Narduzzi still coaching stout Michigan St defense

It was Pat Narduzzi’s defense that paved the way for Michigan

State to reach the Rose Bowl – and because of that, nobody could be

certain if the chatty defensive coordinator would actually end up

coaching the game.

But for now, at least, Narduzzi remains with the fourth-ranked

Spartans. It seems inevitable that someday he’ll be a head coach,

but Narduzzi wasn’t about to leave for the first available

opportunity. Not after what he and coach Mark Dantonio have built

at Michigan State.

”You hate to break up a great party that we have going on right

now, and it better be a great opportunity,” Narduzzi said. ”It

felt like this is the place to stay.”

Narduzzi has been Dantonio’s defensive coordinator for the last

10 seasons – three at Cincinnati and seven at Michigan State. The

Spartans have been consistently impressive defensively for the last

few years, but their 2013 group stands out, ranking No. 1 in the

country in total defense – a distinction that helped Narduzzi win

the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant.

”Obviously, Pat Narduzzi is the coordinator and does a

tremendous job,” Dantonio said. ”I think him staying here sends a

message that things are good here. Things are very positive here

and he’ll leave for the right position at the right time and not

before then, because I think he enjoys the aspect of being

here.”

Narduzzi withdrew from consideration for the vacancy at

Connecticut earlier this month, so the speculation about him

immediately leaving for a head coaching job has subsided somewhat.

The continuity of the defensive staff has been a big part of

Michigan State’s success. Dantonio is a former defensive assistant

himself, and the working relationship between him and Narduzzi has

been a successful one since their days at Cincinnati.

”I think he lets his staff coach,” Narduzzi said. ”That’s why

it’s fun to coach here. He hasn’t changed as a person. He’s been

the same person he’s been. I think he’s become a better head

football coach every year.”

That’s not to say that the two are totally alike. In contrast to

the more stoic Dantonio, Narduzzi is quick to speak his mind, which

makes for some entertaining postgame sound bites.

A couple years ago, after a penalty-filled win over Michigan,

Narduzzi cracked that the Spartans tried to play ”60 minutes of

unnecessary roughness” against their rivals. He later said it was

a poor choice of words.

More powerful than any comments, of course, is Michigan State’s

performance on the field, and Narduzzi’s energy seems contagious.

When he came down from the booth to coach from the sideline during

the Big Ten title game, the Spartans finished off a cathartic

victory over Ohio State. Next up is Michigan State’s first Rose

Bowl appearance since 1988.

After winning the conference title, Narduzzi first had to weigh

the possibility of leaving for UConn. He said it was a close

call.

”It would have been an hour from my mother-in-law,” he said.

”The key is probably my wife being a great coach’s wife, because

she could have said, `Hey Pat, let’s go.’ And I would have fallen

off the fence either way. But she was strong enough to say, `Hey,

what’s the best move for us as a family and for you coaching-wise?’

It wasn’t just about being close to home and all those

things.”

So Narduzzi is still at Michigan State – with another big

challenge ahead. The suspension of standout linebacker Max Bullough

will make the Spartans’ job significantly harder against

fifth-ranked Stanford, but this is a defense that has produced

sustained excellence all season – a defense built to withstand the

loss of an important player if need be.

Especially because another key component – the coordinator – is

still in charge.

”We’re going to have guys that are going to be highly sought

after, and it’s my intention to do the best we can to keep all of

our staff,” Dantonio said. ”Having Coach Narduzzi remain here is

a big aspect for us. Good friend, very loyal, and also an

outstanding coach – as I would say about every one of our

coaches.”