Syracuse and Pittsburgh, two programs in their ACC infancy, now have different athletics directors leading them into their respective futures than the men who delivered them to their new league home. This morning, we looked at why Mark Coyle is a good fit at Syracuse. This afternoon, Scott Barnes shares his perspective on Pittsburgh.
Scott Barnes knows a thing or two about taking on big challenges, having sized up Karl Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon during his days on the hardwood at Fresno State, so we know he can play sports.
"I like to say I hosted Karl Malone's coming out party in the NCAA tournament," cracked the 6-foot-8 Barnes, who "held" the Mailman to 24 points in a 66-56 in 1984, whose wife was a track star at Fresno State, and whose daughter and son play hoops at the collegiate and high school level, respectively.
We also know, from a 25-plus-year career in athletic administration, that Barnes can manage sports, too.
Pitt hired Barnes as its athletic director April 24 from Utah State. Like its former Big East brethren Syracuse did last month, Pitt used the DHR International search firm, eventually entrusting its athletic department to a former Group of 5 athletic director. And like the Orange, the Panthers sought some stability during an uneven time -- even if theirs was a product of change, not of NCAA misbehavior.
The football coaching position had become a revolving door of sorts in recent years at Pitt, with four different head coaches getting hired since Dave Wannstedt was fired following the 2010 season. And while former AD Steve Pederson did plenty of good before getting ousted in December, the misfires in picking what was essentially the most prominent face of Pitt athletics ultimately led to his undoing.
The Panthers now enter Year 3 of the ACC era with Pat Narduzzi as their head football coach. And with Barnes as their AD, after a seven-year reign at Utah State that saw him hire successful football coaches in Gary Andersen and Matt Wells, oversee unprecedented fundraising success and expand the Aggies' facilities.
"Certainly a natural step for me is a Power-5 conference, but more selectively Pitt, and what it has to offer and the match between what I bring and what Pitt brings is key," Barnes told ESPN.com this spring. "What I've learned, I think when you're at place like Eastern Washington and Utah State, along with places like the University of Washington and Iowa State, you learn how to be a little more creative with the funds you have; you're forced to be in a more strategic planning mode, and I think what I bring is an ability to cast a vision and then put a plan in place that strategically and methodically executes that vision. And so for instance, at Utah State, our resources were similar to Pitt's in that we were in that sort of bottom-third of the conference, and yet that hasn't held us back in our ability to compete and challenge for championships and graduate our student-athletes at the highest level of the conference, and that's what our expectations are at Pitt."
As the outgoing chairman, Barnes just finished up his five-year term on the NCAA men's basketball committee, so he is no stranger to making tough decisions. His time on the committee prompted his intrigue in the Pitt job, with Michigan State AD Mark Hollis recommending Barnes look into it. That can only be a good sign considering Barnes will now be working with Narduzzi, who spent the last eight seasons as defensive coordinator for Hollis' Spartans football team.
Though he officially took over at Pitt on June 15, Barnes wasted little time in the nearly two months between jobs, saying he has already met with donors and called Penn State AD Sandy Barbour and West Virginia AD Shane Lyons to talk about further restoring Pitt football's biggest rivalries.
Moreover, last week he announced the launch of the "Panthers Fans Experience Committee," an important initiative for a program whose stadium (Heinz Field) is off-campus and has regularly been just half-full in recent years.
His tenure is in its honeymoon period, but Barnes is aware that judgment will ultimately stem from what has been consistently inconsistent for Pitt this decade, telling reporters in Pittsburgh last week: “A rising tide lifts all boats and that rising tide is football. If we can get football right, then all of our programs succeed.”