Penn State Football

How Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi fired back at Penn State’s James Franklin over transfer, signal comments

Transfer to Pitt makes PSU change signals

Penn State football coach James Franklin talks about the team changing signals as soon as John Petrishen transferred from the Nittany Lions to Pitt.
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Penn State football coach James Franklin talks about the team changing signals as soon as John Petrishen transferred from the Nittany Lions to Pitt.

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi had no intention Thursday of letting slide James Franklin’s comments earlier this week about a Penn State-turned-Pitt safety.

The Nittany Lions’ head coach remarked Tuesday, unprompted, how his team was forced to change its offensive and defensive signals when veteran safety John Petrishen — who boasts eight career tackles — transferred to Pitt in late August. Narduzzi was incredulous with reporters Thursday.

Nine-and-half minutes into a media availability, the video of which several outlets posted on YouTube, Narduzzi told reporters who hadn’t yet asked about Franklin’s comments: “I can’t believe you guys didn’t ask any signal questions. Have you guys been sleeping?”

What followed was nearly a three-minute rant where the Panthers coach ridiculed Franklin’s statements on Petrishen and questioned whether Penn State didn’t have an even more strategic advantage.

“I mean, there’s a play clock, too,” Narduzzi said. “It’s not like they can give us two minutes to take a snap. If that was the case, maybe we could (use stolen signals). And, again, maybe we’re just all not very good coaches and we haven’t been thieves, I guess.

“But usually the people that are paranoid are the people stealing them, I guess.”

Narduzzi pointed out that assistant Penn State recruiting coordinator Eric Thatcher acted as a defensive quality control coach under him for two seasons. Petrishen, he said, is a 21-year-old who played safety and didn’t memorize the offensive signals.

“(Thatcher) sat in on the defensive meeting rooms for two years. Do you guys know that?” Narduzzi said. “So Eric Thatcher is in recruiting. I’m sure he was a ball coach this week trying to fill them in on what we do.”

Penn State and Pitt will meet at noon Saturday in Beaver Stadium for the 100th meeting of the series — and maybe the final matchup between the two until at least 2030. Both coaches couldn’t be approaching the rivalry game more differently, and both struggled in finding common ground this week.

Narduzzi said Monday he might “be in a coffin” the next time the two teams meet. Franklin emphasized Tuesday how Penn State is “open” to discussions and might agree on a neutral field game. Franklin reiterated Penn State’s approach is to treat this like any other game; Narduzzi said he’s telling his team this “big game” might be the last time Pitt plays Penn State.

But Franklin’s comments Tuesday and Narduzzi’s reply Thursday were hardly the normal, collegial disagreement.

“It’s just funny,” Narduzzi said, before being asked why he thought Franklin commented about Petrishen.

“I don’t know. Because — whatever. I don’t know.”

During Franklin’s opening statement Tuesday, he brought up Petrishen’s transfer, saying, “So when that happened, we knew that we were going to have to make some changes at that point. So we have changed — we didn’t wait ’til this week to do it. We did it right when that was announced, but obviously we had to change all of our signals. ... That was something we had to do right away.”

Narduzzi’s full response to reporters Thursday is transcribed below:

“Let’s just talk about that for one sec, just so I can get this off my chest. First of all, again, John (Petrishen) is 21 years old. I haven’t said anything about — they have Eric Thatcher at their place, right? He sat in on the defensive meetings rooms for two years. Do you guys know that?

“So Eric Thatcher is in recruiting. I’m sure he was a ball coach this week trying to fill them in on what we do. So I think a 35-year-old of a 21-year-old guy that’s been playing one position, I don’t think he’s worried about offensive signals or defensive signals, I really do. He’ll know the defensive signals, but I just want to — it’s a funny subject. I think you guys, it would help to be educated so you kind of wonder — what happens with signals?

“First of all, defensively, you can’t steal offensive signals because we have no time. We’re busy getting our own signals. I hope our guys can get our signals. Just think about how that would work: Are we going to signal to our defense and then tell them what the offensive play is? There’s no time for that. Our eyes are on our kids. So signals — we could have their notebook. If I had their notebook sitting right here — which maybe I do, I don’t know, do I have his notebook? I don’t know — but I could have the notebook. That ain’t going to help me win a football game, I can promise you that. OK? So, defensively, your hands are tied. You can’t steal signals. That’s me. And maybe I’m just a dumb defensive coach. OK?

“Let’s go to the other side of the ball. Our offense, can our offense — like John Petrishen’s a defensive guy. Can John Petrishen give us their defensive signals and help us? How is Coach (Mark) Whipple gonna get that defense — I mean, there’s a play clock, too. It’s not like they can give us two minutes to take a snap. If that was the case, maybe we could. And, again, maybe we’re just all not very good coaches and we haven’t been thieves, I guess. But usually the people that are paranoid are the people stealing them, I guess.

“But how can we get a defensive signal out there? You guys help me out, help me out. The people that steal signals, just so we’re on the same page are the teams — just watch this tomorrow. If our quarterback is up there and goes like this — (Narduzzi claps) — and then he looks to the sideline. Maybe we got their signals and, now, he’s signaling and changing the play to get to a good play versus that defense. Does that make sense? Does that make sense? A little signal clinic. So, the team that looks to the sideline, they’re doing it for a reason. They’re trying to steal your coverage signals, whether it’s your safety signal and stuff. It doesn’t matter what it is.

“Have you seen Kenny Pickett ever look to the sideline and get a second call? To me, when you watch a game tomorrow, or there’s a Thursday night game, people that look to the sideline are usually the ones stealing the signals and the people that don’t look to the sidelines are just running a play. Does that make sense? So it’s just funny.”

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