In the Midst of Recruiting…

In the Midst of Recruiting…

When fans talk about their team’s recruiting it always turns to whether recruits are good ones or not so good ones.  Which is pretty funny actually because you never know what is going to happen with the recruits from the minute they sign their Letter of Intent to their participating in spring or fall camps and on through the first few years of their eligibility.

What a lot of fans don’t take into account are all the variables that go into the transition from high school to college. These kids deal with being away from home and many for the first time, and handling a separation from family, friends and girlfriends, to changes in climate and to the rigors of academics at the college level just to name a few contributing factors to a smooth transition.

That doesn’t always happen the way it should.  For example Paris Ford, our highly rated 4* recruit, sat out his first year and took a redshirt because of a tough transition to college life.  That happens more than is publicly known and sometimes a redshirt has to be applied due to academic or disciplinary problems.

Fans can’t really know how all that will play out with individual recruits so we look at other variables that the recruit brings to the recruiting process; his star and numerical ratings by the recruiting websites, HS highlight films and other scholarship offers are what fans talk about the most when they discuss the relative merits of one recruit stacked up against others.

But what the fans see and what the recruiting scouts (both college’s and the recruiting sites’) see are two different things.  Fans watch the HS highlight clips and see only the great plays the recruit made – professional scouts request whole game films from the HS coaches so they get a 360° view of how the kid actually did over an extended period of play, usually a three game set of films.  This is why I have to laugh when a fan writes “I watched his highlights on the site and he should have been a 4* instead of a 3* recruit!”  Of course one would think that- those are the absolute best plays he made all year.

Sometimes, especially in the case of Pitt fans (and I suspect others schools as well) what geographical area the recruits are from seems to float their boat- that rings true especially now in Pitt’s 2019 class since we just have gotten commitments from seven recruits who hail from south of the Mason-Dixon Line (out of 14 so far), with a bunch from Florida,,, where apparently and automatically kids are bigger, stronger and are able to leap tall building with a single bound.

Recruiting is the prime example of “an inexact science” in my opinion and it always has been.  It is hard to tell just how good a player will be when you are on the outside looking in. Personally, I put more trust in the recruiting star rankings then some fans do.  But then again I have been watching recruiting unfold for over ten years now as I have been writing about the Pitt football program since 2009.  The recruiting sites get it right way more often than they get it wrong IMO especially when prescribing 4s or 5s to a recruit.

On the POV a common theme that runs through Pitt fans conversations is the difference between 4* and 3* recruits.  Some fans look at the numerical differences between a 5.7 kid who is given a 3* rating and a 5.8 kid who gets a 4* (or Blue Chip) rating and see just a 1/10th of a point difference.  But the text info copied below states Rivals.com grading system very clearly.  What is the difference maker is with that 1/10th of a point between 5.7 and 5.8 is the description given for the 4* recruits.

Another thing to realize is that unlike ESPN or 247’s ratings Rivals is all about the potential a recruit has for playing college ball.

Before you read the below this needs to be understood – the first ‘determination‘ a recruiting site scout looks for an individual high school player is which prospect description below the individual recruit fits into.  Once that is determined then they assigned the gradient ‘points’ number to the player.  For example, from the scouts observations and information gathered Player A is determined to be an All-American Candidate first and foremost so right away the scout is going to be awarding between a 5.8 and a 6.0 to that kid.

Then the scouts drill down to what numerical points the recruit should be awarded.  So the common belief that there is negligible difference between a 4* 5.8 recruit and a 3* 5.7 recruit just isn’t really true or applicable… it looks like it on the surface but because the second recruit didn’t meet the description of an “All-American Candidate”.  Again the very first level of designation is the textual description – not the numerical one.

6.1 = Five-star prospect

6.0-5.8 = Four-star prospect

5.7-5.5 = Three-star prospect

5.2-5.4 = Two-star prospect

6.1 Franchise Player: considered one of the elite prospects in the country, generally among the nation’s top 30-35 players overall, a potential first-team All American candidate and a player deemed to have first round NFL potential.

6.0-5.8 All American Candidate: considered one of the next-tier elite prospects in the country, generally among the nation’s top 300-325 prospects overall, a national All American candidate and a player deemed to have first to third round NFL potential

5.7-5.5 All Region Selection: considered among the region’s top prospects and generally among the nation’s top 800-850 prospects overall, a potential All-Conference candidate and a player deemed to have mid to low-end pro potential and ability to impact at the college level.

There is a large gulf between saying someone had All-American potential vice All-Region potential and projecting the player to go in the first to third round in the  NFL draft vice maybe not getting drafted at all.

How has this worked out at Pitt?

Well, just as you think it might – the 4* and 5* players we have had have done better in relation to the 2* and 3* kids – accounting for the ratio of Blue Chippers to 3* roster makeup.  We sure see outliers in this sometimes – Greg Romeus was a 2* kid as was Devin Street – two very good and productive players for us in the past.  So yeah, it can happen but you don’t want to rely on lightning striking that way too many times.

Somehow readers on here feel that I believe 3* players are no good and can’t succeed and that just isn’t the case.  Our history is filled with 3* players who have gone on to be All-Conference and even All-American…every year almost a few 3* players rise above their peers and play lights out…Aaron Donald, James Conner and Brian O’Neill are just some of the latest in that line.

What I have said many times over is that if you have a roster full of 3* players you’ll be playing 3* football and that has been the case at Pitt over the years.  Believe me more 3* recruits play average ball or fail to get on the field way more often that another 3* kid turns into a star player at Pitt.

I have no problem with Pitt getting 3* players – the vast majority of eligible recruits are 3* kids but you have to grab the better ones, or the ones with more “stardom” potential whenever we can.  That takes a very strong recruiting staff and very good and solid connections with HS coaches.  A constant successful program has a good percentage of 4* recruits in relation to the number 3* recruits in each class.

But the bottom line is that if you are going to rely on recruiting classes consisting overwhelmingly of 3* players then some of those have to really break out and play at true stardom level. I mean have real star power out there – grand enough to take the game on their shoulders and will the team to victory.

Think about what Pitt football would have been like over the years 2011 through 2015 had we not had Aaron Donald and James Conner on either side of the ball?  A series of heavily losing seasons is what would have happened. They weren’t 4* kids but played at the ultimate All-American star level.

I believe this is where we have been falling down with recruits Narduzzi has been getting to commit to him to play ball at Pitt.

That commitment date is a key issue because it goes directly into the heart of the subject of what a head coach has to do to convince a high school player to come to his university and play in his football program.  The 12-24 months it takes to find, scout and assess and then convince a HS player, his parents and coach that Pitt is the best choice for him is truly where the hard work is done.

An inheriting new HC does have to keep the player committed to the school but if you look back at when most head coaching turnover has been in late December and early January you see that is so close to LOI signing Day (as opposed to the normal recruiting time of 12-24 months before) that almost all recruits stay with the school they committed to.

The main reason they do is 1) they want to attend and play at that college no matter who the coach is and 2) that all their other ‘best offers’ schools have their commitment quota met by that late date.  The latter happens more frequently than we know.

We saw an exception to this with the Wannstedt to Haywood to Graham turnover but that was a completely different animal because of the negative circus surrounding the firing of Wannstedt and the Haywood debacle.  But then the last two coaching changes went rather smoothly – especially this last one where I think maybe only one or two committed recruits shifted schools and didn’t sign with us.

When gauging a head coaches’ actual recruiting prowess it must start with who he got to commit, not who he had sign on at LOI Day for the reasons above.  Narduzzi is the coach of record for the full 2015 class but the bald fact is that the best players of that class, Whitehead, Hall, Henderson, Dane Jackson and Tre’ Tipton (to name a few) were recruited by and had committed, to another head coach.

That isn’t just an aberration either – we have seen a downward trend from the previous years over Narduzzi’s last two full recruiting classes – classes of 2017 and 2018 where we have seen only one 4* recruit and he’s had no early ‘breakout players’ of his own recruits since he’s been hired. That may change in this 2018 season but his last three years have been bereft of star recruits.

Here is the last 10 years of recruiting classes, including the unfinished 2019 class we are in the process of filling out now.  It encompasses our last four head coaches and you can see how things went them and how they not only recruited but got very good play from some kids who I called ‘stars’ in the table:

 

Recruit TableRight now we have verbal commitments from these 14 recruits in the class of 2019 which was ranked 27th after the June 15th weekend flurry of verbals and is currently ranked #37 (and dropping over the last month).

Class of 2019

Now there are some kids on there who will surely play decent ball for us in the future, that is pretty much assured in every recruiting class.  But when Pitt had that surprising recruiting weekend over June 15th and got commitments from so many Florida kids the fans’ praises went overboard in my opinion – but it was nice to see us ranked 27th or so nationally after that flurry of verbals.  It was a good start for sure but the real proof will be in the other 11 recruits we’ll get for 2010.

Again – note the absence of blue chip players on this list.  That’s why we have dropped from 27th to 37th… because we keep getting 3* or 2* kids committing to us while other teams around us are getting better ranked recruits.

There is a real myth of Florida recruiting also I believe. Below are our Florida recruits going back to the class of 2006 – so there are 12 years of results on the field to consider when reviewing these recruits.  Take a look at the list below and tell me how many of them were markedly better than any recruit from the Tri-State area…

Dexter Davidson, Greg Romeus,  Jared Martin, Tamarcus Porter, Jabaal Sheard, Ricky Gary, Greg Williams, Sherod Murdock,  Anthony Jackson,  Joe Trebitz,  Shane Gordon, Jason Douglas,  LaQuentin Smith,  Roderick Ryles, Ronald Jones and James Folston Jr.     

Can any of us really say that other than Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus those other Florida recruits were special in any way, shape or form?  Out of 15 Florida recruits only two made All- Big East or All-ACC and those were the two mentioned above.  Gee – I supposed if all we did was recruit Florida Defensive Ends we’d be in good shape!

So that is a myth that has been perpetrated among Pitt fans for some reason I can’t fathom.  Hell, we get much better players from New Jersey and New York than we do Florida.  I’ll take Dion Lewis, Ray Graham, TJ Clemmings, Jason Hendricks, K’Wuan Williams, Kevin Mosley-Smith, Quadree Ollison and Saleem Brightwell over all but two of the Florida recruits and these kids are from states Pitt fans’ turn their noses up to.

We’ll see this coming season how well a 22 starting player field of mostly Narduzzi-committed recruits will fare.  QB Kenny Pickett looks to be a future star and if that holds he’ll be the first of Narduzzi’s recruits to ‘break-out’ in his first two years. Other than he we really can’t point to any other Narduzzi recruit who has done so.  We are all keeping our fingers crossed for DB Paris Ford to do so but he hasn’t taken a snap yet.

But it won’t be all Narduzzi commitments; one has to look no further than 2018’s projected LB corps to see that they are all either previous walk-ons or Chryst recruits – Wirginis, Idowu and Zeise were here before this current HC signed on with only Brightwell being the Narduzzi kid.

The same can be said for the projected Offensive Line with Dintino, Bookser and Herndon being Chryst recruits and supplemented by a walk-on in Morrissey then most probably a transfer or two.

For those Pitt fans who feel that other Pitt fans are too negative about the immediate future of Pitt football this lack of strong recruiting is a very real reason to be concerned.  Pitt has made a living by having true “star” players in each and every one of our bigger winning season going back for some time.

Last year we didn’t have that and it showed in our play out on the field and in our season’s 5 wins and 7 loss record. We need for things to change quickly if we want this program to get back up to that 8, 9 or 10 win level and as it looks now that might be hard to do.  Let’s keep hoping two or three players really come through and surprise because without that happening some of us fans feel we’ll be looking at a possible repeat of 2017.

Biggest Personnel Disappointment(s)

Biggest Personnel Disappointment(s)

Submitted by Mark Kerestan (PittPT)

It is that time of year, right before the start of the pre-season football camp, when Pitt seemingly discloses a bombshell as to someone leaving the team for any of a number of reasons. This year unfortunately is no different, with the team announcing that Charles Reeves, monster (sized) 4-Star Tight End recruit, will no longer be a part of the team.

Some POVers have pointed out that this happens at every school, but to be honest I don’t pay enough attention to what is happening at other schools to know if that is true or not. Somehow it has seemed to happen at Pitt yearly since around 2010.

We will soon have plenty to discuss regarding the Two-Deep and offensive/defensive strategies with the players comprising the 2018 Pitt Squad. In the meantime I thought it might be interesting to discuss what promising recruit sticks in our minds as the biggest disappointment, whether the recruitment failed to play to expectations, was injured before achieving expected greatness, or couldn’t get on the field due to grades or other off-field issues?

I’ll start, and as I’m kind of tired and can’t seem to think too far back at the moment, I’ll pick the disappointment that is/was Rushel Shell. Here we had a very promising local HS star, coming to play for his hometown team.

There was a great article in Sports Illustrated before the season started hyping his potential. And then boom, he was part of the Panther group that didn’t get on the field for the first game of the Paul Chryst era, a group of six contributing players held out for disciplinary reasons. There were questions regarding Shell’s work ethic and attitude and he decided not to return to Pitt for his sophomore season.

One may wonder if James Conner would have gotten on the field as a running back if Rushel Shell played to his potential or what a tandem of the two might have looked like. If Rushel Shell did become a star for the Panthers, I suspect that it could have opened the pipeline for getting more of the top players in the WPIAL to commit to Pitt.

So Rushel Shell is my player choice for biggest Panther disappointment…What say you???

Where Pitt Ended Up Stats-Wise in ’17

Where Pitt Ended Up Stats-Wise in ’17

Here is some info to chew on as we get closer to Fall Camp which starts not too long from now in the beginning of August.

I put these two tables in first to show how well we did at some things last season (most of first table) then… because nothing is ever all good with Pitt football… the second table shows what we were poor at doing. Remember there were 129 Division I teams total last season so that is the ranking we are looking at – from 1st to 129th.

Good news first:

As you can see we were a well-disciplined team as far as penalties go.  Not too bad with Passes Had Intercepted either even if we were somewhat low on the total pass attempts. Time of Possession was good (16th) with us keeping the ball 2:27 more than our opponents.

Rushing defense was OK at 41st; other than that we were in the lower two-thirds of the nation in almost everything else of note.

Top Half Stats 3

 

Which brings us to the next table (get the crying towel out).

Here I listed where we ranked among the worst nationally (123rd in Blocked Punts Allowed was our nadir) and then ascending to the lower third of the teams’ rankings.

Needless to say our special teams were horrid except for the Punt Returns.  Not much better was our defensive Tackles for Loss (TFLs) at 106th (Team Sacks made was 74th) and jumping over to the offense for Sacks Allowed at 101st doesn’t make me feel any better… That stat and TFLs Allows at 99th shows what a very poor job our OL did last season – throw in that we were 85th in rushing the ball and it scares the hell out of me for 2018.

Look at our special teams coverage units’ work below… and get your barf bag out.  We were 113th in Punt Return Defense and not much better at our Kickoff Return Defense either being five slots lower at 108th.

I have always thought these coverage teams are where young very athletic players can cut their teeth when they haven’t made a two-deep rotation spot yet… but looking at ours one has to wonder if we have any of those quicker and faster athletes on coverage teams at all.

The bad icing on the bad cake was having only a horrid 35% third down conversion rate (95th) – that was the root of a lot of our problems last year and absolutly has to get better.  The Top one-third of the 129 teams had a conversion rate of 43% or better.  On the flip side of third down conversions at least we were consistent with defense of them being crappy at 84th allowing 41% of the opponent’s conversion tried to be successful.

Bottom Half stats 2

I don’t think we are going to see much better work from the offense this season.  We’ll rise in the passing categories but I think we’ll regress in everything else the OL has a hand in. Which means QB Kenny Pickett will be running for his life and the RBs will find few holes to run through.  Our Sacks Allowed may be less given Pickett’s quick feet and ability to run though, but that impacts the passing results.

But this is also why I have been consistent in stating that our defense wasn’t as good as some fans made it out to be for last season.  We did a good job over the last two games but the truth is in the 10 games before those we really were sub-par on the whole.

Which begs the question if our defense, with a brand new DC and new terminology (spotlight on MLB Quintin Wirginis with that), is going to carry over the level of play we saw in games #11 (VT) and #12 (Miami) last year onto 2018’s schedule.

I do agree with some fan’s thoughts that Miami wasn’t as strong as a normal #2 ranked team usually is at the end of the regular season but that doesn’t take away the sweetness of the win.

Either way we were better on defense at the end of the year than we were at the beginning of it:

boo

Duke – 17 points allowed;  Virginia – only 14 points; then Whaaaa…? North Carolina – 34 points followed by VT at 20 points then the Miami win by allowing only 14.

That certainly looks like better play from the defense then we had seen over Narduzzi’s first 2.5 seasons, doesn’t it?

Pat Bostick Back in the Booth

Pat Bostick Back in the Booth

Haven’t been able to write anything lately – just finished replacing back deck only to find out today….wait for it….have to replace our whole HVAC system also.  So, if you have articles send them through.  But you have to do tables and such on your own and not in the body of an email – that’s too much work to try to fix for publication.

Link: Pitt Football Radio

Pitt Football Radio Team Unveiled for 2018 Season

PITTSBURGH—The University of Pittsburgh and its multimedia rights holder IMG unveiled today the Pitt football radio crew for the 2018 season. The three-person broadcast team will consist of iconic play-by-play man Bill Hillgrove, color analyst Pat Bostick and pregame host and sideline reporter Larry Richert.

“There is tremendous anticipation for the 2018 football season and we are proud to have an outstanding radio team calling the action,” Executive Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations E.J. Borghetti said. “I say this on an annual basis, but I believe we have the best radio crew in college football. Their knowledge, passion and professionalism are simply exceptional.”

 Known to fans nationwide as the “Voice of the Panthers,” Hillgrove enters his 45th season calling play by play for Pitt football. He initially was the Panthers’ color analyst from 1970-73 before taking over as play-by-play man for the 1974 season. Hillgrove has called Pitt basketball since 1969.

 Hillgrove also begins his 25th season as the play-by-play announcer for the Pittsburgh Steelers this fall. Sports Broadcast Journal recently named him and Pittsburgh Penguins’ broadcaster Mike Lange to its 2018 list of Most Popular ‘One-Two Play-By-Play Pairs’ Across American Markets.

 Bostick makes his full time return to Pitt football radio broadcasts as color analyst this fall. The former Panthers quarterback previously served in that role from 2011-15 as well as select games during the 2017 season.

 Bostick makes a tremendous impression on listeners with his keen insight and analysis. In addition to game days, he will continue to be a frequently heard voice talking college football on Pitt flagship station Sportsradio 93.7 The Fan throughout the week.

 Bostick resumes the analyst role that was manned by Billy Osborn the past two seasons.

 “Ozzie has some great things going on, both professionally and personally, that are demanding his fulltime attention,” Borghetti said. “He was recently named a senior vice president for Defend Your Head, a helmet technology company that is doing important work. On the family front, Billy’s boys are playing football every weekend and those are moments you just don’t want to miss.

 “You won’t find a person with more Pitt pride than Ozzie. We thank him for his great work the past two years. He has a standing invite to the booth anytime he’s in town.”

Richert will provide pregame coverage and in-game sideline reports for the sixth consecutive season. One of Pittsburgh’s most recognized voices and faces, he has hosted the venerable KDKA Morning News Show (1020 AM) since 2001. His broadcasting career spans nearly four decades in both radio and television.

Led by 50,000-watt flagship station 93.7 The Fan (KDKA-FM) in Pittsburgh, Pitt football games are broadcast on the Pitt IMG Sports Network, a loyal lineup of stations that spans the Commonwealth. The 2018 stations are:

Ambridge        WMBA-AM      1460

Beaver Falls     WBVP-AM       1230

Bedford           WBFD-AM       1310

Connellsville    WKHB-FM       103.9

Harrisburg       WTKT-AM        1460

Indiana            WCCS-AM       1160

Johnstown       WCRO-AM       1230

Meyersdale/    WQZS-FM        93.3

    Somerset

Oil City             WKQW-AM     1120

Pittsburgh       KDKA-FM         93.7

Uniontown      WMBS-AM      590

Game broadcasts are also available on SiriusXM Satellite Radio.

Football radio coverage on the Pitt IMG Sports Network includes:

  • A three-hour pregame show (first hour on 93.7 The Fan and the last two on the entire Pitt IMG Sports Network).
  • Panther Reaction, a call-in show on 93.7 The Fan following postgame coverage.
  • The Pat Narduzzi Show presented by the Dollar Energy Fund on most Wednesdays from 6 to 7 p.m. Coach Narduzzi previews the upcoming game and takes questions from callers. (Live stream on PittsburghPanthers.com.)

Season tickets for the 2018 Pitt football season are now on sale. Call the Pitt Ticket Office at (800) 643-PITT (7488) or log on to PittsburghPanthers.com.

The Issue of the Pitt Fan Base

The Issue of the Pitt Fan Base

Another interesting look at Pitt and its athletic department over the years from our reader friend “Anon”.  One important thing about this particular reader and contributor – he and his family have been intimately associated with the University of Pittsburgh for many, many years so when he writes something I pay very close attention to it…and it has matched with what I know almost 100% of the time.

In writing this, my purpose is to open thinking about what are the issues with the size and fervor of the Pitt football fan base.  Only this sport is being questioned as basketball has proven in the past to be quite attractive and sold out when Pitt has been relevant in the top 20 in basketball. Surely under Capel, we all anticipate a recalibration and quick building of a highly successful program again.

So, what are the issues with Pitt football?

Certainly for those of us who enjoy the college football sport and who have developed a genuine caring about Pitt football in particular, this is a serious question. Our current Athletic Department and leadership at Pitt have made a strong commitment to utilizing sports as a “front porch” for national recognition and respect for the University of Pittsburgh.

 Yes, yes, we all know the naysayers and their mantra of “Pitt’s too cheap or the administration hates the athletic department.” Those who make these claims are influenced by (1) the waters of the three rivers which still has negativity molecules in plentiful supply; (2) a complete lack of knowledge of Pitt’s organization and finances; and (3) recognition of what Pitt truly values.

 So, skipping the water problem, it can be acknowledged that for decades Mr. Jerry Cochran ran a very squeaky tight ship concerning Pitt finances and contributions to the athletic department.  Nothing but nothing got past him for coaches salaries, athletic costs, etc. That continued until his retirement a few years ago. Also, it might be added that with the retirement of Chancellor Mark Nordenberg who genuinely wanted good sports programs at Pitt, a new regime came in at the right time for Pitt athletics.

Unlike Nordenberg who formerly ran Pitt’s law school, Chancellor Gallagher is more current on marketing, positioning, and building upon Nordenberg’s success in academic enrichment of Pitt. Yes, yes, Gallagher was rushed into a bad choice in Barnes as AD but that was due to the last five years of Jamie Dixon’s difficulties at Pitt due to his recruiting base and the ACC which he never wanted Pitt to be in as opposed to either the Big East or B10 where he could continue his recruiting of the NY-Philly area.

The fall off in attendance at the Pete plus less success on the court signaled that something had to change, so why not Barnes who was part of the NCAA Tournament Selection committee? That didn’t work and was further not a boon to Pitt football.  So, rather quickly Pitt moved on from Barnes to Heather Lyke.

 Heather Lyke was underappreciated due to the size and scope of Eastern Michigan sports. But, what was forgotten was that this is a very bright lady who spent considerable time in Ohio State’s athletic department plus earned a law degree. She has been shaking and churning the Pitt athletic department and staffs to find very good coaching talent. She does not appear to be another Steve Pederson or Scott Barnes, in fact, she just might become Pitt’s best athletic director in decades.

 Add to the staffing of the athletic department and many coaching positions, there is the big money from membership in the ACC. But, keep in mind that the Pitt administration is still shoring up the football programs expenses. Money is not overflowing from alumni, fans, and merchandising sales so far. Perhaps there will be change as more success happens on the field. Currently, Pitt is investing in building football, basketball, baseball, soccer, softball, and wrestling programs. Please don’t sit on laurels as this is a concerted effort by Pitt and it had better work.

 The reason that it better work is simply that Pitt wants sports as an attractive, successful symbol of Pitt’s national image. However, the fundamentals of Pitt are #1 above all else, academics, research, and international recognition. Yes, you are reading this correctly, Pitt would drop any sport tomorrow if it were a choice between that sport and Pitt academics. So, for those of you who would close one eye if Pitt engaged in some shady practices to get recruits, build programs, or get national ranking attention, you are daydreaming while giving Pitt’s core nightmares.  Many of us who love Pitt football and basketball would rather see Pitt close down all sports and simply concentrate on becoming the Stanford of the East before engaging in the nonsense done by so many big nationally recognized sports programs.

Let’s go back to what is the core problems of Pitt fandom.

 First, for most of Pitt’s history, it was a commuter university of national acclaim. Streetcars, buses, and cars delivered students to the campus and then quickly got them to their places of work where they could earn tuition money. The number of dorm students was a small percentage of Pitt’s student enrollment unlike big land grant universities. Pitt did not have a tidy little 10,000 to 30,000 town that was integrated with the university. Pitt had Oakland which was the residence of many wealthier people as well as working class families of steel workers from Jones & Laughlin and other mills.

Not the ideal Chapel Hill version of a campus and town. Pittsburgh was big, bustling, and bruising with one of the smallest African-American populations of a major city in America. Pittsburgh was sectionalized into ethnic enclaves such as Polish Hill, Swissvale, Garfield, Bloomfield, Squirrel Hill, Homewood, the Hill District etc. Immigrant families lived in close proximity to others who shared their ethnicity. So, Pittsburgh in many ways was a lot like a smaller New York but more industrialized. That made for a different student body at Pitt.  Pitt wasn’t the place you went to party or cruise through college. You had to work your ass off both in school and in a one or more jobs to get that diploma.

 Pitt embarked on a disastrous trimester system. Why? It enabled students to accelerate their course load over a year to graduate in possibly as short as two and a half years. What that experiment did was destroy any concept of alumni “Class of XXXX” as each student was in their own class not a large collection of people at the same pace going through  college. That took away the sense of camaraderie for most students.

 Pitt never had a strong vibrant Greek system. It was too expensive for most students and students were too busy studying and working to afford the time and efforts of joining a Frat or Sorority.  Other schools could count on the collective efforts of the Greek System to support and encourage playing sports at their universities.  Pitt was a totally opposite of PSU as humanly possible in what was important to the student and their families.

 The Academic leadership of Pitt did resent Pitt’s athletic department and what they tried to do to build programs. Under Chancellor Litchfield, Pitt almost went bankrupt as a private university (private like Northwestern and Stanford are private) due to the incredible millions spent on bringing in world recognized faculty, building out research programs, investment in buildings, investments in the Medical school and acquisition of hospitals, and building of the International Affairs programs of Pitt.

Football and basketball were not important except as entertainment.  Resentment built with a lot of former players, friends, and families to form the Golden Panthers which decided to put their money into Pitt athletics such as recruiting and hiring Johnny Majors and continuing right up until the 80’s when scandal happened.

So, unless there is a similar banding of wealthy ex-athletes and families, like the Cost Family and others, Pitt sports will be reliant upon the monies of the ACC until sufficiently successful to be self-sustaining and growing.

 Remember, there were many other factors too affecting sports fans for Pitt. The coming of conferences while a boon in monies to be shared, destroyed old-time rivalries. Does anyone seriously think that if Pitt were playing Penn State, West Virginia, Navy, Syracuse, Miami and Notre Dame virtually every year that we’d be having attendance discussions?

Pitt Stadium could seat 60,000 people. Heinz Field seats over 72,000 people which is extremely large for Pittsburgh in general. By the way, the Rooney’s are not dumping on Pitt! They contribute quite a bit of money to Pitt as well as Duquesne plus they don’t own Heinz Field but happily share it with Pitt under the Pittsburgh Sports Authority. Pitt’s leasing deal saves Pitt millions while enabling top-tier facilities.

 Well, enough rambling on.  Just take these words from someone who has followed Pitt football for more than 60 years plus has known many of the past and great players of Pitt.

Editor’s Note: My parents were professionals at Pitt before and during the Chancellor Litchfield years and my father, as the Assistant  Dean of the Graduate School of Business (back when there was a lot less faculty) , worked very closely with Litchfield on starting the International School of Studies mentioned above.   What is written above are just the same thoughts I heard all the time when growing up in the 50s, 60s and early 70s in my “Pitt” household.

My Pitt Story….the Road Rarely Travelled

My Pitt Story….the Road Rarely Travelled

It was been wonderful to read all the great stories of Pitt fans on the Pitt POV.  There is sort of a common thread and that is our common roots.  Mount Lebanon. Donora. Squirrel Hill. Belle Vernon. Johnstown. Etc.  Most of us have personal football involvement, or at least a healthy dose of participatory athletics also.

Me, I grew up in Rhode Island.  The only athletes they grow in Rhode Island frankly are sailors (which I am) and the occasional hockey player.  Heck, we had hockey cheerleaders in my high school (they wore VERY thick nylons!).  My high school won the football state championship twice when I was there.  No one really cared that much.  Attendance was never more than a few hundred.  No one from my school, I would venture to guess, ever played football at a P5 school. I played a bit of high school basketball, until I discovered I enjoyed skipping out on late study halls and going to the beach instead.

I knew nothing, absolutely nothing, of Pittsburgh until I found Pitt in one of those college reference books you used to research colleges back when we had actual bookstores.  I got recruited for my guitar playing…Pitt had a great guitar teacher in Joe Negri, who if you don’t know who that is, his other job was Mr. Handyman on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, which used to be filmed at the Pitt music school building before my time.  The Pitt jazz band had a very nice national reputation, and so that was enough for me.  My high school guidance counselor said he had no record of anyone going to Pitt from my high school before.

I had never attended a college football game before coming to Pitt.  My first game ever was a 34-0 thumping of #14 NC State.  I learned who Ironhead Heyward was on that day.  It was cool.  I think I perhaps went to see Pitt beat Navy.  These games were fun!

And then the later in that season the 10-0 win over PSU happened (1987).  I remember at that earlier NC State game people chanting “Penn State sucks” and I found it so odd that we, well, we dissed another college in our fight song?  That made zero sense to me.  I had no context, no history.  And then, 10-0.

We rushed the field.  My roommate stole one of the coaches’ head phones.  It was bedlam and pure joy. A year or so later my crew and I apparently broke the game clock on national television.  We have pounding on it vs. Notre Dame, “Lets Go Pitt!”  Suddenly the ref runs over and seemed kind of upset.  The police came and said if we did not settle down we would all be hauled away.  Literally two plays later we scored a touchdown.  We became quite joyfully unsettled…and away we went…

For me, however, the Fitzgerald Fieldhouse was where I really became a Pitt fan.  I can still hear Paul Evans screaming at his players (unfortunately).  When Jerome sent it in, well, wow.  My roommate (was in the pep band) got a piece of the glass.  The Georgetown fight at the Civic Arena I will always remember too.  Sadly I will of course always remember things like…Vanderbilt.  Such is the life of a Pitt fan.  But what a great time to be a Pitt basketball fan.  Warts and all, the Fieldhouse was special in those years.

I can’t say my story is too interesting, sorry!  But perhaps a bit of something different, that even people from far away strange lands, lands that don’t care about football or basketball, lands where the name “Pitt” just don’t register in any meaningful way, even from there, someone can grow to be a rabid fan of Pitt athletics.  HTP.  DD.

Pitt, Polio and Perspective

Pitt, Polio and Perspective

Here is a rather long and in-depth piece, part Bio and part look at the state of the program,  by our reader and some time Commenter Troy (UlteriorMotifs). The thoughts and writings are all his…

How does the Pitt football program compare to its peers and what are its prospects?

First time caller, long time listener. Actually, I’ve commented several times on Pitt POV and Pitt Blather, but very infrequently. I’ve been a daily reader of both sites for many years and finally decided to cast off my lurker status and participate in a significant way.

To establish my bona fides (or lack thereof), let me state quickly that, apart from a pair of summer school courses, I never attended Pitt. I have, however, been a fan of the program practically since birth. I grew up in the area, went to grade school about 10 minutes away, and my father and one uncle have Pitt degrees. I started going to basketball games at Fitzgerald when Pitt was still in the Eastern Eight – not just the marquee contests, but also scintillating matchups against powerhouses like Westminster and St. Francis (PA).

I was a regular presence at various Pitt summer programs and the proud winner of the hustle award from Pitt basketball camp. For my efforts, I received a poster of Bernard King doing a reverse dunk, his head just under a rim illuminated like a halo, with the inscription St. Bernard underneath. That poster hung on my wall for many a year and may have marked the pinnacle of my athletic achievement.

The first number I ever wore in youth sports was #13 (you know why) and I attended the vast majority of Pitt football games from the time I was a toddler until I went away to high school in Westmoreland County. By this time, I was estranged from my father, yet I chose to hang on to the best memories of our relationship, which involved parking in random driveways absurdly far from Pitt stadium to save a few bucks (Dad was Costanza-like when it came to paying for parking) and walking down from the Hill into the mass of humanity surrounding the stadium.

We probably started going to the games together when I was four and it took me years to figure out why the college students mobbing all around us were acting so strangely. At the time, I just assumed they were excited about Pitt football; I didn’t realize chemical enhancement was in play.

I was years away from sampling the good stuff; I just loved devouring every morsel of information in the program guide, hearing the roar of the Panther over the PA, the steep climb up Cardiac Hill on those rare occasions when we scored a parking spot in the flatlands of Oakland, the Panther icon painted brightly on the building behind the stadium, the Golden Girls (we always brought binoculars), one side of the stadium chanting “Hugh” and the other responding “Green”,  and, of course, post-game trips to the “O” for cheese-drowned, artery-clogging curly fries.

So, I stayed with Pitt as I came of age – even though that coincided with the shockingly rapid descent of program from elite, to good, to average, to outright putrid. I’m not old enough (43) to really remember the glory days, but as someone who achieved consciousness just afterward, the glory days were recent enough to think Pitt might someday reclaim those dizzying heights. 30 years of average performance – and that’s what’s it been really apart from the national embarrassment of the Hackett/Majors 2 period – has tempered my expectations.

While I still hope against hope for the magical season where everything falls into place, I am (largely) resigned to the idea that Pitt will never win another national championship and I’d say the chance of Pitt making the college football playoff in my lifetime, if I live another 43 years, is probably about 50/50.

This may sound defeatist, but consider that the last time a team from outside college football’s elite hoisted the National Championship trophy, was in 1991, nearly 30 years ago. And even that year, the upstart team was Washington (a pretty strong program historically) which split the title with the mighty Miami Hurricanes.

The previous year, Colorado and Georgia Tech, in arguably the most unlikely outcome ever, shared the crown. But the sport has changed since then for many reasons, some of them related to demography, but most of them related to money, and since the early 90s, it’s been nothing but a stream of the usual suspects. Could Pitt break the glass ceiling? Sure, it’s possible, but exceedingly unlikely.

I don’t say this merely because of the last three decades of on-field results, although historical record plays a part. I’m not considering the team’s performance (fewer than 10 wins virtually every year) in a vacuum; looking at it in the context of Pitt’s commitment to athletics, as well as how the competitive landscape and local, regional, and national demographics have evolved in the nearly four decades since I started walking up that hill to Pitt Stadium.

Continue reading “Pitt, Polio and Perspective”