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Dejan Kovacevic's Blog

Pittsburgh sports talk with the Trib columnist

Wakeup Call: Pitt hits the reset button

Some sporting thoughts before sunrise …

>> My Friday column is off Pitt’s rather thorough hind-end-kicking of South Florida at Heinz Field, and I mean in all facets. Ray Graham was just relentless with the ball, left, right, up the middle, catching it … he’s starting to look like something special. The defense was far more aggressive and energetic.

But I focused on Tino Sunseri, as you’ll see. If he folds to all the criticism, not much of this takes place.

>> I don’t dwell that much on attendance, but is college football really that unpopular in Pittsburgh that only about 25,000 came out for the Big East Conference opener against a ranked team?

I’m not criticizing. In fact, I couldn’t care less how many people do or don’t show up to these games. I’m just wondering if we don’t all inflate the popularity of the sport in these parts.

>> If the Texans are healthy, you’d have to think they’re home favorites against the Steelers. I’m not sure that health is there, though. Arian Foster is a pretty big part of what they do, and we’re talking about a running back coming off a hamstring injury much more quickly than you usually hear about people coming off even minor hamstring injuries.

>> What I’ll be watching more than anything at Reliant Stadium is Andre Johnson vs. Ike Taylor. If this goes Ike’s way, he won’t be able to complain about not getting much “pub” anymore.

>> This received almost no attention, but the Pirates earlier this week fired two of Neal Huntington’s top lieutenants, special assistant Larry Corrigan and major-league scout Keith Champion. Just before that, longtime special assistant Pete Vuckovich took a job with the Mariners.

I’ve not heard particulars about these but, if I had to guess, I’d say either those three gentlemen didn’t see eye to eye with the GM, or all three at some point recommended a shortstop to Huntington.

If it was the latter, they had it coming.

>> Here’s our chat transcript from yesterday. Thanks to everyone who participated.


  1. SkillieMischief says:

    Graham was a beast last night and a lot of fun to watch. Saw some flashes of that last year and earlier this year but last night was his national coming out party. Tino played really well last night too. After a huge blown lead against Iowa and a tough loss to ND, this team looks like it’s starting to get going with this new system. Hope they continue to get better, high octane was a good watch last night!

  2. Fat Jimmy says:

    Wait, we don’t want to complain about Graham this morning???? What happened?

  3. Drew71 says:

    So what did these guys DO for Pittsburgh?

    Ok, I can kinda figure out Champion’s role, since his title, major league scout, is mostly his job description.

    But Corrigan and Vuckovich? Special Assistants, whatever that means.

    I did a google search on Larry Corrigan and found:
    – Pirates 2007 news release announcing his hiring but saying nothing about his Pirates role. It mentions that he has a reputation for player development and talent evaluation. In baseball (player) terms, that’s like saying an outfielder is known for catching and throwing. And it referred to his time with the Twins organization, not the Pirates. So what did he do for the Pirates?
    – A national rumor article that does nothing but list the names of the dearly departed and attribute it to Pirates’ budget trimming. That strikes me as guesswork by a national journalist who simply figures, it’s the Pirates. It must be about money. But It’s only the Pirates so I won’t check. And again, nothing about roles.
    – Someone ELSE named Larry Corrigan who has been charged with some very unsavory crimes. (No jokes intended or wanted. This is a different man, and there were victims to the crimes.)

    I wonder if they mostly focused on MLB level talent evaluation and acquisition. If so, the reasons for the moves can be obviously surmised.

    I wonder if they are related and if so, which ones and which ways? For instance, if two of them were involved with the same failed process.

    I wonder if they will be DIRECTLY replaced, with others handling the identical tasks, or INDIRECTLY replaced, meaning the budget dollars for their salaries will be directed towards acquiring other staff members doing different things. Or was it in fact budget trimming?

    Whatever the cause, I rarely celebrate someone losing a job. Often has additional ripples of negative impact, not only on family members but sometimes on staff. That last may not not be the case here.

    That said, it is also an indication that despite the recent extensions, PBC did NOT determine that EVERYTHING was fine with the direction of ship. (Gawd, I HATE cheap pirate / pirate ship analogies – sort of short hand for actually, you know, thinking and writing – and there I go using one.)

    So there I go…writing a yet another 2,000 word essay about three guys about whom I know little, especially their roles let alone their performance. And I don’t even know how I FEEL about it. I think it is my way of trying to draw light to something that PBC tried to do in the dark.

    Not to say it was wrong. Just to say it deserves a little more light.

  4. Officer Mancuso says:

    Great post, Drew.

  5. Hooco01 says:

    Pitt playing at the Mustard Dump that is Heinz Field is a disgrace. Pitt’s performance was outstanding, but there will be louder crowds at high school games tonight. The atmosphere at Pitt games is just pathetic.

  6. Leefoo says:

    Penn State draws more for their Blue-White game than Pitt does for a regular season game.


  7. 1buccofan says:

    Dejan You can say I’m crazy but I still believe when the comment came out that the PBC was willing to trade minor league pitching perphaps mid or upper mid level. This tells me that Huntington’s fascination with JJ Hardy is still very much on his mind with the problems at Short, the desire to rid themselves of one Ronny Cedeno, the fact Baltimore doesn’t employ no trade clauses in their player contracts, and the GMs belief that maybe the third time is a charm, plus it would solve a problem on offense as well. Add the fact Baltimore is desperate for pitching. BUT PROBABLY THE MOST INTERESTING DEVELOPMENT THIS OFF SEASON WILL BE “HOW MUCH OF AN INFLUENCE HURDLE HAS WITH THE FRONT OFFICE.

    DK: The Pirates would be even better if they got rid of that non-clutch, space-wasting center fielder, right?

  8. pipecock says:

    i can only speak for myself, but for me college football is close to meaningless. i am much more entertained by college hoops as well as pro hockey, baseball, and football. really, at this point i watch more soccer, golf, tennis, and even pro hoops than i do college football. i can’t say how much Pitt’s track record for being pretty horrible at football has to do with it, but even the “marquee” national matchups do nothing for me.

    every time i think about giving Pitt FB a chance, they blow it like the Iowa game a few weeks ago, the Notre Dame game that kicks off Wanny’s stint here (which was actually the only Pitt FB game i’ve ever attended, the buttwhooping was so complete and serious that i left at half time. i NEVER leave sporting events before the end!), etc. the only game i can remember being entertained by was when we beat WVU on their field when they needed to win at the last game of the season a few years back.

  9. Milo Hamilton says:


    Just won’t let this one go, will you. Let me ask you one more time. With such a paucity of shortstops – why would Baltimore trade a guy with 30 homeruns, only 6 errors, and just signed a 3 year extension ?

    And also Bucco fans, Terry Francona is going to be fired this morning. Now that’s accountability. (I also think in this case it’s a stupid, knee jerk reaction).

  10. sidelinespensfan says:

    DK, to your question about the popularity of college FB in this area….

    I own a neighborhood sports bar. We get packed for Steeler and Penguin games. This summer I even started to see people make special trips out to watch Pirate games (I have owned the place for 8 years and that has NEVER happened before). But the response to college FB is almost zero. From talking to people I don’t think it has that much to do with Pitt’s past, I think it has more to do with the lack of a playoff system. Every year it seems that there are only about 10 teams that have the chance to be the “National Champion” (according to voters….ha) and that kills the interest for many people. Put Pitt in the discussion for “National Champion” and you might see an uptick in popularity, but that seems so far off.

    DK: In fairness, it’s a different dynamic. Not everyone in Pittsburgh went to Pitt, to say the least. There are other internal allegiances.

  11. JMB says:

    The fifteen game improvement was nice, but really we are just back to where many of us expected to be last year.

  12. Fat Jimmy says:

    As much as we would love to believe that Pittsburghers are some type of intensely loyal, die-hard sports fans, we’re just like any other part of the country: we like winners.

    When Pitt becomes a powerhouse again (and I think they’ll do it with Todd Graham and as part of the ACC), fans will pack Heinz Field. But they shrug their shoulders as long as Pitt is a third-tier team, as they’ve been for some time.

  13. Vinqtin says:

    Regarding the college football interest in Pittsburgh, I think that most Pittsburghers have such an investment in the local pro teams that most don’t have room (or cash) in their lives to be die hard Pitt fans. Sure, there are some but not to the degree that you’d find in say, Columbus or Ann Arbor (no pro competition). In fact, I would venture to say that college teams that have to compete in their own town with an NFL team probably come up short in most cases. That said, I do believe that if Pitt were to become a national football power, Heinz Field would sell out for most games.

  14. Milo Hamilton says:

    Name the major college football team, that shares its city with a pro team, and sells out all of its games. The University of Washington may be the answer, and if they are, they’re the only one.

