The Spartan Nation is used to seeing Pat Narduzzi running out of the tunnel in the midst of the fourth quarter to rally his defense for a big win. He is emotional. He is spirited. He is the heart of the Spartan defense.
His players love him. Former linebacker Jon Misch told me last summer, “I may not be the best player that he ever coached, but I know that in thirty years I can call him from anywhere and he will be there for me. I love Coach Narduzzi.” Greg Jones told me last fall, “Coach Narduzzi is not a guy you play for, you play with him. I wanted to come back to play with him again.”
Those things mentioned above are special. They are certainly part of the mystique that makes Pat Narduzzi who he is, but where did this come from?
He came to MSU with Mark Dantonio and while Dantonio is lauded nationally as a defensive genius, it is Narduzzi he selected to run his, an honor that Narduzzi doesn’t take lightly. He once told me, “I can’t believe sometimes the privilege I have to coach for one of the greatest defensive minds to ever coach football. I learn from him every day. I have been a defensive coordinator other places, but when you stand as part of a great one’s staff, it is an unbelievable honor.”
He came to MSU and inherited a defense side of the football that had the cupboard not only bare, the previous tenants had torn the cupboards out of the kitchen and used them as kindling. Don Treadwell, the offensive coordinator, at least had the pleasure of coming into a situation where the previous staff had put a large amount of attention on the offensive side of the ball and had some talent. It was night and day comparing the two sides.
After Pat’s first year at MSU he somehow put together a defense that allowed the Spartans to get to a bowl and he put together a duct-taped game plan against the best QB in the nation in Matt Ryan that had his team competitive when they really had no reason to be.
One thing that Spartan fans have no clue of is that Narduzzi had hade chances to leave MSU with other offers, for more money including from within the Big Ten. Each time he refused to listen and refused to use it as a tool to get a raise from Dantonio. That isn’t who he is. When I asked about the offers including from within the Big Ten and his refusal to even listen he told me, “This isn’t about me. This is about MSU, the Spartan Nation, and Coach Dantonio.” It ended there.
This will be the first season (year number five at MSU) that Narduzzi will have a full compliment of players that he would have actually recruited and brought to MSU. Even last year, there were players on this team that played, who now wouldn’t even get a scholarship offer.
Last year he was as critical in the absence of Mark Dantonio who was out with a heart attack as Don Treadwell. All of those things are great, but who is he?
To understand the man that Pat Narduzzi is you have to understand that he is a coach by profession, but that is not who he is. Unlike so many men, who take their sense of self-worth from what they do, Narduzzi is not that way. He can separate. He loves coaching, but it is his job. Being a father, husband, brother, and son are WHO he is. That is the Pat Narduzzi I want you to know. This man is a great coach, loved, respected, and loyal.
To know Pat, to get what motivates him, and to understand what has molded him and made him into a super husband, father, and coach you have to go back to where it all started.
The son of Coach William and Angie Narduzzi was born into a middle class Italian family as the third of what would eventually be a sibling group of six. His father was a legendary college football coach who is the man who coined the term “Cradle of Coaches” for Miami of Ohio. His father cast a long shadow over young Pat and his mother Angie was his biggest fan.
For Pat it was a stunning day 23 years ago, February 4, 1988, that brought such deep heartache, tears, and sorrow that have helped mold him. Coach William Narduzzi was suddenly dead of Hodgkin’s disease after being in ICU for 23 days with a temperature of over 103 degrees. At this time Pat was playing football. As his family stood around his deathbed, Pat was the last to arrive only five minutes before he died. Coach had waited for his son to arrive, a future coach and carrier of his legacy.
Bill described it like this. “It was such a tragic part of our life. This (Coach William) ICON had just passed away. We didn’t get to know him like everyone else. He was our father and wasn’t able to be our friend because we weren’t old enough. I think we were all in a daze. As the oldest brother I wanted so badly to do something, but what could I do?” The angst in Bill’s voice still rings to this day. After the above quote his voice tapered off as he reflected silently for several moments on the phone from his home in West Orange, New Jersey.
