Jun 17, 2013

My Campaign To Be Pitt's Athletic Director

Why extending our AD's contract was a huge mistake and why I would be better for the job.

There was an interesting bit of news last week when Pitt extended the contract of Athletic Director Steve Pederson for the next five years for an unknown amount of millions of dollars. I wanted to get a general consensus of the signing, so I walked around South Oakland for 30 minutes and asked everyone I saw what he or she thought. South O reactions ranged from “Who the fuck is Steve Pederson?” to “You have got to be kidding me” to “Can you spare any change?”

I didn’t really walk around South Oakland asking people their opinions, but if I did, “You have got to be kidding me” would have been the controversial, pissed off response that I would have expected and that would resonate the most. Upon hearing the news of the extension, I immediately knew what I was going to be writing about for the week.

My roommate suggested that I come out with a post every day instead of every week. I mulled that over for about five milliseconds before realizing how hard that would be. I don’t want to say I’ve worked harder on my first two posts than I have for any paper I’ve written for school but I’ve definitely put more thought into them.

The difference between this blog and school papers is that more than one person is going to read this blog (ideally.) In school, I can just reach the page limit and bullshit my way to a B. In other words, I can pull an Ashton Gibbs and start chucking up contested 3’s to pad my stats and hopefully an NBA scout will mention my name. This isn’t to be confused with “pulling a Tino Sunseri” and throwing a bunch of 3 yard passes in hopes that my talented receivers will get some yards after the catch and pad my passing stats. Anyway, English teachers at this school don’t have the balls to tell you that something you wrote sucks, so even if it does suck, you’re looking at a B as the worst-case scenario unless you’re a complete dipshit. And, not that you are going to believe this, but there are quite a few English majors who are dipshits.

Ask any English major, dipshit or not, and they will tell you that their first paper of the semester is always their best. It always goes downhill from that initial paper. The reasoning is that you can tell what it’s going to take to get an A pretty much right away, and your ensuing papers will show if you think it’s worth it. Ultimately you don’t care if you write a shitty paper here and there because only one person (the teacher) will read it unless you proof read other students’ papers in class, which is where “pulling a Tino” comes in.

I’ve come to realize that blogging is completely different than writing for school. I have to be on the ball every time. If someone came to this blog for the first time and read some post that I typed up with my flaccid dick, they’re never going to come back. That makes it tough to write more than once a week. That and the fact that there really isn’t much news about Pitt athletics, especially in the summer.

So when Pitt extended Pederson’s contract, I knew I had hit a goldmine because the guy is as dumb as dirt.

When I did my Steve Pederson research for this post, I become unbelievably frustrated at his incompetence and the fact that Pitt thought it would be a good idea to extend his contract. I had to read the West Virginia athletics wiki page just to make myself feel better. I realized that Pederson kind of took the English major route with his job as Athletic Director—he quickly made a name for himself and then started chucking up 3’s for the hell of it. And generally when you have an important, high paying job, it’s not a good idea to get lazy after that initial accomplishment.

When Pederson was hired in 1996, the football team was a joke and the basketball team was not much better. Pederson helped build a state of the art athletic complex which helped attract recruits and effectively turned both sports to success. This was all good. He handed in his first paper, put forth his best effort, and people liked him for it.

But a few years later, Pederson did arguably the worst thing he could possibly do. He abandoned Pitt for his alma matter, Nebraska. He was the Todd Graham before Todd Graham. But here’s the difference—Nebraskans hated the shit out of him. He was fired from Nebraska and came back to Pitt for a second tenure. And when I say “fired,” I’m putting it lightly. After he destroyed their prestigious football program by randomly firing head coach Frank Solich (who was on pace to win more games than his two Hall of Fame predecessors), Nebraska actually paid him $2 million dollars to leave and never come back. They would rather pay Pederson not to work for them than to work for them. That’s what his former school thought of him. They hated him that much. I found that picture of Pederson on Google Images along with a bunch of other hate pics. Fans hated him so much that they voted him “Number 1 Enemy of the State” in a Sports Illustrated poll.

But Pederson was still loved in Pittsburgh because of his accomplishments here. So much so that Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said this about him in 2004:

“Pederson was the best thing to ever happen to Pitt athletics. If you're not smart enough to realize what you have, you can send Pederson back to Pittsburgh. We'll take him again in a heartbeat.”

