From the Vault: Why Pitt Is the Way it Is

This is an article which entails some heavy lifting in the reading department so it may be best taken in chunks rather than sitting down for the whole shebang at one time. But do take a very close look at the Title Photo (Oakland in the 1930s) before you get into the linked articles.

For a weekend’s reading I have included two excellent and well-written Saturday Evening Post articles about the University of Pittsburgh and our football program’s history back in the 1930s and 1940s.  Before you click on those let me add a few things about why I did this and why I did it today.

I truly feel like Pitt is on the cusp of having to make some pretty hard and maybe unpopular decisions about just where the Football program fits in with the rest of the Athletic Department and even more importantly where it fits in relation to the rest of the University.

Why now you may ask?  Because this is the season where our won/loss record will determine if Pat Narduzzi restructures his contract to be Pitt’s HC for the long run or not. His existing contract is low for a continually winning Power Five school and can easily be bought out by any other program who wants him badly enough.

If he wins big this season, and by that I mean 9 or 10 wins including that elusive bowl win, then the rest of the nation is going to really sit up and take notice of what he and Pitt have done over the last three years.

I’ve written many times that last season’s bowl loss really hurt us in a lot of ways – mainly because it kept us from being listed in 2016’s  post-season Top 20. That would have been a real solid achievement for him on the national stage and made him more valuable to others than he actually might be to Pitt.

Instead the bold truth is that even as excited as Pitt fans are about the program and Narduzzi we are one win better that his predecessor’s best season – Paul Chryst’s 2013 year when he beat Notre Dame at home and won his bowl game.

Before you jump up and down in indignation please understand that I wholeheartedly believe Narduzzi’s 2016 season, with the wonderful wins over PSU and Clemson, was way better than 2013. It certainly was for us fans. But with only eight wins per year and no bowl game wins he hasn’t put all that much concrete distance between the program now and then.

But if he goes to nine or 10 wins with a bowl win that closes the door on any compositions to the recent past… and starts to open up the measuring stick to Dave Wannstedt and his 2008 and ’09 seasons with those nine and 10 wins (including that 10th win in a bowl game) respectively.

OK, what does all that mean?  Well, if Narduzzi does what we hope he will and get to the higher level then the wolves will start baying at his door in a serious way. We don’t pay Narduzzi anywhere near what the winningest program pay their head coaches – far from it and while he may be getting more that any other Pitt HC has earned that means nothing.

College football is a business.  Even the semi-romantic view I have of it allows me to know that for a fact. And if Narduzzi starts getting offers that double his Pitt salary (and incentives) we are going to have to decide whether to put up or shut up in a big way because it isn’t just the HC’s salary that will be raised – you can sure as hell know that all those staff coaches will be getting more money also.

That will force Pitts hand in a big way.  Do we pony up a ton of dollars that we haven’t ever spent before on football staff to keep the guy and to possibly get to that “Next Level” that the Pitt administration throws out every so often… or do we stay the course, let Narduzzi go and start over again with a lower salaried HC who we hope will be able to keep the program win heavy in the W-L column.

Don’t be shocked at all if it is the latter as that has been Pitt’s modus operandi for almost 90 years going way back to the 1930s.  Hell, recently we saw Pitt out-and-out fire it’s two most recent winningest head coaches in Walt Harris (not renewing a contract is firing the guy)  and Dave Wannstedt because Pitt values other concerns over football wins. So the track record is sure there to see in the recent past.

So here are two very good and rather lengthy Saturday Evening Post articles about the way-back decisions Pitt had to make (or decided they had to make) about the football program and its place in the 360° of the University of Pittsburgh’s mission areas and its reason for existence.

When I read these it was all pretty familiar for me because these time periods and issues were kept alive in my childhood house hold due to the fact that my parents were students at Pitt in the late ’30s and early ’40s and continued on there as professors and administrators through the ’40s and beyond.  I heard talk of these all the time so it was a treat to be able to read a more unbiased view of the issues.

Enjoy and then we’ll discuss all this in the comments over the weekend… One thing to note; the Saturday Evening post has a long history and in the late 1800’s to the 1960s was one of the best written and most influential magazines in the U.S.

