Last year, head coach Pat Narduzzi raised quite a stir among local media when it was announced that Pitt's players would not be available to speak to the media before the Penn State game. The Panthers won the game 42-39 and Narduzzi is keeping the same policy this year.
In the weekly media briefing distributed by the athletics department, it was stated that coach Narduzzi would be the lone spokesperson for the program this week.
I can understand why this would cause a stir among the regular media that routinely cover the team on a daily basis. Having no player access limits what they can do from a storytelling standpoint to some degree. In addition, asking them to cover a team with no player access is, in a way, a bit unfair. But I'm not sure how much this really affects the fans. The media, of course, are developing these stories for fans and its readers so, in a roundabout sort of way, if the stories aren't as compelling, I suppose there's an argument that it hurts its readership. Aside from that, though, I just don't think this is much of a blow to the casual fan.
I can't speak for Narduzzi as to why he takes this approach but my guess is that it's about keeping his guys focused and to limit the possibility of one of them providing some bulletin board material. We can debate all day long if that really matters. And I suppose you can argue that, if the job of a college coach is to prepare his players (particularly ones with pro aspirations) to handle interviews in advance of big games, then Narduzzi is actually depriving them of that opportunity. But that's kind of a reach and at the end of the day, I just can't find it in myself to get too worked up over it.
Consider, too, that the chances of a player saying something so insightful that it needs to be out there for consumption is probably not worth the trouble of allowing for the possibility of somebody saying something that gives Penn State some ammunition. Can players provide decent insight? Sure. But, as a fan, I'm not sure that there's anything I need to hear from the players that's so valuable that it's worth risking someone saying something flippant and careless.
It's worth nothing that Pitt players have mostly avoided that pitfall and I can't think of too many instances where they said something that got them into trouble. Wide receiver Manasseh Garner made some ill-advised comments about the team not playing for the fans back in 2014 and even in that instance, it wasn't bulletin board material for another team. But just because stupid comments don't happen often doesn't mean that the team is immune to them. You get anyone talking enough and it's possible.
We'll all live without Qadree Ollison telling us how much energy there was for the game last year. Or Max Browne's Penn State parallels since his USC team faced them last year in the Rose Bowl. Or Dane Jackson admitting the secondary needs to step up. I just don't need any of that. Yes, it might be helpful to have to generate content, like when some players talked about taking their foot off the pedal after Youngstown State. But do I need that? Nah.
The driver here for future precedent will always be how Pitt performs in these games. If the Panthers go out and shock the world here, that will only make fans care less about how Narduzzi runs the team. If the approach works and he's winning with it, I'm not sure how you demand that he make the players available. Now, if Pitt goes out and loses the next two games with Penn State, maybe the pressure to make players accessible deepens.
Do I think it's an overreaction? Probably. But here's the thing - Narduzzi is in charge of the football program and that means operating it in what he views are its best interests. If that's how he feels about this, it's fine by me. It's not illegal and, while it might seem like paranoia to some, Narduzzi is the head coach. Let him run the freaking program. Lifespans of coaches are short. In addition to running a clean program and making sure his players get an education, his job is to win as many games as possible. If he genuinely thinks this gives him an advantage, I've got no beef with that - even if I might not necessarily agree.
My general theory is to let a coach run the program the way he/she thinks is best. As long as this doesn't turn into a dictatorship where he's restricting player access for a bunch of games, I'm generally okay with it. Frankly, what I really want more from Narduzzi on is transparency with injuries. This nonsense?