It’s ironic that Cook said that, because that’s exactly what happened.

The reasoning for his pitiful tenure at Nebraska was simple: When Pederson was hired at Pitt, their athletics were in the toilet. He had the freedom to do whatever he wanted because they couldn’t really get much worse. When he went to Nebraska, an already thriving athletic college, he thought he had that same freedom when he should have just put his job on autopilot instead.

Pitt hired Pederson back. But he was much different this time. He made a bunch of extraneous decisions that left Pitt fans feeling like he was giving a bereft effort—or that he’d already handed in his best paper and now he was half-assing the rest of the semester and settling for a B when he’s fully capable of an A.

Many fans (and valuable alumni) were soured at Pederson’s desultory change of the Pitt script colors from blue and yellow to navy and gold. Fans became vexed at his decision to demolish Pitt Stadium, the on-campus, easy access football stadium. And fans became downright pissed over time at Pederson’s carelessness about funding the football and basketball teams when they generate the most revenue. But what sent fans over edge was the absolute embarrassing search for a permanent coaching solution for the football team from 2010-2012 when they had six different head coaches in 24 months. And all of this came after the ridiculous termination of head coach Dave Wannstedt whose 7-5 record didn’t impress the delicate genius known as Steve Pederson. Six coaches in 24 months. Pitt became a statistic.

After signing his extension last week, Pederson’s first public act wasn’t a good one. He justified Vanderbilt’s reasoning for blocking basketball transfer Sheldon Jeter from coming to Pitt. No need to read that sentence again, you got it correct; Pederson told another school that they made a good decision to not let their talented player transfer to the school that he is in charge of.

Here’s a quick briefing on Sheldon Jeter from last week’s post: “On May 6th, a Pittsburgh radio station reported that Jeter would be transferring to Pitt. On May 17th, Jeter announced his official intent to transfer. On May 20th, Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings cock blocked Jeter from being able to transfer to Pitt.”

Here’s what has happened since then: Jeter appealed this decision with Vanderbilt athletics, but was denied. He can still transfer to Pitt but would have to pay for his own tuition for one year.

A good athletic director would have put some public pressure on Vandy to appeal that decision. Instead, Pederson did the unbelievable. He backed Vanderbilt. This is what he told reporters:

“This shouldn't just be free agency and when you want to leave you just leave. What my concern overall is if every year a third of everybody's team transfers to a different school because they think they can play there, you kind of begin to wonder what we're trying to do here. Is that good for college athletics? It doesn't seem like it. And you don't know what would happen to them if they stayed longer. A lot of times, students want to transfer and you say, 'What if they had stayed here longer? How would it have turned out?' It could very well have turned out better than where they ended up transferring to. I think it's going to be an issue that we're going to be talking a lot about, both as a conference and nationally. What's fair and what's reasonable in terms of the transfer issues?"

What an unbelievably stupid thing to say. What kind of player is going to want to play for Pitt when their Athletic Director isn’t focused on fielding the best possible team? And where does he get the idea that kids want to aimlessly transfer? Jeter openly talked about how he wanted to transfer closer to home, not for no reason like Pederson is suggesting.

But the fact that his quote was unsupportive and factually incorrect wasn’t even the reason that it was so unbelievably stupid. The reason that it was unbelievably stupid for Pederson to say that kids shouldn’t be able to “just leave” whenever they want… is because Pederson just left Pitt for Nebraska not that long ago!!! Why is that okay but it isn’t okay for students to do the same?!?

I honestly, whole-heartedly feel like I could do a better job than Steve Pederson. So here are the seven changes I would make in order of importance.

1.     More money into the basketball and football programs. One of the reasons Pitt fans initially liked Pederson was because he actively wanted to improve the major sports. One reason that Pitt fans forgot that they liked Pederson was because he stopped giving a shit about the major sports and cared more about the “Olympic style” sports. Why? Just because. He does weird things. He fired Nebraska’s coach out of the blue and ruined their program just for something to do. It’s nice to have good Olympic style sports but they don’t bring any money to the school because really nobody cares about anything besides football and basketball. It’s just a fact.

