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Making Pitt "It"

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The Steve Pederson era at Pitt is over. After the University of Pittsburgh’s athletic director position sat vacant for more than three months, Pitt plucked Scott Barnes from Utah State to replace Pederson.

Barnes takes over a solid department that for decades has never been able to rise above mediocrity. What needs to be done to get Pitt Athletics to that coveted “next level?”

The short and long answer is the same: money. Spending money on coaches, facilities, fans and programs is easy to identify as a solution. It’s much harder to make happen in the real world, of course.

Keeping that in mind, I’m asking for your willing suspension of disbelief as I set about to solve Pitt’s problems. Don’t ask the hard questions and suspend your judgement as I present my list – because most of these solutions require money that I’m tasking others with the job of providing.

1. Give Jamie Dixon 400k annually to hire a killer assistant coach. There are plenty of reasons Dixon’s program seems to have plateaued: the transition from the Big East to the ACC, too many frontcourt recruiting misses, lack of a deadeye shooter, etc. All are legitimate reasons. But Dixon needs a top assistant, a guy who can not only land the talented players that they’ve lacked, but someone who can help the rest of the staff coach the kids up while they are in Oakland. For a long time, Dixon had a parade of top-notch assistants at his disposal: Barry Rohrssen, Joe Lombardi, Mike Rice, Pat Skerry, Tom Herrion. All were extremely effective assistant coaches for the Panthers who moved on to bigger and better things. Eventually all the turnover caught up with Dixon, and the Panthers have lacked that right hand man for the past several years. Let Jamie pay someone a big chunk of change to be that guy.

2. Recognize that high-level college athletes are just that: athletes. Create courses that will actually educate these top-level athletes—who are indeed athletes first—as opposed to continuing the charade that every student at the university is there for the same reason.

Carnegie Mellon is one of the top universities in the United States. CMU’s School of Drama is one of the most respected acting and musical theatre programs in the country. The drama students at CMU can go to school to learn to be actors, just as Julliard students can go to school to learn to be musicians. So why not let athletes go to school to learn to be athletes?

Take it seriously, of course – don’t just let kids skip classes and cheat on exams. This isn’t the University of North Carolina for goodness sake. Create classes that deal with life after college, budgeting, financial planning, careers in athletics, etc. It can be done if it’s done properly, and it would keep more kids in school for longer, and make their degrees worth more once earned.

3. Schedule a home and home series with West Virginia in basketball for the next 30 years and be done with it, and get Penn State on the football schedule for a home and home on at least a semi-regular basis – two on, two off, two on, etc. The realities of the shift to power conferences in football make it tougher but not impossible. There are no such excuses in basketball.

4. Two words: fund wrestling. Pennsylvania continues to be one of the top wrestling states in the country. There is no reason the Pitt wrestling program should have to fight, scrap, beg, borrow and steal to be competitive. Jason Peters deserves a ton of credit for what he’s doing with the program – help the guy out a little bit, huh?

5. Pay Suzie McConnell-Serio enough to never leave. Pitt has a legend in the building every second that McConnell-Serio in inside the Petersen Events Center. She is one of the greatest players in the history of her sport and is on her way to becoming one of the top coaches in the nation. She’ll win national championships. Keep Suzie happy and keep her in the blue and gold for as long as possible.

And speaking of the blue and gold… here’s an easy one: Go back to the seventies and eighties unis and color scheme. Allow your fans to smile once in a while.

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