The Saturday Evening Post is a bimonthly American magazine. It was published weekly under this title from 1897 until 1963, then biweekly until 1969. From the 1920s to the 1960s, it was one of the most widely circulated and influential magazines for the American middle class, with fiction, non-fiction, cartoons and features that reached millions of homes every week. The magazine declined in readership through the 1960s, and in 1969 The Saturday Evening Post folded for two years before being revived as a quarterly publication in 1971. It now appears six times a year.

Test Case at Pitt – a Saturday Evening Post article from October 25th, 1939 covering the decisions Pitt was faced with over the fact that Pitt (and many other schools) were engaging in “Pay for Play” and Bowman, the Pitt Chancellor was putting a stop to it.  That issue and discussion has recent impacts now doesn’t it?

Especially interesting to me is the discussion and politics of the benefits and need for building Pitt Stadium over building the Cathedral of Learning back than.  Especially in light of how so many Pitt fans are now calling for an on-campus stadium… and how the Cathedral of Learning is our iconic symbol of everything good Pitt stands for. This is how The Post describes it:

“BEHIND these men shadows fought. Two great structures dominate the Pitt campus. One is the Cathedral of Learning, a unique forty-two-story skyscraper university, the dream and achievement of Chancellor Bowman. The other is Pitt Stadium, the house that football built. When the fight at Pitt reached its climax round two years ago, in 1937, the Cathedral of Learning rested within the shadow of the stadium. When that knockdown and toss-out round ended last spring, the stadium was within the shadow of the  cathedral.

That is exactly where the stadium belongs. Chancellor Bowman and his administration forces contend. They assert athletics, after all, constitute only a department of the  university, and an accessory department at that. Once football threatened to muscle the academic program out of joint, the administration contends, there was nothing to do, except to accept the challenge and knead this muscular development back into its proper place.”

Purity Dies at Pitta later Post article following up on the “Test Case” articles written ten years earlier.

“IN the eager city of Pittsburgh, where some notable construction projects are under way, one interesting building job involves the football team of the University of Pittsburgh. This is the school which, after a quarter of a century of colossal football under Pop  Warner and Jock Sutherland, Unexpectedly switched a dozen years ago to the most
drastic de-emphasis program since the University of Chicago began letting its squad wither on the vine.

Like Chicago, Pitt reached the point where it either had to give up the sport or start rebuilding. Pitt elected to rebuild. This became evident, to Anyone not previously aware of it, when the reviving Panthers flew out to Evanston this October
9nd smacked down Northwestern, last year’s Rose 6owl winner and a Big Ten contender this season.

This victory was somewhat misleading, as a 48-14 Pitt loss to Indiana made clear three Saturdays later. But the Northwestern game showed the trend. Pitt once again is apt to make things tough for almost any big-college team.”

We’ll talk about this as it pertains to the 2010’s version of Pitt football as I’d really like to get our reader’s thoughts on all of this.

 

37 thoughts on “From the Vault: Why Pitt Is the Way it Is

  1. Wow Reed, just glossing over all this material has left me a little woozy. That’s a lot and I’ll get back to you in a week or so…. that’s if my ADD doesn’t rear it’s ugly head?? 🙂

    Seriously though. Looks like a great read. Looking forward to it.

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  2. I love Pat Narduzzi, and hope that Pitt is a destination job for him. However, unless a war chest is put together by donors, there is no way we can pay him what others will. We average 35,000-40,000 fans per game, and our ticket prices are low. We just don’t generate enough revenue. Yes, we have more money coming in from the Conference than we ever have. But given the fact that the Basketball program will be hemorrhaging money for the foreseeable future, I just don’t see having the $$$ to pony up $4 or 5 million a year to HCPN. Plus the additional $$$ needed for the assistants is not chum change, as Reed points out. Heather Lyke is going to earn her keep in the coming years dealing with our two revenue producing sports.

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  3. Take the time to read it Ike – if you want to understand Pitt football today and how we got here it is imperative to understand what happened in the past.

    Ever wonder why every Chancellor we have had in the ‘modern era’ has put Pitt academics and Pitt’s national reputation way above Pitt football? Well, it is because for a long time the other big schools looked down their noses at us even when we had great football teams.

    Pitt kept on trying to become a member of the Big ten up until we saw that was never going to happen and then lobbied the ACC hard as hell to take us.

    Some Pitt people felt it was a walk in the park to get that ACC invite but that isn’t true. After we got snubbed (again) by the Big 10 we were in real danger of floundering down to AAC level or worse.

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  4. The writing is on the wall: exorbitant television contracts will soon b a thing of the past. ESPN is wallowing and eventually the only recourse will be a pay-per-view format. That will leave middling programs on the outside looking in. We cannot compete with Alabama or Ohio State or the fanatical cult in the middle of the state. Then again, other schools will find themselves in similar situations: Northwestern, UCLA, ASU, etc. The exponential rise in salaries will end, much like the dot-com bubble.

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  5. Just getting caught up with past week. My wife and I spent a day and night in Stauton – beautiful. i am trying to convince She Who Must Be Obeyed on a trip to V Tech, I cant wait to read the articles as I got the complaints about deemphasis from my dad – Notre Dame would cry about Pitt being a football school, we would de-emphasize and Notre Dame would step into the void.
    I agree on Telani – he was to be the anchor of the line and his presence will be missed more than others thought.

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  6. In the middle of reading and chasing our grand-daughter around the house.

    Great picture of those three iconic buildings in Oakland. It pissing me off that PITT Stadium no longer sits on that hill.

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  7. Looks like Conner Steeler jerseys are available at Steelers website…2 week wait for official number to be decided on. Assuming he gets 24. But they will take your money NOW. Haha.

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  8. There are way too many good high school footballers for college football to be regulated to certain elite programs. PITT football isn’t going anywhere soon but if they lose Narduzzi due to money? Back to the crap steve dug them into.

    Conner’s jersey going up for sale? Is TJ Watt’s? Is Juju’s? It makes me pause and wonder if this is a little bit of a steeler stunt?

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  9. Tough read for us with short attention spans … but a good one thus far. Just read where Bowman told the clergyman “The difference between you and me is that I believe in what I’m doing.”

    Also just read that Pitt BB transfer possibility Mark Alstork had breakfast at Pamela’s then went to the Pete and had a workout where he sank 27 straight 3s … you would think he would commit after that but we know better

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  10. OT: Scratch another QB off the Pitt recruit list as Matt Valence from NY committed to BC. Maybe we are getting an idea why Pitt made offers to 6 QB so far this year. Two down and 4 left on the QB offer list.

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  11. Thanks Mr Lastrow. That makes a little more sense. Still, I hope the rooney’s throw a few merchandise shills over PITT’s was way.

    Hell maybe PITT will get their name in the end-zone now??

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  12. It sickens me to know how far and how much schools like
    Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State and others go to win football games. Those coaches are also “State” employees !! I am glad we are not part of those elitists. I guess it’s a free but
    BoTs, NCAA, and state governments could do something about it if they wanted to… A football coach worth $65 mil – crazy and disgusting.

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  13. If Duzz gets us to consistently win 10 a year he should be at paid at a much higher level than he currently is being paid…

    How many of you put your pesos on a 40-1 horse?

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  14. ^^BigB, is the above comment some sort of an axiom about donations to make sure Narduzzi stays or the Kentucky Derby winner?

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  15. “No more of those nine -nothing seasons for me. They bring you too many headaches.” Says eventual long time AD Frank Carver.

    Reading that quote gave me a headache. Pretty much sums up Pitt athletics

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  16. Okay, I’ll admit it. I stated on here at the end of Narduzzi’s first year (before the bowl game) to extend him. Why? Because everyone can see he will be successful when compared to and based on our past thirty years. Because history shows we are not able to write a five year strategic plan for athletics, let alone execute it. If you believe in Narduzzi, you extend him after year one. You all called me crazy.

    Pay – In my world, every one of my employees has always known that I pay them the maximum every year. In 30 years of management I have never had an employee leave because of money (at least that’s what they tell me during the exit interview). I am totally transparent about that with every review.

