Narduzzi and his children, seeking sea bass and dog fish in the waters of the Atlantic, Turco sees two other sides of Narduzzi: the joker and the dad who likes to keep his children by his side.
“You see the side of him when he’s with his kids, the human side of him, being a dad. He looks forward to the fishing trip every summer.”
Turco and his friend who owns the fishing boat make regular visits to Pittsburgh. He said Narduzzi always takes them on a tour of the football facility, sometimes on the day before a game.
“Favorite weekend of the year,” Turco said. “We get to hang out at a Pitt football game and enjoy the city of Pittsburgh.
“He gives us the tour. Pat always takes time on Friday. This is what my friend says: ‘He’s the head coach of DI football and he takes the time to meet with us and hang out with us on a Friday before a game.’
“Pat takes the time for friends and family.”
Jerry DiPaola is also a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .