EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) 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."