Yesterday was Athletic Director Heather Lyke’s introductory press conference (What? No pep band?). It was organized, direct and lacked a contentiousness that marked a press conference introducing another new athletic department employee a little less then a year ago.
People see what they want to see. I thought Lyke was fine in her unveiling. Not a revelation or makes me ready to endow a weight room or anything. Solid performance (PDF).
As everyone noted, football was at the forefront of topics at the press conference. Spring practices help, sure. But having Coach Pat Narduzzi on-hand and his involvement on the hiring committee didn’t hurt. It’s also the cash cow of any Power 5 program, and as Ron Cook notes it remains an ongoing priority to get people in the seats.
Lyke has plenty of work to do.
“It’s a vital issue,” Gallagher said. “All of our coaches will tell you, ‘When those stands are full, our teams play better.’ We’re going to try things. [Lyke] is a real innovator. We’ll keep working on it until we get it right.”
Lyke “revitalized” — Gallagher’s word — the Eastern Michigan football program as the athletic director there. But the Pitt job is a big step up. The ACC is one of the country’s strongest football leagues. Pitt also faces the challenges of being in a pro town and not having an on-campus stadium.
Aside from “keep winning,” there is no obvious answer. Lyke studiously avoided trying to give one, as well. Mainly because there is no other answer. The gameday experience as far as what Pitt tries to do is much better then it used to be. At the same time, the experience of going to any game (pro or college) has become more miserable. From the bag restrictions, to choked off tailgating space. To the rising costs for everything around the game. It’s an increasing concern at almost all college programs and NFL teams.
“When we wear the blue and gold, we’ll wear it with pride,” Lyke said. “We’ll expect to win, and we’ll prepare for success.”
Lyke was smart not to get sidetracked about questions about building an off-campus football stadium, instead talking about improving Pitt’s partnership with the Steelers, with whom it shares UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side and Heinz Field. The football program appears headed in the right direction. It needs someone to steer it toward success, not interfere.
“A lot of things have been addressed already in the last couple years. There are things we’d like to continue, but you really didn’t need to bring in a new AD to continue to do that,” Narduzzi said. “Hopefully, she has some ideas. That’s what you want, somebody who also comes in with that vision to say, ‘Hey, Pat, here’s a different way to do it. Let’s try this.’ I want someone who is going to add to the program, not someone who’s going to keep it status quo.”
Lyke doesn’t seem like the status-quo type, not after working for Bob Goin at Cincinnati and Andy Geiger and Gene Smith at Ohio State. She talked about coming from the world of compliance, where “the great skill set you learn is to get along with people and problem solve.” That’s a great trait.
That should be refreshing at Pitt, where athletic directors have been either aloof or authoritarian.
I can’t really speak to the manner of the past two ADs. Honestly, I’ve never really cared about meeting the AD. The assistants and associates — sure. But not the AD. Never been a big deal. The closest I came was during a one-day junket in NYC for Nike during that Pro Combat uniform thing. But I was so hungover from a night with Pitt alum in NYC that when Pederson asked me if I wanted to talk/interview him, I essentially blew him off because I didn’t want to talk to anyone.
Charlie Batch likes her.
Q: In your view then, what’s her legacy at Eastern, is it the coaching hire and helping to maybe get the football program back on track?
A: “I think that’s it. She made a really smart hire in a football coach, she got it turned around. The big question mark, and I think this is part of the legacy, too, was that just a one-year blip type of thing or is there actually a program here? Most schools can point to one or two seasons here and there that were good. Eastern hasn’t been able to do that, so when they have won, it’s celebrated. But to make a program, you’ve got to have multiple years of success. The other thing going on is she’s in the middle of this big $35 million upgrade to facilities. That might not sound like a lot to other schools, but here at Eastern, that’s a big deal, a lot of money. So the big question around here is what happens to that plan?”
Q: Lastly, was interacting with fans and trying to improve that a major emphasis for her at Eastern?
A: “Yeah, very concerned about the fan experience. They tried some stuff — bringing in local breweries, beer tents at the football games inside the stadium, and over here that was seen as a pretty big deal. She’s changed around some of the ways they do ticketing and worked on some of that stuff to really try to make it more fan-friendly. So she’s definitely very aware of the experience of going to a game — basketball, football, whatever.”
Honestly, we aren’t going to see too much of the stuff Lyke does for the first couple of years. Most of what she will be doing will be behind the scenes. Fundraising to some degree, but to be fair, there is already a strategic plan in place. Lyke, will be responsible for executing.
Final aside: If you are fantasizing over a change in basketball coaches, forget it. Basketball coach Kevin Stallings is safe for a couple years absent a scandal. It wouldn’t matter who the AD is.
You cannot point to a Power conference basketball program that has fired a coach after one year without some sort of scandal. It’s not the NBA or a professional sports league. Really, you will be hard pressed to find more than a couple college basketball coaches fired after just two years.
Please get that delusion out of your mind.