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Transcript: Pitt at the 2019 ACC Kickoff

pittPitt coach Pat Narduzzi and players Maurice Ffrench and Dane Jackson talk with reporters at the 2019 ACC Kickoff.

THE MODERATOR: We are joined in the room by the Pitt Panthers.

We will spend some time with Maurice Ffrench, wide receiver for the Panthers. Questions, please.

Q. What can you say about Coach Whipple, what he’s doing with this offense, in your opinion, to make it better, get more out of this season. How do you feel the team has responded offensively?
MAURICE FFRENCH: Well, Coach Whipple is a mastermind. Every time I’m with him, I try to pick his brain. He been through a lot of football, he knows a lot.

With us, he goes through everything, make sure that we know the details of a route, why we’re running this route, making sure we do it to full speed, full detail. We’re just taking that and going a hundred miles speed with it. We just trying to have a way better offense and come out stronger than we did last year.

Q. Pitt lost four senior starters from last year’s offensive line. Who do you think are the leading prospects to help fill in and rebuild that unit?
MAURICE FFRENCH: I feel last year our leader of that O-line was Jimmy Morrissey. I know he got hurt towards the end of the season, but we got him back now. I feel like he’ll still be our leader, pouring his leadership skills into the other younger offensive linemen.

Q. I have to ask you about the shoes. They look awesome. Is there a story behind it or just something you like?
MAURICE FFRENCH: Just something I like. I was back home with my mother. We actually went out shopping for the suits, shoes. I seen ’em. They caught my eye. I was like, Ma, we got to get those (smiling).

Q. Your teammate here Dane, obviously you match up against him in practice on a regular basis. Can you give us a little scouting report of what he brings to the table.
MAURICE FFRENCH: First I want to say Dane is a good corner. Every time we go against each other, nothing but a battle. We compete at a high level. I would say Dane is really smart. His technique is very sound. You really have to work a move on him. Like I say before, he’s really smart.

If you try to slow down at the top of a route, he know where you’re breaking. He going to be underneath you. If you’re breaking out, he is definitely undercutting it and he will pick a ball. If you’re not a good quarterback, you don’t have a good arm, don’t get it there, Dane will be on that ball.

Q. What can you say about Pat Narduzzi, what he’s been to this team, how his message gets across to the entire room? Secondly, what are some things we wouldn’t know about Coach off the field, maybe his attitude off the field?
MAURICE FFRENCH: Ever since I got here, I definitely noticed a change. We went from having average seasons to not a whole team caring, spurts of people, like, trying. But I would definitely say he definitely changed the attitude within our locker room. The coaching staff, as well.

I feel like now we have a whole unit of smart people who want to get better, want to know the game, want to win games. Not just games, but go to the championships, go to bowl games.

I would definitely say, second, him as a person off the field, he’s great. I feel like I get along with him well. Ever since I was in high school, it felt like we clicked automatically. Until this day, we just keep getting better and better within our chemistry.

He’s like that with everybody on the team. If you a starter, if you a third string, it’s the same, there’s no difference.

Q. Last year you accumulated 1222 all-purpose yards. Is there a facet of the game you like playing better?
MAURICE FFRENCH: Honestly, no. I just love the game of football. I feel like if I have the ball in my hands, I can definitely make something happen for the team. I just want to win. Yeah, just want to win.

THE MODERATOR: Good way to finish it out. Maurice, you can switch places with Dane.

Questions, please.

Q. Could you tell me a little bit about what Maurice brings to the table. Obviously speed, I know.
DANE JACKSON: Obviously speed. He’s fast, he’s physical and he’s very smart.

I think a lot of people under stilt his physicality just because he’s fast. He’s able to push off at the top of those routes, get that separation he needs to get a good judgment on the ball.

He’s smart. At the top of his routes, it’s like he’s sticking one way, still go that way, it’s kind of a gamble that you have to take, that you have to feel.

All around, he’s just a great player. He’s deadly in the return game, a great leader. All around great guy.

Q. For this season’s Pitt defense, some words you would use to describe it as you head into the 2019 campaign.
DANE JACKSON: One word would definitely be physicality. I feel like if everyone does their job, we can be a good defense this year. Just swagger, trying to bring that swag to the field, allow everybody to join in on the fun.

Q. There’s a lot of buzz out there that says this could be the best defense in part Narduzzi’s five seasons at Pitt. Why do you think there’s so much optimism floating around right now?
DANE JACKSON: I’m not sure, honestly. We knew what we bring to the table. In our room, we keep it all close. We try to ignore the outside noise, focus on us mainly.