Pat’s sister Teresa talks about the day from a much younger girl’s perspective. “I think we all were hurting. You could see that in all of us. My mom stepped up so much. It has been 23 years. I was in high school and what I remember most is that they all (the six children) ended up back home. I don’t sit and think about it. I just remember that it was so tough and it had to be so bad on Pat who was still involved with football.”
For Pat, the moment of his father’s passing is still raw. This man was his hero, his coach, his ICON and to be such a primary part of his life one day and then gone it was shock. “I don’t really know what I was feeling. I don’t really think I thought of it like that. I was scared of course and felt other emotions, but really I was just focused on my mom and brothers and sisters.” That is Pat Narduzzi.
It has been my pleasure to get to know this family. Any conversation you have with any of them somehow comes back to mom. Angie Narduzzi was a happy lady when she married the love of her life Coach William Narduzzi as a young lady. The love they shared was deep, heartfelt and genuine.
Since only a few days after Coach passed away Angie Narduzzi went back to work. She hasn’t stopped. At 77 years young she still works hard. Something she could stop doing. She has the means and so do her children that would love to help and have her retire, but she can’t. She told me, “When their father died I didn’t want them to worry about me. They had just lost their father. I needed to be strong. I still need to be. As long as my feet hit the floor I will work, I never want them to worry about me.”
Bill said of his mother who immediately took over as the breadwinner for six children and the head of the family, “She was amazing. She is a very simple woman. Took care of 6 children while my father coached and recruited around the nation. He was the Coach and Athletic Director at Youngstown. Back then coaches traveled a lot more than now. Dad was the pillar, but she was the heart. She kept everything together. She hadn’t had a job since high school and went right to work when he passed. She was strong. That anchor. Never missed a beat. 23 years later and she still is the same woman.”
Teresa says of her mother’s dedication, “We don’t talk about it much. My mom carried on. She never cried. She just did what she had to do for her kids. She made life wonderful and she still does today as Nonna, grandma in Italian. My mom stepped up. I hope I can be as good as her one day. To go to work to support her children was amazing and made us who we are today.”
Pat said of this amazing woman, “Tells you the attitude she had and still has working like that. She is going to work her butt off. I was in the middle of the semester when dad died. I wanted to quit. I wanted to get away and she just said to me what would your dad say. That settled it for me. She held the family together all by herself. It has meant the world to me. My mom without a doubt will always be my hero. We moved to New Jersey just before my dad died and were away from home. She never left. She is still there.”
I got the pleasure of talking to Angie recently and she said of the man she still calls Coach, “He was a very caring man. He worried about everything. He was a very busy guy and no matter what he was always there for me. Ready for me. I called him once at work and told him something Pat had done. He just gently told me that he had 105 children at work and I only had six at home. He told me that if I needed him I could call and he would be there no matter what, but to make sure I truly needed him first.” Even though we were on the phone her hearty Italian laugh was contagious.
“Coach was a strict disciplinarian. He worried about Pat. He had a curfew of midnight and he would call him to his living room to talk and soon it was past midnight and then had to stay home. I know Pat would want to go out, but that was his father’s way of keeping him close.”
The loss of a father can be devastating to any family. Take one that is an ICON it makes it even more difficult.
As young Pat Narduzzi turned to football, his family turned to him. Pat kept the game that they had loved as children alive in the Narduzzi family. Bill said of Pat and his career, “Pat fills a void for us. He is a coach. He draws us all back to what we grew up with. Football. Fall. Spring practice. Recruiting. Without Pat my mother at 77 may not still have a full time job and be going. We are a football family and Pat is a football guy.”
Teresa agrees that the family keeps their father alive in Pat’s career. “Sitting in the stands when he was a coach at Rhode Island I could see my dad in him. That brought back some great memories. Now he is in a press box and you don’t get to see that, but each Saturday you know that Pat keeps the Narduzzi family in the football frame of mind.”
