Matt Charboneau, John Niyo of The News talk about Mark Dantonio's decision to step down and who might replace him while talking MSU's loss in hoops. The Detroit News


Pat Narduzzi is doing his best to convince everyone he’s not about to leave Pittsburgh.

The current head coach for the Panthers and former Michigan State defensive coordinator spent the bulk of his National Signing Day press conference on Wednesday talking about the opening created at Michigan State when Mark Dantonio announced his retirement on Tuesday.

“The rumors, squash them, whatever you want to call it,” Narduzzi said. “I got decisions to make, too. I'm here at Pitt. I want to be here at Pitt. That's where I'm going to be.”

As a longtime Dantonio assistant and the architect of some of the best defenses in Spartans history, Narduzzi has long been believed to be a possible successor to Dantonio. Since leaving Michigan State after the 2014 season, Narduzzi has had varying levels of success at Pitt, going 36-29 overall and taking the Panthers to the ACC title game in 2018.

And as he met with the media to talk about the signing of two players to the 2020 recruiting class, it didn’t take long for the attention to turn to his status as a potential replacement for Dantonio.

“It's my ultimate goal to be here at Pitt,” Narduzzi said. “That's where I want to be, here at Pitt. I came here to get a job done. We're just working on continuing to move forward.

“Again, we couldn't be in a better situation here at the University of Pittsburgh. We really couldn't. I'm blessed to be the head coach here and count my blessings every day. That's kind of the way it is.”

Narduzzi said he spoke with athletic director Heather Lyke and chancellor Patrick Gallagher on Tuesday evening after he heard that Dantonio had decided to step down. On Wednesday, Lyke emphasized how happy Pitt was to have Narduzzi and said she believed the coach made it clear he intends to stick with the Panthers.

“We’re thrilled he’s here,” Lyke said. “What’s most important to Pat are the people. He’s got a coaching staff that’s all coming back. Obviously has an unbelievable team, a lot of guys that had choices to make that that he referenced. He’s got a new strength staff.

“In reflection he’s like, ‘Everybody’s coming back. This program is headed in the right direction. We have a lot to look forward to this coming season, why would I be the one that leaves?’ For him, the relationships matter most.”

Added Narduzzi, “When it comes down to it, it's about the people. I know what I'm dealing with here at Pitt. I know every day when I call up Heather Lyke and say, ‘How about this?’ She's going to say, ‘We'll get it done.’ I just know that. I don't know that about anyplace else in the country like it know it here.”

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Still, many believe Narduzzi would be the perfect fit to replace Dantonio.

The two worked together for three years at Cincinnati before coming to Michigan State in 2007. Together, they built a championship program led by some of the best defenses in college football.

“Rumors are rumors,” Narduzzi said. “Speculation. ... I can't tell you what's going on in the outside world. I don't know what's happening up there. Obviously it's fresh.

“But my relationship with coach is that's my head coach. He always will be. I just want to thank him for everything he's done for me in my career and congratulate him on his exit from Michigan State. He's a great football coach. The all-time winningest coach in Michigan State history. There's just so many things to look back on, all the memories that we had together.”

Narduzzi wouldn’t say if anyone at Michigan State had contacted him, instead saying, “My phone was blowing up last night.”

He also said saying no to Michigan State wouldn’t be as simple as when he rebuffed any overtures last fall from Rutgers.

“This one was not as simple because you've been there before,” Narduzzi said. “It's not as simple to just say I'm not going to listen to anymore.”

Whether things change over the next few days remains to be seen. Narduzzi isn’t the only name Michigan State has on its list. But there’s no doubt, there’s a connection, one Narduzzi was trying to move past Wednesday.

“I want to win championships here,” he said. “That's our goal. We got a great football team coming back. Don't underestimate that. I'm excited about our players. Our players are committed and their head coach is committed.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau