Campbell: Pitt AD Heather Lyke Shows Unwavering Determination for Success with Recent Head Coach Firings
Pitt Athletic Director Heather Lyke has overseen and led a number of changes of head coaches across her tenure that started in 2017.
Lyke made numerous changes, including seven new head coaching hires within her first two years on the job.
Some of these new hires have made great strides to improve their programs. Women’s soccer head coach Randy Waldrum led the team to their first NCAA Tournament Appearance and to the Sweet 16 in 2022 in his fifth year as head coach. Wrestling head coach Keith Gavin has steadily improved the program and helped redshirt senior Nino Bonaccorsi finish this past season with a National Title and a perfect record at 197 pounds, the first Pitt National Champion since Gavin himself in 2008 at 174 pounds.
Other hires have not gone according to plan. Lance White, former women’s basketball head coach, led the Panthers to the second worst record of any program in the Power 6 (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC) during his five-year tenure . He accrued an overall record of 42-99 (.298) and an ACC record of 11-74 (.129), making it the worst five year stretch for any head coach in the 49 seasons in program history since it started in 1974-75.
His failed attempt to turn the program around led to Lyke dismissing him on March 5, making White the first coach that Lyke hired and also fired. The search for a new head coach is currently underway.
Lyke also fired Gymnastics head coach Samantha Snider on Monday, making Snider her second coach that she hired and later fired.
Snider took over the gymnastics program in 2017 following Debbie Yohman retiring after 31 seasons as head coach from 1986-2017.
Her tenure showed little growth for Pitt during that time. She accrued an overall record of 51-82-1 and 17-27-1 in the East Atlantic Gymnastics League (EAGL). Pitt also never finished higher than fourth at the EAGL Championship and finished in eighth place, dead last, her last two seasons.
Pitt made it as a team to the NCAA Regionals only once, in Snider’s first season in 2018, which saw them finish fifth out of sixth teams.
The turning point came last weekend as Pitt hosted the NCAA Regionals for the First Time, at the Petersen Events Center from Thursday, March 30 to Sunday, April 2. With Pitt not performing as a team at their own Regionals, Lyke saw it fit that she needed to make a change going forward.
“Watching the NCAA Gymnastics Regional Championships at the Petersen Events Center this past weekend only reinforced my belief that our program can be a major contender in the ACC and nationally,” Lyke said in a statement following the dismissal of Snider.
Lyke also mentioned Victory Heights in that statement as a reason for moving on from Snider. Victory Heights is a plan to improve athletic facilities for 16 of the 19 Pitt programs, excluding football and both basketball programs.
One part of Victory Heights is the construction of the Arena and Sports Performance Center, that broke ground in early 2023. The center will sit on the old Petersen Events Center lawn on upper campus.
While the Sports Performance Center will benefit the 16 programs, the Arena will seat 3,000 capacity for the volleyball, wrestling and gymnastics programs, replacing Fitzgerald Field House, which is over 70 years old.
Lyke realized that despite making Snider her first hire as Pitt Athletic Director, the stagnation, or rather, decrease in quality of the gymnastics program meant that she had to make a change.
Along with the firing of White, Lyke is setting a strong precedent as Pitt’s Athletic Director. Programs that aren’t successful nor improving will see drastic changes until they do, irregardless if they are mainstays like football or men’s basketball or Olympic sports.
She also dismissed head swimming and diving coach John Hargis after six seasons in charge in March 2022. Hargis had some success with individual swimmers, but like Snider, failed to improve the program. Neither the men’s nor the women’s swimming and diving teams finished higher than eighth place at the ACC Championships during his tenure.
Many programs have made great strides during her reign, with volleyball making back-to-back Final Fours and men’s soccer earning two trips in the last three seasons to the College Cup. Football finished the past two seasons in the AP Top 25 for the first time in over forty years, plus won an ACC Title in 2021 under head coach Pat Narduzzi and men’s basketball bounced back under head coach Jeff Capel for their first NCAA Tournament appearance in seven years in 2023.
Lyke demands greatness, or at least improvement, from the programs that represent the university. This is why, despite the success of some programs, she won’t accept the failures of others.
Pitt will continue to grow and improve in all athletic programs with Lyke in charge. These recent firings prove her willingness to admit when she was wrong or when things didn’t work out the way she intended.
Pitt fans should be pleased with how things are currently going under Lyke, even if it might take some time to turn certain programs around.
It’s certainly much better than when Steve Pederson served two terms as Athletic Director and Scott Barnes’ short tenure, which saw the hiring of the disastrous reign of men’s basketball head coach Kevin Stallings.
Lyke has done a phenomenal job. She also seems to have deep respect from the players. Pitt is fortunate to have her.