This article was written by Chris Puzia and appeared in The Pitt News on December 14, 2015. It has been republished with the author’s permission.
Some would describe the Pitt football coaching staff as “animated” — but what if they actually were?
Since 1996, Pitt has gone through the spectrum of personalities — or lack thereof in Paul Chryst’s case — at the head coaching position. From Walt Harris to Pat Narduzzi, the coaches are a compelling cast of characters.
So they might be the perfect group to use in recasting another 1996 landmark: the hit movie “Space Jam.” After drinking some of Michael’s Secret Stuff, that’s exactly what we did.
Michael Jordan – Pat Narduzzi (2015-present)
This one’s a bit obvious, but give credit where credit is due. Jordan is the king. He comes from a basketball powerhouse, and the Looney Tunes bring him in to save the squad and stand tall against bigger foes — literally.
Narduzzi is some of the same. Pitt enlisted him from big-time Michigan State, and so far, nobody’s scared of opponents with him in charge. Some of his recruits could pass for Monstars. Plus, Jordan’s an expert marketer, and his Air Jordan brand speaks for itself. Narduzzi, meanwhile, can also brand himself, as he has trained the entire Panther fanbase to salivate at the phrase, “Pitt is it.”
Bill Murray – Walt Harris (1997-2004)
Murray’s career is kind of like Harris’ except in reverse. Harris took a floundering Pitt program and eventually restored it to prominence, reaching the Fiesta Bowl in his final season as coach.
Murray, on the other hand, started his career off hot, churning out classics like “Caddyshack,” “Ghostbusters” and “Groundhog Day.” But now, while he still has that cherished reputation, Murray put out “Aloha” this year, which earned a lowly 19 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and still has the 2004 “Garfield” franchise to his name.
Regardless, you’re always going to hear about the good old days with these two — whether it’s Harris’ Fiesta Bowl days or Murray’s “Lost in Translation” days.
All of this is really just to say that I miss “Ghostbusters.”
Wayne Knight – Paul Chryst (2012-14)
Knight is always just … around. Whether as Newman from “Seinfeld” or Stan from “Space Jam” or making cameos in countless television shows, Knight is a recognizable, yet unremarkable face.
Enter Chryst. He has a prominent role at a notable football school, but he will not be the face of it. Knight plays Jordan’s friend in the greatest sports movie ever made and has an integral role, yet he will not be the star or even a memorable piece of it.
There is a reason, after all, that “Newman” and Chryst’s catchphrase, “Neat,” share their first couple of letters. It’s a conspiracy.
Bugs Bunny – Dave Wannstedt (2005-10)
Bugs is the ultimate troll. He’s got a resumé of tomfoolery so deep, Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan is probably giving him calls to be an assistant. He’s the charismatic and skilled leader of the Tune Squad and rallies his team to strong results.
Wannstedt did the same, leading Pitt to a 42-31 record as coach until he resigned under pressure after a 7-5 season. He then took the opportunity with his power as a Fox Sports analyst to mimic Bugs’ impish nature.
Pitt trailed Florida International at halftime on the network in the 2014 season. Wannstedt managed to connect Pitt’s struggles in that single game to the administrative culture — specifically to then-athletic director Steve Pederson, with whom Wannstedt had friction.
“Chryst is the guy for this job, to bring it back to respectability,” Wannstedt said. “He’s got one big obstacle. The athletic director at Pitt’s got to get on the same page, and they’ll get back to contending for conference championships like they were four or five years ago.”
By four or five years ago, Wannstedt must have meant when he was still the head coach. Nice, Dave. That’s a Bugs move.
Mr. Swackhammer – Todd Graham (2011)
Swackhammer is the diminutive, sleazy Monstars owner fittingly voiced by Danny DeVito. His Monstars and their offensive juggernaut were at one point dominating the hopeless Tune Squad in the final game — a little reminiscent of the “high octane” offense that a certain former Pitt coach promised?
But, as with Graham, Swackhammer’s team had flash but little substance. Meanwhile, the Graham-led Arizona State Sun Devils finished this season 6-6, just a few years removed from Graham bolting from Pitt in 2011.
The only difference between the two is that at the conclusion of “Space Jam,” Swackhammer’s former players launched the owner into the stars on a rocket, never to be seen again. But whether on message boards or everyday conversation, Graham’s name keeps popping up among masochistic Pitt fans.