When the University of Pittsburgh hired Scott Barnes to replace long time Athletic Director Steve Pederson last April, Barnes was given the difficult task of providing Panther fans with a sense of stability that far too often seemed to be lacking under his predecessor.
Barnes career resume most certainly was enough to give Pitt alumni, fans and students reason for hope. During his seven-year tenure at Utah State, he oversaw an athletic department that was considered one of the best in the country not only for it’s success on the playing field, but it’s growth financially over that span.
The Aggies football program would average 10 wins over the final three years of Barnes tenure and in 2014, his work would earn him the prestigious Under Armor Athletic Director of the Year award.
Now at Pitt, Barnes will look to replicate the success he had at Utah State and help the Panthers become a perennial power in the ACC and beyond.
Gar Bercury from Pittsburgh Sports Now got a chance to sit and chat with Barnes about a number of topics including the renewal of the Penn State football rivalry, bringing back the Backyard Brawl, and what the future holds for a football program reinvigorated by the leadership of head coach Pat Narduzzi.
We hope you enjoy.
Pittsburgh Sports Now–One of the biggest points of discussion among many Pitt fans invariably goes back to the football program playing their games at Heinz Field instead of it’s own on-campus stadium. It may not be the perfect scenario for some, but what have you done to make the experience better for fans and do you see Heinz Field as a place that can make for an enjoyable college gameday atmosphere?
Scott Barnes–Heinz Field has already been rated one of the best football facilities in the country, it’s obviously an NFL caliber stadium with amenities that are off the charts. What makes it special is the relationship with the Steelers–the edge you get affiliating your program with that brand, believe me, when it comes to recruiting that pays dividends every day.
A lot of the renovations that have been done…A two-million dollar scoreboard in the south end zone for example are things that benefit the program greatly. A lot of people bemoan the fact that an off campus stadium negatively impacts student attendance, yet our student attendance is at an all-time high. We sold out every student season ticket last year and the goal is to do that again this year.
The other thing i’d say is our goal, as aspirational as it might be, is to set an all-time season ticket record this season…I think that speaks to how well things are working out for us.
PSN–Another hot button topic is the revivial of the Pitt-Penn State rivalry that will resume this September at Heinz Field. How exciting has it been to see the fans reaction to that game and for you to experience that rivalry for yourself?
SB–Well I’ve yet to actually experience the gameday but yes, you hear the banter going on back and forth between the fanbases and just the demand for this game, it’s been amazing. I’d love to see this game played in perpetuity because it’s just great for college football, it’s great for Pennsylvania football and obviously our fans are excited about it. The game will undoubtably be a sellout and it’s one that people have waiting a long, long time for the teams to play.
PSN–Many Pitt fans though elated that the Pitt-Penn State rivalry will resume, are at the same time frustrated that it will end after four games in 2019. Has there been any positive news regarding adding games in the future?
SB–We’re obviously keeping lines of communication open with Penn State. We do have an agreement to make sure we continue talking before we move forward with non-conference scheduling in those open years in the mid 2020’s and will continue to check in with them.
In the meantime, we weren’t bashful about moving forward with the Backyard Brawl-we put that together as a secondary rivarly series and that will take place a year or two after the PSU rivarly finishes. We will still continue to work towards resuming that Penn State series to be sure.
PSN–For all the disappointment of the PSU series ending, Pitt fans do have the revival of the “Backyard Brawl” to look forward to. There was a long gap with no games against Penn State and that only made the WVU rivarly stronger. What was the reaction of fans when you announced that the Backyard Brawl would be back?
SB–One of the major topics that came up in my first couple months on the job was the Backyard Brawl. That was the question I probably heard the most actually. That really makes it all the more exciting to get that done.
You know, college athletics and football in particular has lost some of it’s zeal. We were built on long time rivalries and those started to dissapate with conference realignment. To be able to start to renew those (rivalries) is a breath of fresh air and injects a passion and enthusiasm into our operation that otherwise might not have been there without that.
PSN–Sticking to the topic of scheduling, there’s been a lot of critics of Pitt basketball’s out of conference schedule and the need play tougher opponents like let’s say, WVU in the near future. What’s your take on that?
SB–Jamie and I continue to talk about that and absolutely are on the same page. We’re not unlike most of, if not all of the Power Five conference members-the non-conference schedule will have a lot of home games and typically that’s going to be an easier road to hoe.
That being said, we don’t need to break with our non-conference model as much as we simply need to tweak it. That tweak includes bringing back some notable rivals potentially or other Power-Five contests that will have marquee value.
The challenge is not so much the desire to want to do that as much as it is getting those teams to come and play. As you know the record that Jamie has at the Pete is pretty doggone good. We’re continuing to work on that but it again, it won’t be a major overhaul as much simply tweaking it by adding a game or two.
PSN–Speaking of Coach Dixon, his team is in position to make a run at another appearance in the NCAA tournament. How are you enjoying this watching this team as they prepare for the stretch run?
SB–It’s fun to sit back and watch this team as a fan. They’ve got four games remaining in the ACC and work is far from done. We need a little more and the stated goal of the team is to try and win out–We believe in them and look forward to some more wins while looking forward to postseason opportunities.
PSN–Football season will be here before we know it and the enthusiasm around the program is palpable. Much of that is reflection of head coach Pat Narduzzi. What’s he meant to the program?
SB–I remember the first time I watched him coach…I swear thought he was going to pull a hamstring out there, he was all over the place. He was in the middle of every play, from drill to drill…I mean he’s not a spring chicken anymore. I told our trainers to keep an eye on him because we need him out there.
He’s got a lot energy and he’s a guy that players want to play for–there’s a belief, a trust, a sincerity there that others believe in. He wants to win championships here and we are going to do what we can to put a plan a place to help him to do that.
I think he’s been an incredible voice for Pitt football to generate the enthusiasm he has, it comes across to our stakeholders, our fans, our student athletes and our prospective student athletes. The players and recruits all feel it and want to be a part of it.
We obviously have great confidence in Coach Narduzzi and his staff. Obviously they are doing wonderful work recruiting, success begets success in that regard. The class of 2017 is already talking and excited and I only see that getting better.
One of the things that gets lost is for all the great work the staff does in recruiting, they might be even better at developing players and getting them to maximize their potential as students, as people and as players. It’s gratifying to see them come and grow here as leaders and players and we couldn’t have a better staff to do that.