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Steigerwald: Facing the Truth About Pitt Football

Pitt Stadium at the University of Pittsburgh in 1998. Photo by Robert Dorsey/edited by Michael G White

Steigerwald: Facing the Truth About Pitt Football

How about a tarp over The Pete?

Did you see the “crowd” for Pitt’s basketball game against Montana Monday night? It was about what you would expect for the Pitt Intramural Basketball Championship.

The basketball team has issues but it also has a long history of filling the building for its home games and a long history of being able to compete against the top programs in the country.

Build another winner and it will be a tough ticket again.

So, it will be a while before anybody seriously suggests a tarp to cover all the empty seats at Pitt basketball games.

Can’t say the same for the football team.

A tarp to cover the ridiculous number of empty seats at Heinz Field seems to be getting closer to reality with every embarrassing home game.

Boy, does Heather Lyke have a tough job. She’s the Athletic Director at Pitt.

A good argument can be made for the tarp. It’s been done in Pittsburgh by the Pirates and pro and college teams around the country are doing it now.

But it’s about so much more than a tarp.

It’s about more than sucking it up and facing the truth. It’s about, after spending only six months on campus, having the guts to tell everybody around her to suck it up and face the truth.

As I said — tough job.

The truth is that Pitt fans and alumni have been living in a dream world for 35 years and it has turned Pitt football into a nightmare.

All of her energy should be spent on finding a workable plan for a football stadium on campus, but that’s only the first step toward accepting the truth.

She needs to sell every one on the idea that having a good football team that can compete in the ACC is a good enough goal and that having a perennial great team that competes for a spot in the championship playoff and draws 65,000 fans to Heinz Field is a pipe dream.

Chasing an impossible dream is what turned Pitt football into a nightmare of mediocrity and empty seats.

Everybody needs to wake up to the truth about that eight or nine-year period in the 70s and 80s when Pitt was a top 5 team.

It was a fluke.

Let’s remember how it happened.

Pitt went out and recruited the hottest young coach in the country, Johnny Majors, who had turned the Iowa State program around.

Majors arrived in town to find out that a really good running back was playing about a half an hour away in Hopewell. Somehow, he convinced Tony Dorsett to come to Pitt.

Dorsett ended up gaining more yards than any back in the history of college football and his decision to stay home made it a lot easier for Majors to convince other top local high school players to stay home.

Pitt wins the Mythical National Championship and Dorsett wins the Heisman Trophy.

After spending several years as a national laughing stock and one of the worst major college football programs in history, Pitt had arrived as a national power.

Dorsett leaves and so does Majors.

A young assistant named Jackie Sherrill is elevated to head coach and it just so happens that the best high school quarterback in the country lives a few blocks from Pitt Stadium.

Because of Dorsett and Majors, Dan Marino going to Pitt is a no-brainer. He has a great college career and ends up becoming one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to pick up a football.

It was as if Dorsett and Marino had fallen out of the sky and landed on the Pitt campus. That’s not likely to happen again.

Marino played his last game for Pitt 35 years ago.

Pitt has been dreaming about creating that scenario again and it’s not going to happen. It’s time for Lyke to accept reality and convince Pitt and Pittsburgh football fans that having a competitive program that has a chance to go to a nice bowl game every once in a while is a good thing.

It’s not fair to Pat Narduzzi for Lyke or anyone else to expect him to make Pitt like Michigan State. It’s not going to happen.

Pitt should be happy being a little better than Boston College.

Football games should be played on campus in a 42,000-seat stadium. Maybe, every once in a while, it will catch lightning in a bottle, knock off some big teams and sneak into the Top 10.

Let’s dispel one of the biggest myths in sports — that Pittsburgh is a great football town. It’s not. It’s like every other town. Its people love and support a winner.

Don’t forget that the Steelers’ modern era began with Chuck Noll’s Steelers playing their home games at Pitt Stadium and going 1-13.

For the first 30 years of the Steelers’ existence, they couldn’t fill a 35,000-seat baseball park and Pitt played in a 56,000-seat, real football stadium a few blocks away.

Heather Lyke may have come here with big ideas and hopes of returning Pitt to the glory days of the late 70s and early 80s, but she’s going to be disappointed, unhappy and another name on the list of failed Pitt Athletic Directors if she doesn’t face reality in a hurry.

She needs to put Pitt football in perspective and the first step should be putting Pitt football back on campus.

You now what a tarp is?

A really big Band-aid.


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37 Comments on "Steigerwald: Facing the Truth About Pitt Football"

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NateInBaltimore
Guest

Couldn’t agree more. The North Shore is not PITT and never will be. Alumni and students should be able to attend games on campus. The atmosphere of a full, smaller stadium would be electric.

1618mt
Guest

Agree, Pitt should build an on campus stadium, everybody knows that but we need viable options. Even though you dug out some good and relevant historical data, your conclusions don’t support your data. Reeks of the dramatic as well, but I respect that it’s good for discussion.

Mike Vukovcan
Guest

Pitt can win a multiple ACC titles and top 25 finishes with Narduzzi.

Clark W Martineau
Guest

Totally agree! Support this coach.

Jack
Guest

He’d be long gone before that could happen.

Dave
Guest

Not with the current AD system and playing at Heinz Field.

Tom Pendergast
Guest

Nailed it. I was there for the Johnny/Jackie error, I can’t believe I never figured out the whole “fluke” thing on my own.

PittStadiumShuffle
Guest

Agree with many of your points, but setting attainable goals is exactly the problem at Pitt. A goal, but its nature, should be something you work to reach, perhaps falling short. If Miami can do it, Pitt can certainly do it.

8 in 80
Guest

Miami is a 30-year national brand that has won 4 or 5 national championships since Pitt last finished with fewer than 3 losses. They have annual national rivalries with Notre Dame, Florida, and Florida State. Miami also did a lot of it with well documented cheating, and they admit and recruit athletes that would never get into Pitt, and would seem unsavory to the Pitt culture. There is very little comparison between Miami and Pitt. That said, Miami doesn’t sell out it’s NFL stadium unless Notre Dame comes to town, so I guess there is that comparison.

PittStadiumShuffle
Guest

“At the outset of his tenure, Howard Schnellenberger announced to his staff and players his intention to win a national championship within five years, a bold claim for a program that was seemingly on its last legs.”

That’s how you set goals.

Bill R
Guest
I agree with the general sentiment, though some of the specifics are off. I wouldn’t call the Howland/Dixon era a “long history” of winning basketball. It wasn’t much longer than the Majors/Sherrill era, and Pitt basketball has stunk or been mediocre longer than it’s been very good. There’s been no indication basketball will be relevant in the ACC. And of course there were other periods of brilliance in football before Majors got there… along with long periods of being terrible. Also, there was no “pipe dream” about filling Heinz Field; the move there was cost-savings, plain and simple. I think… Read more »
8 in 80
Guest
Finally, somebody willing to tell it like it is. Pitt was good (really good, that is) for all of about 8 years (1975-1982) out of the last 80 years. I totally agree with your assessment that Pitt got lucky, and benefited from an enormous fluke, that Dorsett and Marino arrived in western PA (and at Pitt) at the perfect time. That perfect time was the time at which the Steelers were at their peak as the “team of the decade” of the 1970’s, and the city was awash with pride in it’s football. Pitt was the beneficiary of that enthusiasm… Read more »
Kevin
Guest
It goes to show how much just a few players can do for a program. Doug Flutie changed BC for decades, and he was ONE player. Almost every program has to get momentum and keep it going. I blame poor decisions in the hiring and firing of coaches for the reason Pitt football has been so terrible; and now basketball. Dave Wannstedt was turning the program around, and PSU was on a death spiral due to Sandusky. If Pitt kept Wanny they would have dominated PA recruiting for years to come and would have been top 10 for a decade!
Pitt fan from SE MI
Guest
I’m sure Steigerwald could write a several-part series about how the Pitt administration has held back Pitt football. It’s like they think Pitt can just plug anyone in there (Sherrill to Fazio, Gottfried to Hackett, Wannstedt to Haywood/Graham/Chryst) as the head football coach and win. The head football coach matters! While I’m a big Wannstedt fan, I tend to doubt Pitt would’ve been in the Top 10 annually – especially after joining the ACC in 2013. However, I could’ve seen Pitt as a 7-win minimum team and breaking through for a 10/11-win season every 4th or 5th year. Going back… Read more »
Clark W Martineau
Guest

But we beat both Clemson and Penn State last year.
What about Panther Hollow for a site?

david
Guest

early start times, also do not help. Hanging out with fellow alums is part of the draw of college football. Therefore, earlier games are not as much fun.

Pitt Fan
Guest

This just in: winning equals fan support no matter where the games are played. Way to crack the case Steigerwald.

Justin
Guest

So you’re basically willing to settle for mediocrity? Sorry Walt Harris, but there is too much talent in the PA and Ohio to set our sights so low. Expecting 50k fans a game is not unreasonable. Of course we should have an on campus stadium and that would help. Many smaller programs in lesser conferences do this regularly. The problem is most alumni no longer reside in the Pittsburgh area and making the weekly trek is not worth it for a poor product.

Hokie
Guest

Could games be played at PNC Park? Just a thought.

Pitt Fan from SE MI
Guest

And quite a good thought……PNC Park could host the Thursday night game that the ACC insists has to take place in Pittsburgh every year. At least we can count on PNC Park being available the first week of October (2013-15 is so far behind us).

joe jones
Guest

Pittsburgh fans are fickle,give the coach a chance.The comparison between the current program to the great Pitt teams of past is ridiculous, particularly since they are missing on so many great athletes.

Mike Vukovcan
Admin

You’re right Joe

Mark
Guest

Can someone explain to me why it’s not fair to expect Coach Narduzzi to “make Pitt like Michigan State”. Their recruiting class rankings are similar to Pitt’s and I doubt that they draw 60,000 fans to watch the Spartans play Indiana or Illinois.

Beano
Guest
Yes, most Pitt fans are stuck in the 70’s. But building an on campus stadium is part of that thinking. Pitt never drew well on campus even in their heyday. A waste of resources for a venue that will be used 6 times a year. That’s the kind of thinking that has held Pitt back for years The money could be used to retain and hire better coaches and recruiters. Since 2006 Georgia Tech has had a resume Pitt would love to have and is very achievable: 2006 Gator Bowl 2008 Chick-fil-A Bowl – ranked #22 2009 Orange Bowl –… Read more »
Jack
Guest

Another person trying to make sense!

jim
Guest
Stupid article, Pitt has one of the best attendance records for a team that shares a home with NFL team and/or is located within a city. A nice 40,000 seat stadium would be fine but that reeks of excess when there is a great faxility within a short drive from campus. Add to that the difference in student population compared to big land grant schools that gets exponemtially larger gap over 50 years and Pitt will always be a 40K attendance school with 65K for the biggest games. It is what it is. Also, Pitt can win it takes the… Read more »
jim
Guest

MSU and Wisconsin recruiting are almost adentical to Pitt recruiting in rankings but results on the field differ because of what? COACHING! If Pitt begins to roll a bit look out. They have the players but have lacked the top coaching to begin to win like Wisconsin or MSU or Iowa. Go research any recruiting site and Pitt gets the same level recruits MSU does with more success in the NFL from Pitt players.

Pittblows
Guest

Lol this is awesome stuff, I just checked and yes, Wisconsins coach was in fact the coach at Pitt. It is true.

jim
Guest

Yeah kinda funny, but Chryst inherited a hugely successful program and one of the easiest schedules in the country. Curious to see him in 3-4 yrs when the program is all his. He is not a dynamic recruiter but we shall see. Still a nice guy.

Mike Vukovcan
Guest

I believe Pitt will surpass MSU and Wisconsin. Just a matter of time. Duzz can coach ’em up better than anyone.

Pittblows
Guest

the internet police should shut this site down to prevent the stupis virus from spreading.

Mike Vukovcan
Guest

Pitt had the most underrated recruiting class in the country in ’16, ’17. This class here in ’18 is probably the most underrated class this decade.

The future is bright.

Pat
Guest

Interesting how we’re comparing Pitt to Wis? Who’s there coach, and who turned=around a horrible Pitt program 5yrs ago? Had we rallied around PC, and had administration loosened purse strings for him we wouldn’t be having this conversation. He left PN with solid players that he coached-up, and PN hasn’t shown that he can coach-up kids. PC has elevated Wis program, because he is a coach of substance, not form. He let’s his players speak with their actions, no rah, rah stuff. PN’s got form, we haven’t seen substance.

Mike G
Guest

Isn’t it also true that Sherrill gave out 70+ scholarships in ’73 (Dorsett’s year)? Ending the “Big-Four Agreement” with PSU, WVU & ‘Cuse to limit scholarships to 25 per year?

Tackle made by Hugh
Guest

You get what you pay for.
Pitt has been in the lower 1/3 budget
AL, TX, spend 150 mil
PSU spends 115 Mil
Pitt spends 60 mil

Dennis Wagner
Guest

However it is not unreasonable to expect matching the success of VT or Northwestern, or even GT. When you submit the idea that is beyond achievement I suggest we drop the program and go to rec football.
There is some value to the saying you have to spend money to make money. This is not to suggest to sell-out your school on academics as they do in the SEC it is understanding that football can be a big time money maker/proportionately.

Dave
Guest

Tough to compare Pitt’s programs without considering the costs of jumpstarting BBall at the expense of the football program. They tore down Pitt stadium and the Fieldhouse and built a $120 million basketball venue. I haven’t talked to anyone who thinks those were good decisions. I realize that I’m sorta stuck in the 70s, but I wish they could resolve the football stadium issue.

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