2.     Sign Keller Chryst. Ask 100 Pitt students who Pitt’s current starting QB is and you’re lucky to get one correct answer. More people know the name of our baseball coach than of our starting quarterback. That’s not a shot at the baseball team as much as it’s a shot at the football team. Now, if I told you there was a quarterback out there that was drawing comparisons to Dan Marino, would you be interested? Okay, and what if I told you he was also the head coach’s nephew? And then finally, what if I told you that Pitt’s QB situation is horrible and that they only recruited a strangely low number of QB’s this season? Does this all sound like something you might be interested in? Pitt doesn’t just want Keller Chryst, they need him. We should start calling him Keller Christ. But how embarrassing would it be if they couldn’t sign the coach’s own relative? Here’s how they should recruit him: 1. Tell him how freshman wide receiver Tyler Boyd is a freak athlete that won the MVP of his regional high school’s all-star game with a 5 touchdown effort and would be a go-to weapon for him for three years and 2. Pay him. Which brings us to our next point.

3.     Pay athletes. Shut the fuck up. I could sit here and tell you that I wouldn’t pay high profile recruits to come to my school; or I could tell you the truth. The way I think of it is this: From 2002-2010, Miami paid athletes in money and in prostitutes and that wasn’t even the biggest recruiting scandal in history of college sports! It wasn’t even the second biggest. Plus, a move to the ACC means a massive increase in TV revenue, so the money is readily available. Right now, Pitt football is coming off two straight 6-7 seasons and two straight mediocre recruiting classes. They aren’t winning a National Championship any time soon. They have nothing to lose. If they get caught paying recruits, the punishment would only be a season of bowl eligibility and some scholarships forfeited. In the grand scheme of things, those would likely be wasted anyway.

4.     Build another on-campus stadium. Any time a college football program doesn’t have their own stadium, you can pretty much assume they are crap. Playing at Heinz Field sucks on so many levels. It’s a nuisance to get to and it looks bad that it’s never full. Potential recruits can’t be excited about playing for a 45% capacity crowd. I’m going to start calling Heinz Field “The House That Tino Built” to piss people off.

5.     Never have another terrible non-conference basketball schedule. Nobody talks about this, but Pitt basketball’s non-conference schedule this year was their ultimate downfall. Their opponents had a collective record of 192-231. Take away Michigan, who Pitt ran into in the NIT Pre-season Tipoff (so they didn’t actually schedule them), and their collective record becomes 161-223. Before the March Madness Selection Show, many people had Pitt penciled in as a 6 seed. Nobody thought they would get stuck in the 8/9 hole, but they did. The selection committee looked into strength of schedule this year more than ever. More importantly, they looked at strong wins more than they looked at weak losses. If you play a great team and lose, it doesn’t hurt you all that much. But instead, Pitt was playing the likes of Kennesaw State and the Everest Institute. Then when they did get to their conference schedule, their makeup was all messed up and they had no idea how to play Big East teams. Plus, it kind of felt like Pederson and Dixon didn’t really believe in their team so they had to schedule a bunch of turdy schools to pad their record. Don’t make that mistake again.

6.     During televised basketball games, the Oakland Zoo should be in the background instead of the foreground so that you can actually see the Zoo on TV. This bugs me that more schools don’t do this. Having the student section in plain view on TV looks really cool and plus it makes the arena look more full than it actually is. The Oakland Zoo can definitely handle it since they usually fill up, even on school nights. This change would be so easy: Just move the cameras to the opposite side of the Pete and flip the center court PITT logo around. We would immediately look cooler.

7.     Build a swimming pool in Schenley Park that’s only available to students. Anyone who has taken summer classes will agree with me. And it can double as a pond-hockey rink in the winter.

8.     Switch back to the Pitt script logo and colors from the ‘80s. I’m going to be honest. I don’t really care what the colors are or how the logo looks. I would just do this as an F U to Pederson.

Pederson’s dictatorial reason for not wanting to change the Pitt script logo was that he doesn’t like unnecessary change. But if that’s the case, why did he fire Dave Wannstedt after a solid 7-5 season? Why did he bulldoze Pitt Stadium? Why did he leave Pitt? Why did he fire Nebraska’s football coach? Why did he stop caring about Pitt football and basketball and start caring about useless minor sports? None of those changes were necessary.

The real question becomes this: Why did Pitt extend Pederson’s contract? It would have been a great opportunity to make a necessary change for once.

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely love this article. I salute you.