There is no doubt that this family so rich in love and respect helped mold the taskmaster of the MSU defense.
For his mother Angie her little Pat is the pride and joy of her heart. “A lot of aches and heartache come with coaching. I have been a coach’s wife for many years and it is a tough business. He is just like his father. He loves teaching and just loves those kids. He really puts himself into them and worries about them and cares. For me I see so much of Coach in Pat and I know he would be so proud.”
Angie tells a story that she says is still true about Pat today. “Pat always when he was a young boy, three or four, helped me. Pushing the vacuum cleaner and working. To this day when he comes home he is always trying to do things for me. Even things I don’t want or need. He has always been a helper. He is always asking and calling to help.”
So does she make it to many games? “A few. I just don’t like to travel alone. I would love to go to them all, but it would mean I would have to travel alone.” In case you are wondering, Pat and Donna have offered to fly her to every one, but she refuses to take from them. That is the Narduzzi way. It isn’t about the individual. It is about the program or the family.
His older brother Bill told me, “Pat always had so much energy. He was always bouncing around and from the very beginning loved football. We were always playing it and running down to the stadium to watch my dad’s teams practice. We never knew anything but football….The greatest achievement or athletic accomplishment was Pat’s freshman year. He led the conference in tackles. It was at that moment he just wasn’t my dad’s son, but his own man. I was so proud of him.”
When Bill is back at Spartan Stadium or wherever the Spartans play on a regular basis, he knows having grown up in the business what it is like experiencing both the good and bad with Pat like he did his father. “The torture, the ridicule, the comments under their breath from fans is so hard, but you just have to learn to tune it out and know that they don’t usually know what is going on inside the program.”
Teresa tells of Pat and his sense of humor and love that reminds her of her father. “Pat is amazing and caring. Sometimes he doesn’t know how to show what he feels, but when he does he amazes you. On the day I got married he walked up to me and gave me a big hug and a kiss and told me that he was kissing me for the last time as a Narduzzi. It made me cry just before I walked down the aisle. I will never forget that or maybe forgive that. Making a girl cry just before she walks down the aisle. I do love and adore him.”
It is the fired up emotional leader on the sidelines that the TV cameras show, but the late night hugs of players and phone calls to family that tell you who Pat Narduzzi really is.
On the night I called Angie she was busy watching last year’s Iowa drubbing of Michigan State. I asked her if she could have picked a better game to which this self admitted football fanatic said, “You have to learn from this one.” How true.
The learning has never stopped. Twenty-three years after the death of Coach this family is thriving. They are close, loving, compassionate, and kind. On football Saturdays from Mexico City, where Pat’s brother Bradley lives as an artist, to New Jersey the Narduzzi family gathers in spirit to keep Coach alive and root on little Pat.
A great job, a wife that he cherishes with the same adoration he has for his mother, a super family, and all the love you can imagine have Pat Narduzzi secure in himself. If you asked him the title he loves most it is simply Angie’s son or Donna’s husband. I asked him what his mother meant and he paused, gained his composure and said, “Everything. She saved our family. I picked a fantastic woman like my mother and try to be an example of what she was.”
When asked what his siblings mean to him…“They’re the best. Everything. I am so proud to be their brother and want to make them proud.
Somewhere Coach Narduzzi has the vantage point of watching his son. He shares his passion, spirit, drive, and character with Pat. Pat Narduzzi is a lot of things. If you think it starts and ends with football you are wrong. This man is a lot more, most importantly a Narduzzi: Coach’s son, Bill’s Brother, Teresa’s tyrant older brother, and Angie’s little Pat. To us, he is the best defensive coordinator in the Big Ten.
This article is reprinted from Spartan Nation Magazine. If you are not a subscriber simply click the SNMagazine ICON on the front of www.SpartanNation.com and follow the prompts to get your 100% FREE subscription.