    BigB, why does it sicken you to see those salaries? They are worth it. Economic engines for their regions. Creating jobs! Getting huge alumni donations. Alumni give because of athletics, not academics, sorry! Pitt refuses to understand it because……the admins are academics and not business leaders. Cupcakes. They get passed by because they are academics and not decision-makers. They do things by committee not by leadership. They are afraid of making decisions because someone might point a finger at them. Hard to point a finger at a committee. STUPID is as stupid does!

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  17. As I began the trek of reading the actual newspaper articles (thank you Reed, awesome) I noticed that the picture of Pitt Stadium was during a game. The place is packed out and there even appears to be additional people watching the game on the “Hill” for free. Tremendous interest and crowd numbers. Wow!

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  18. What makes Pitt such a Mickey Mouse operation in football is it doesn’t want to invest big in being a consistent winner yet it fired/pushed out three guys who would have stayed at Pitt a long time (Gottfried, Walt, Wanny).

    Every time Ferentz has a down year I read on Pitt message boards that he should be fired. Iowa is smart, Pitt is not. Iowa has had two coaches since 1978. I don’t have time to count just how many Pitt has had starting in 1990.

    If Narduzzi can’t get Pitt to 10 wins consistently I’m sure hope the dullards at Pitt don’t think it’s time to get rid of an 8- or 9-win coach. I’m sure they will though and another bad coaching hire would be made.

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  19. Austin, if you go to the Pitt Blather archives at the time of Wanny’s firing, I went on and on about that while he had his faults, Wanny represented stability … something that Pitt lacks since they have ad something like 15 coaches in the past 50 years (and that was 2010;; we had 4 more since.). I often wonder just what would have happened if we had a stable program these past 6 years with the move to the ACC and turmoil at PSU.

    There were those, including Chas Rich, that wanted a Brian Kelly type who would bring us to a BCS even though he would leave after 3 years like he did at Cincy … while I argued we needed a Don Nehlen and not have to look for a freakin new coach every 3 years, hoping we would get it right (which we often didn’t.)

    I do like where Pitt FB is at right now …. tempered with the knowledge that Pitt FB has its limitations compared to the big boys. Just hope it continues.

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  20. Huff, that’s just my opinion. Nick Saban is the highest paid coach in all of football at $11.125 mil and Harbaugh comes in 2nd at 9 mil which is higher than Belichecks salary.
    Pitt could do better and will have to $hit or get off the pot if Duzz starts winning 9-10 wins consistently but I don’t agree with those blockbuster salaries in NCAA FB just to keep up with the Jonses. Sad truth is Div 1 FB is AAA ball for the NFL at no cost to their owners. After reading part of the article and seeing how Pitt de- emphasized in an era when it was purely a college game played by young men who were there to get a degree to enable them to be employed then fast- forwarding to the present challenges… we shall see..que sera sera

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  21. Agree that the bottom of the poster is unnecessary with little class. Just keep winning on the field and getting kids drafted. If you are really great, you don’t have to toot your own horn.

    Just finished Reed’s article. Pitt needs to accept that big time athletics are just as important as academics to big time universities. We are not and never will be CMU, University of Chicago, or Ivy League. The front porch really does matter and kids do pick schools based on their football and basketball teams success.

    Would anyone have heard of ND if not for the Gipper? Would they be recognized as a great University? Maybe, but they are recognized for both academics and athletics.

    That picture does make me really sad. The symbolic presence of Pitt Stadium on that hill was important, obviously in hind sight, a terrible move. Hopefully today’s administration and BOT understands the importance of Pitt’s athletic competitiveness and makes it a bigger priority. Unfortunately, I fear the lack of fan support indicates that a low percentage of graduates give a damn and they will continue to settle for mediocrity.

    I agree with Reed that we will know the answer if and when Narduzzi gets the big offer. Pitt did step up with the long term contract for Jamie and that went very poorly, it seems we can’t win no matter what we try..

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  22. Pitts 100 year of football press guide gives a pretty good rundown on Pitts ambivalence on big time football. It is a serious problem. Stability, winning and full stadiums are all needed but more so is administration committment to the goal and not moving the goal posts all the time. Even Temple, a school that in ways is like Pitt has started to make moves like an OCS and hiring better coaches. They must pay to keep the good coaches or forget it! I once had a Pitt business prof in discussing business organizations say “the fastest way to kill something is to put it into a committee”.There is a reason the military has a command driven structure. In the past Pitts administration has failed to function effectively when it comes to football. You have to KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE PRIZE and not waiver for the long term. So far Pitt has not shown they can do that. Love Reeds picture.H2P

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  23. I remember in the early 1960s when Pitt applied to join the Ivy league but missed out. Maybe we did not meet the academics or money or geographics or were considered in the boonies.

    We have always strived academically and sometimes athletics comes in second. H2P

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  24. Narduzzi has already gotten a pay raise once. Pitt seems to be all in him from the Chancellor on down. He’ll get paid. A school like Michigan St. won’t lure him, it’s if a ND or Ohio St. come knocking some day when Pitt should be a little nervous. Michigan St. is a lateral move. If he leaves it will be for one of the big boys. I doubt it’s for the NFL. He strikes me as someone who loves the college game.

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  25. I just finished reading the first linked article. This reminds me so much of the de-emphasis after Jackie Sherrill when Bozik/Billick ruined Pitt football again. I remember Bozik saying that he wanted Pitt athletically be the “Stanford of the East.” And Stanford sucked at the time. Every time there is success in the athletic department the Ivory Tower ‘Intellectuals’ – professors and professors WHO become administrators have been the first to attack the athletic programs. Why? Because they see it as diminishing their very existence. There is nothing that makes success in academics and sports to be fundamentally at odds except for the view of the parties. When I was a grad student at Pitt in Political Science i was struck by how the professors would look down their noses with disdain at football players while at the same time religiously following their alma maters eg MIchigan, and watching their teams on Saturday. They would make fun of Pitt professors would would attend Pitt games. They were condescending egotistical hypocrites. Unfortunately I don’t see this changing. IMO CPG is not as committed as most of you think when push comes to shove as he has his world he thinks he must defend. Much like the classic scorpion and the frog story – its in his nature. Again, I am not putting down academicians for their accomplishments I just don’t believe academics and athletics should be mutually exclusive but ;the academicians rule. Oh well.
    HAIL TO PITT

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  26. rkb,
    ….second that notion.
    Egos rule the roost and unfortunately ivory tower intellectual snobs (for the most part) think their meaningless philosophy degree or whatever is more important than mere athletics. Just the nature of the educated beast (and BTW I have a Masters Degree).:>)

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  27. I expect Coach Duzz to be gone after 2 more seasons. It doesn’t matter whether Pitt matches a big salary offered by someone else or not. Pitt is still missing a piece of the puzzle that every big-time coach wants – that’s to lead his team out to a full, rocking home stadium every home game – no matter the opponent.

    A guy like Coach Duzz, whose life is football, is not going to “settle” for less than the whole sha-bang, IMHO.

    And it doesn’t help that Pitt officials seem to get queasy at the idea of articles in the press about how the FB coach is the highest paid university employee…

    I wish Heather would prove me wrong, but I don’t see her filling in the missing piece in time to save Coach Duzz…

    Go Pitt.

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  28. Wow, that first article was great. I knew that Pitt had a great program back in the day, but I guess I wasn’t aware that they were basically the Alabama/OSU of that time in terms of recruiting ingenuity.

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  29. PittPT you son of a gun. You stole my line. The only difference I was going to include psu. seriously.

    Here’s another analogy: PITT was a lot like Japan. After world war two they passed laws or legislation or whatever they do, to never be the aggressor against another country.

    Sounded a lot like there were lots of conflict of feelings even with the administration that made the changes. Not just with each other but within themselves. They wanted a winner even when the walls came crumbling down. Let’s Go PITT! Was the battle cry for the man in charge of making the changes.

    I have always thought the concept of pay for play was an under the table endeavor and not a known sort of practice.

    I don’t care what anyone tells me until proven otherwise. The PITT administration has turned 140 degrees in their thoughts of the importance of supporting a revenue generating college football team. ike

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