Pat Narduzzi officially became the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh on Friday, and as important as that was to him and folks who follow the Panthers, it wasn't the news Michigan State fans were waiting on.
The fact Narduzzi, 48, would get the job was "one of the worst-kept secrets," according to one Pittsburgh official at Narduzzi's introductory press conference. The News reported on Wednesday that Michigan State's defensive coordinator would become the fifth head coach at Pittsburgh since 2010 after interviewing over the weekend.
For Spartans faithful the bigger news was whether he would coach in the Cotton Bowl against Baylor on Jan. 1.
"Of course I'm gonna coach in the Cotton Bowl," Narduzzi said. "I wouldn't have taken the job if I couldn't."
While Narduzzi was joking about not taking the job, there was no doubting how much finishing the season with Michigan State meant to him.
"It's important to me, because, as I texted our kids, it's unfinished business," Narduzzi said. "The season's not over. It's not over for Pitt. I want to be conscientious of (interim) coach (Joe) Rudolph and what he's doing. I don't want to do anything to interrupt that, just like I don't want anybody to interrupt our Cotton Bowl. We've got business to take care of. We're No. 8 in the country, trying to climb higher."
Earlier on Friday, when Michigan State arrived in Dallas, coach Mark Dantonio declined to discuss whether Narduzzi would return for the game, instead allowing his defensive coordinator and assistant head coach to have center stage in Pittsburgh.
Senior safety and team captain Kurtis Drummond said he hadn't talked to Narduzzi but he and his teammates were hoping he would coach one more game for the Spartans.
"That's our guy," Drummond said.
Now he's Pittsburgh's guy, and it's something Narduzzi has been working for since he was a graduate assistant at Miami (Ohio) in 1990, climbing the coaching ranks from Rhode Island, to Northern Illinois, back to Miami and Cincinnati before coming to Michigan State.But it's with the Spartans that Narduzzi has had his greatest success, culminating last year when he won the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant after Michigan State won a record 13 games, including the Big Ten championship and the Rose Bowl.During his eight years with Michigan State, Narduzzi coached 19 first-team All-Big Ten players and four won top individual awards, including the past two Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year honorees — Darqueze Dennard in 2013 and Drummond in 2014. Shilique Calhoun was the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2013 while Greg Jones was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2009.
The Spartans have also become a dominant defense under Narduzzi, ranking in the top 10 in the nation each of the last four years.
He was quick to point out it was all because of the players he's coached.
"A special thank you to the wonderful players we have at Michigan State," Narduzzi said. "I can't say about them. I've never caught a football in a game at Michigan State, I've never made a tackle, I've never sacked the quarterback, those are the players that make plays. All I do is coach. Without their belief and the way they play, this doesn't happen and I'm not sitting at this podium today.
"Shout out to the Spartan Dawgs. I thank them from the bottom of my heart."
Narduzzi was just as effusive in his praise for Dantonio, who hired Narduzzi as defensive coordinator at Cincinnati in 2004. They've been together since.
"Of course, Mark Dantonio is a special person in my life and someone that will be with me forever," Narduzzi said of his now former boss. "An incredible, incredible person."
While speculation now ends over Narduzzi's status for the Cotton Bowl, how the staffs at Pittsburgh and Michigan State shake out is yet to be seen.
Narduzzi will have to fill his entire staff while Dantonio will, at the very least, have to replace Narduzzi. Whether that is with current staff members — defensive backs coach Harlon Barnett and linebackers coach Mike Tressel would be the most likely candidates — or from the outside, the replacement will have huge shoes to fill.
Narduzzi might look to take some assistant coaches with him. He wasn't giving any hints on Friday.
"I won't get into details, but we've got every weapon and tool that we need to get the best coaches here on our staff," he said. "We'll have a pretty powerful staff, and I feel good about where we are. Obviously, every coach that gets a head coaching job has a list of guys. I've got a got a few guys that I'm really interested in, going to try to get them. I've got about three-deep, maybe four-deep at some positions. We want to get that five-star guy, and I think we can do it here."
Narduzzi replaces Paul Chryst, who left to take over at Wisconsin, and will have a unique opportunity to see his new team play as the Panthers play Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl on Jan. 2 in Fort Worth.
It will be the first say he dives into his new job without thinking about the Spartans. Instead, it's the realization of a lifelong goal.
"This is the beginning of a dream come true for me and my family," Narduzzi said. "And I hope it's a dream that will last for many years to come."