  15. LuckyNKentucky says:

    Vinqtin and Milo’s posts have a lot of merit. The Columbus Blue Jackets and that soccer team would be forgotten minutes after they left town, but OSU will always be top dog. Here in KY, Louisville has tried repeatedly to put pro basketball in there, but U of L keeps them out. Baseball would do well there, but it’s too close to Cincy. Seems like it’s one or the other. Pitt has some good draws coming to town with ACC football. That and a solid program will fill Heinz Field.

  16. Fat Jimmy says:

    Milo, that’s a bit of a strawman argument, because there are very few major college programs built in “city” environments. Specifically, you’re talking about Boston College, Georgia Tech, The U, TCU, Cincinnati, Northwestern, South Florida, Minnesota, and Washington.

    TCU and Cincinnati both sold out last year. Georgia Tech, Boston College, Miami and Washington all had very high levels of capacity.

    People like programs that tend to win. TCU and Cincinnati have both enjoyed recent strings of success. I’m sure that Washington and Miami and BC were sold out in their heydays.

  17. Milo Hamilton says:


    It’s not a strawman argument, it’s a dollars & cents argument.

    Of all the teams you mentioned only Washington(66,264) & Miami, by 400 people, (52,575) outdrew Pitt (52,165) last year. The others don’t even merit discussion.

    Geo Tech (46,449), TCU (42,466), BC (38,369), & Cinci (35,067). High levels of capacity maybe – also not playing in big NFL stadiums.

    The NFL is king. College football fights an obvious uphill battle in NFL cities.

  18. BenderHeel says:

    Vinqtin is right in that most football fans concentrate on the Stillers.

    The fact that Heinz Field is nowhere near campus hurts as well. Kids can’t just walk over to the field from home/fraternities/parties/bars on/near campus. Without the student population support, it kills the attendance numbers.

    And Pitt’s built the student/fan apathy with their inconsistent and, well, seemingly apathetic and rather pedestrianly mediocre recent history.

  19. “that’s another brawl for another day.”

    Good article, Dejan, on Pitt and Tino. Very well written, and nice perspective taken.
    It was good to see Todd Graham play to win in the 4th, and not just play to “impress us with his system.”

    I loved your turn of phrase listed above in this opening.
    You are pretty good at this, DK!
    Maybe you can get a promotion to cover the Pirates full-time, since the AVERAGE attendance at 81 Pirate games this year——in a 90 loss season——was higher than last night’s “apparent” attendance at Heinz Field.

    DK: Thanks, Groat!

  20. Woomer says:

    I think of college football as being similar to AAA baseball from a relative-quality perspective. The media does make a much bigger deal of the (mythical) college football national champion than they do of the AAA World Series (or whatever it’s called) winner. The fact that I don’t even know what the AAA championship series is called attests to that.

    Anyway, if the relative quality between AAA baseball and MLB is similar to the relative quality between college and NFL football; then one should be able to extrapolate that to attendance.

    I haven’t run the numbers (and honestly don’t care enough to take the time to do it), but if you compared the attendance ratio AAA ball/MLB to 1A college football/NFL, my guess is that the football ratio would be at least a little bigger.

    So I guess this is just a long-winded way to say that 25,000 for the Pitt game last night sounds like about what one would expect to see.

  21. Arriba Wilver says:

    If Pitt does become a powerhouse team battling for the national championship, I don’t think bandwagon jumpers should be allowed in, only the diehards that have stuck with the team through thick and thin . . .

    Oh . . . wait, I thought I was on Smizik’s blog and we were talking about the Pirates.

    Sorry, my mistake . . .

  22. radio wave says:

    The University of Houston, and Rice are D1 programs in a pro city. Obviously Rice is weak, but 30 years ago, when UH was good,they filled the Astrodome. Now they play on campus, I believe they are planning a new stadium. No, they will never overtake pro footballl there, but I believe they get more respect in their market than Pitt does here.

  23. cmat0829 says:

    I love the fascination some folks have with off-field staff changes other than GM or manager… such as the desire by some to “shine a light” on recent shuffling of some front office “special assistant” by the Pirates and the word now that the training staff has been let go as well. Obviously, when someone is fired it is because their performance of their role is not up to management expectations and/or a “difference of philosophy” leads one to defy management guidance and termination is only option (or resignation I suppose). Do we really care to “look for deeper meaning” in any of this shuffling? We can spend a long cold winter looking for conspiracy theories (some will cling to this as “cost-cutting” somehow…others will claim it is some sort of “face-saving” to fire someone but not the key personnel)… but who really cares one way or the other?

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