The Pitt Panther basketball team played what was to date, their biggest basketball game of the season on Saturday. On the road against rival Syracuse, the team entered the game winners of just 4 of their last 10 and in desperate need of another resume road win. With over 28,000 Syracuse fans in the Carrier Dome for this game, Pitt needed to bring some back-up. So they brought the big guns.
Making the 5 ½ drive to upstate New York for the game were the three biggest names the University has to offer, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, Athletic Director Scott Barnes and head football coach Pat Narduzzi. (Okay, they probably flew up on a charter plane, but you get the idea.)
It is rather common for the head football coach to show up for home basketball games, but going on the road is another thing. Narduzzi, who already led his Panther team to a victory in the dome this year, was right behind the bench, with Gallagher and Barnes, giving his support to the basketball program.
These guys get it!
How often do you see the Chancellor of a school taking selfies with the student section? Or the football coach tweeting pictures of the basketball team in a huddle during timeouts? At a time in which some Pitt fans want heads to roll because of the struggles the basketball team has had at times this season, these three men are right their showing their support for the team and their head coach Jamie Dixon.
Dixon has seen it all in his time at Pitt. He arrived in 1999, joining Ben Howland’s staff to take over a basketball program that hadn’t won an NCAA game in nearly a decade and only qualified for the tournament twice in that span. Since then the team has won 16 Tournament games (double the school total from before) and 2 conference tournaments. He has also worked with 2 Chancellors, 4 Athletic Directors including 2 terms from Steve Pederson and 9 head coaches in football. And all 3 of those positions have changed again in the last 18 months. Through the 17 years Dixon has been at Pitt, the one thing that has been steady is the basketball program.
So whether this was a pre-planned trip by Gallagher, Barnes and Narduzzi, or if this was their way of showing their support for a coach that has been one of the rocks of the athletic department since he arrived on campus, it was a great gesture of support. From the top on down one thing that all of these men know is that for the Pitt athletic department to succeed and grow, both the football AND the basketball programs have to be successful.
Just last month, new AD Scott Barnes hosted a Town Hall meeting for fans before a basketball game. During that meeting he talked about the development of the athletic department and how he wants to get it to the point that every sport has a realistic goal before each season of winning an ACC Championship. He has also showed the willingness to spend money to help reach those lofty expectations, something that hasn’t always been done by the athletic department. In his first 8 months on the job, he has already extended the contract of Narduzzi. He has also hired one of the most successful men’s soccer coaches in the country, in Jay Vidovich, to restore a program that hasn’t won a conference game in five years. Vidovich won 272 games in 21 seasons at Wake Forest, winning 5 ACC Championships and a National Title in the process.
Making those types of moves shows that Barnes is focused and determined to build winning teams at Pitt. Getting the money to make those moves shows that Gallagher is in support of spending money to help build a solid foundation for the athletic department. But none of that can happen without the top two revenue sports, basketball and football, winning games, putting people in the seats and making money. This season Pitt basketball, which was once one of the toughest tickets in town, has had a capacity crowd just once (Feb 6th vs #9 Virginia). In their 17 homes games, only 4 other games have drawn over 10,000 fans. This needs to change and Barnes and Gallagher both know that. So what better way to inject some excitement into the fan base, then making the trek to Syracuse in the middle of February with a coach that has breathed more fire into the fan base than anyone in years?
It worked too, Pitt got that much needed win against Syracuse. And then they celebrated it for everyone to see.
Big road win! Pitt 66, Syracuse 52. Artis leads the way with 21 pts, 11 rebs, 4 asts. pic.twitter.com/7ILY0RfhzD
— Pitt Basketball (@Pitt_MBB) February 20, 2016
The old saying, “It takes a village…” applies here. In this case, it takes a village to build an athletic department. And that is just what is happening at Pitt.