Q. When you think about Rashad Weaver, ranked among the best productive pass receivers in the ACC last year, what makes him so different than anybody else in the league?
DANE JACKSON: I would say definitely his work ethic. He comes in every day, day in and day out, he works his butt off. No days off. He’s trying his best to be a great leader. He’s just smart. He’s smart. He tries to learn every aspect of the game, and he’s picking coach’s brain.

Q. You led the team in pass breakups last year. How do you become a better cornerback in the off-season?
DANE JACKSON: I think the main emphasis for me on the off-season was leadership. I think that leadership will take me a long way. Leadership being, like, coaching the young guys. That’s also helping myself with the fine details. When you’re explaining to a young guy, you have to get really detailed because everything is fresh to him, everything is new. You have to get really detailed. That translates over to you.

Just being a better leader, more vocal leader, putting all my tools from last year, taking them to another level.

Q. Do you have to win the Coastal this year to call it a successful season?
DANE JACKSON: We’re just playing it by ear honestly. We had a pretty decent year last year. This is a new year, new team, new goals, new mindset. Wherever the wind takes us, we’ll be ready.

THE MODERATOR: You can switch places with your head coach.

Questions, please.

Q. What can you say your takeaways have been from your time at Pittsburgh so far? The four seasons you’ve had maybe some words that would describe what you’ve been through, kind of where you’re at right now.
PAT NARDUZZI: Where are we after four seasons going into the fifth season? I feel good about where we are. I felt good every year. I think we’ve got great kids, I think we’ve got great character. We’re going to find out what’s season has got.

After four years, you get to a championship game, I think things are going in the right direction. The question about winning the Coastal, is it a success or not, I mean, nothing is a success unless you win a national championship. I think that’s the ultimate success is when you do that.

Obviously we’ve done that in the ACC.

But, you know, are you happy with 10 wins and no championship, no Coastal championship? Are you happy with seven wins, a chance to play in the championship game?

I like where this football team is, to answer the question a little bit more direct. I think it all comes down to chemistry, how hard they work.

I think we’re together, okay? I think that’s the most important thing. I think we got the culture right in the Pittsburgh campus. I love where we’re going. It’s just like every environment. I evaluate this room as I walk in here. I think a head coach normally naturally does. Every question has come from the front row so far, except one, my man back here.

I said this when we got to Pittsburgh. We all got to be on the same page, going in the same direction. I got to have all you guys in. Can’t be just the guys in the front row asking the questions. I hope our guys learn something from sitting in class. The guys sitting in the front row are locked in and engaged. What’s happening to the third teamer in the back? Are you guys awake back there? What’s going on today?

I think we’ve got a team of engaged guys. We got to get everybody on the same page to win a championship.

Q. What’s the influence of Coach Dantonio on you now that you have yourself established at Pitt, how that helped you along the way? He’s three wins shy of breaking Duffy Daugherty’s career for wins at Michigan. Talk about that achievement.
PAT NARDUZZI: Go Green. I guess we got a Spartan in the house.

Mark Dantonio obviously has been a major influence in my life. You work for a man for 11 years, he becomes like your father. He’s just been a major impact.

You learn things that you want to do, you learn things you don’t want to do. You learn things, I’m going to do things exactly like he’s doing it, I may tweak this here or there.

He’s an incredible person. He’s a great coach. I wish him luck in the 2019 season. He’s three wins shy of Duffy Daugherty, which is a Michigan State legend. He’ll get it done after the third game of the season. That’s what they do up there. Thanks for the question.

Q. I wanted to get your impressions of the transfer system the way it is now. They’re still making tweaks to it. How do you see this year with the changes they made to the waiver system, transfer portal?
PAT NARDUZZI: They’re making changes to it. It’s something I’m really not worried about. We’ll give input when we get to meetings about what it should be, what it can be.

My focus is on making sure I don’t have anybody on our team that wants to transfer. We were fortunate enough at Pittsburgh this year that not one scholarship football player has come into my office and said, Coach, I’m leaving. That tells you what our culture is at our program. I think it’s a great measuring tool as far as what we have culture-wise.

Whatever they want to do, what’s best for the kids… If a kid wants to transfer, needs to transfer, wants a change of scenery, I think kids should be afforded that opportunity. I think they need to be educated. It’s all how you treat your players.

Again, the honesty and truth that’s going on in your building. I believe when you have that, you really don’t have to worry about the rules and regulations.

Q. What can you say about bringing in Mark Whipple as the offensive coordinator, what you saw that you wanted to change a little bit, what Coach Whipple brings to the table.
PAT NARDUZZI: Mark Whipple, our new offensive coordinator, went through a great spring with our football program. I think he’s instilled a lot of confidence in our kids. Again, the first thing he’s done is really shown leadership. I think Maurice talked about maybe our strength coach being the head coach of the weight room. My head coach can’t do it all by himself. I think any great team has great support beneath the head football coach.

I have an offensive coordinator that I believe is the head coach of the offense. I have a defensive coordinator that’s the head coach of defense. I have a recruiting coordinator, head coach of the recruiting, so forth.

Mark Whipple has been a head football coach. He’s won a national championship, he’s a leader. I need someone to come in and take the offense over, grab it. Again, it’s not about the X’s and O’s. It’s not about the scheme, but the guy that can lead that portion of the football team, to go out on Saturdays, play the best they can play. If we have a head coach on offense, defense and special teams that can go out and take their unit, make them the best they can be, make sure they’re prepared, I think we have a great chance to be successful.

I’m excited about him. I’ve coached against him in the past when he was at Brown and UMass. I was always as a defensive coordinator puzzled by what he did, how he did it. I fits in with what we want to do, pro style. I’m excited about what avenue we’re going down this season.

Q. Six different champions in the Coastal in six years. Who do you view as the favorite going in? Who is going to be the toughest? Kind of an up-for-grabs thing?
PAT NARDUZZI: First of all, I don’t think they have a coach’s poll pre-season where we rank each other. So I won’t get into ranking who is going to be the champion of the Coastal at this point.

It’s a great conference. There’s some great divisions. I think top to bottom, the Coastal division is as competitive as you’re going to get. I think anybody can win it every year.

I think one of the reasons I took the job at the University of Pittsburgh is because we had a chance to win a championship. I didn’t want to go anywhere where I couldn’t win a championship. I’d have no fun. It’s hard to sit in front of the kids in a team room and say, Guys, we are going to win a championship. They look at you with four eyes. When I came to Pittsburgh, I knew we had a chance to win a championship.

That’s the beauty of it. Our goal obviously is to always win championships. That’s what we’ll start with when August 1st starts, camp starts, is working towards that goal.

I don’t know who it’s going to be. It’s been six different teams in the last six years. I think that’s a great thing for the division.

Q. In your recruiting, is the new ACC Network talked about amongst the kids and their families? What do you think about it?
PAT NARDUZZI: Well, the ACC Network, we’re obviously excited. I’ve been around some big-time networks like the ACC Network. I’m excited about getting back into a big-time network.

I think our kids are excited about it. We have a new studio obviously in the Petersen Event Center. We have a new one under construction right now in our building on the south side. I think our kids are going to enjoy it. It’s going to bring exposure not only to the University of Pittsburgh but to the ACC.

Raise your hands, who has the right providers, who has the ACC Network? Let me see some hands. I got it. Looks like a lot of you guys better get going here.

I think it’s a great opportunity for the league. I think it’s time, for sure. I think the deeper we get into it, the more fun and exposure that we’ll have.

Q. I’m always curious to find out what players learn from year to year in their experience. What have you learned this coming into your fifth season about yourself as a coach, as a leader, as a recruiter?
PAT NARDUZZI: Geeze, I must not be very smart. I don’t know (smiling).

I think as coaches, you learn daily. I mean, you learn daily. I don’t think we have an hour, two hours in here to discuss this point, that point.

I think the biggest thing is there are minute things you learn. You build your philosophy as a football coach through your career. I’ve had 20-some years of a career prior to being a head coach. Even as an defensive coordinator, assistant head coach. You either know how to lead or you don’t know how to lead.

Little details you learn in the coaching profession that I think make you better every week and every year. Those are the little things that I think are critical.

It always comes back to ground zero. Just be who you are. Don’t try to be someone different. Don’t try to be Lou Holtz, Ara Parseghian, just be who you are. I think it is the most important thing.

THE MODERATOR: Alex Kessman had four field goals, up 50 yards last years. What kind of luxury is that for you knowing you have that type of scoring threat?

PAT NARDUZZI: Alex continues to get better every year. He has an explosive leg, he’s confident. He’s a former boxer, so he has a little swag and competitiveness to him.

He’s not shaking when he’s going out on the field. I don’t talk to him either.

But his leg is going to be more explosive this year. It’s a comfort whether it’s a kickoff going into the end zone or knowing when he lines up, as long as he has a good snap, a good hold, there’s a real good chance that ball is going through the upright.

THE MODERATOR: Probably a one-game-at-a-time type of answer, but if you look at the schedule over your left shoulder, there’s a weird rhythm to it. You have an open date that starts a series of three games, then another open date to finish out the season with three games. I don’t know that it’s a concern, but do you give much thought about how the rhythm of the schedule shakes out?

PAT NARDUZZI: No.

THE MODERATOR: I knew I was walking into weird waters (laughter).

PAT NARDUZZI: Back row anybody? You guys into it today or not?

Hail to Pitt.

THE MODERATOR: We wish you the best.

PAT NARDUZZI: Thank you.


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