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Sunday column: How Hurdle hopes to fortify players’ trust

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media

LAKELAND, Fla. — Here’s the Sunday column about Clint Hurdle and his highly candid, I’m betting you’ll agree, observations about how he hopes to keep his players’ trust after Epic Collapses I and II.

Also on the baseball front, our Rob Biertempfel takes a close look at the art of pitch-framing. Below is an accompanying video …

And here’s my news coverage of the apparent conflict regarding Russell Martin’s status.

Author: Dejan Kovacevic

Dejan Kovacevic, a lifelong Pittsburgher, is an award-winning sports columnist for Trib Total Media covering the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, Pitt and, recently, his fourth Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He also appears on WPXI-TV's 'Subway Final Word’ and hosts a weekly show on TribLIVE Radio. For 2011, he was named one of the country's top four columnists by the AP Sports Editors. For 2012, he was named one of the country's top three columnists by the National Headliners. For 2013, he was named the state's top columnist by the Keystone Press Awards and top columnist in Western Pennsylvania by the Golden Quills.


  1. Eric Bowser says:

    My Sunday column (lol)

    Title: This isn’t Nashville, Time to change tune in Pittsburgh

    The Nashville Predators first played in the National Hockey League (NHL) on October 10, 1998 and behind the bench that night was head coach Barry Trotz. Since that opening game, Trotz has been the only man fans in Nashville have called coach. That’s something cute and interesting in this day of being hired to be fired but the expectations in Nashville are not exactly on the same level as those for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    In Pittsburgh, great expectations hang over the heads of everyone in the organization from owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux, franchise centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to rookie winger Beau Bennett.

    Since winning the Stanley Cup during the 2008-2009 season after losing in the finals the year before, many expected the core of Crosby, Malkin, Jordan Staal, Brooks Orpik, Kristopher Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury to win another Cup or two before the roster would have to be changed due to the salary cap.

    The man behind the bench during the lifting of that Stanley Cup was rookie head coach Dan Bylsma.

    Bylsma orchestrated key adjustments with the Penguins style of play by deploying an aggressive 2-man forechecking system, a more aggressive penalty-killing unit that prided itself on getting the puck out of the zone within a few seconds of entry into the offensive zone, going to basics on the power play by getting forwards like Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin in front of the net and slight change to the way the Penguins went back to play the puck in the defensive zone in order to move the puck out of the zone.

    Many were quick then as they are now to discount the importance of Michel Therrien’s defensive system and demand for being hard to play against. Therrien’s coaching had that team trained and ready to battle and win the Stanley Cup. Few recognize that the day the Penguins and General Manager Ray Shero fired Therrien on February 15, 2009, the team reassigned assistant coach Andre Savard and added Tom Fitzgerald to the coaching staff.

    Little is said that the team Bylsma took over didn’t have key veteran leaders such as Kunitz (acquired 2/27), Guerin (acquired 3/4/09) or Craig Adams (3/4/09).

    After Therrien was fired, Shero said, “It wasn’t so much the outcome as the way the game was played. It’s not always so much the score. It’s just the direction we were going.”

    That direction was a team who couldn’t maintain leads, gave up too many goals, and had the appearance the players were tuning out the head coach as they were getting lax in their approach to the little things demanded just a year earlier en route to a Stanley Cup finals loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

    Fast forward to 2013 and you’ve got a team who has had three consecutive playoff disappointments, the last two in the first round to Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. The Penguins have been a team this season that has been easier to play against, blown 2-goal leads like it was some candy giveaway on Halloween, given up more goals than should be expected (17th – 2.76 goals per game), and just like Therrien’s final season, a group that appears to be tuning out the coach.

    All of which made tonight’s decision to start backup goalie Tomas Vokoun over Fleury a questionable decision, which he explained after the morning skate as “This is a game Tomas has been scheduled to play for a couple of weeks.”

    Adjustments anyone?

    Think Fleury was taken aback by the decision and possibly disappointed? He said as much after the morning skate, “I’m not going to lie. Yeah, a little bit. Friends and family are going to be here. Montreal’s a good challenge. They’re first in the East.” And did he understand the surprise decision, “A little bit, but it’s fine.”

    That’s about as mad as you’ll ever hear Fleury on the record.

    Meanwhile, the Penguins had lost two straight games coming into tonight largely due to the skaters in front of Vokoun and Fleury but when you need a goalie to stop the losing, be that stopper, isn’t that the job of your number one franchise goaltender?

    Like Shero said over four years ago, the direction of the team is important and after blowing another two goal lead in the second period and giving up 6 goals in their wild 7-6 OT win in Montreal, it might be time to change the tune.

  2. Eric Bowser says:

    Dejan – After reading that column, I’d like to ask Hurdle why it took until the offseason and this Spring to make a change regarding the running game. I haven’t heard a good reason for it yet.

  3. Thundercrack says:

    I am a fan of Hurdle. Very nice column and insight DK.

    I also find the whole dynamic and “rules” of the clubhouse pretty interesting. I didn’t realize that it was almost off-limits to the manager.

    DK: Glad you liked it, TC.

  4. TJ says:

    I think its time for a name change. Don’t want to hear about leaky defense. Tomas GOALkun was way out of his net and gave up some juicy rebounds tonight.

    What has he given up…. 17 goals in 3 games?

  5. TJ says:

    You fail to mention that while Therrien didn’t have Kunitz, Guerin or Adams he did have the likes of Hossa, and Roberts. Theres some holes in that theory.

  6. TJ says:

    DK… glad to see your tweet on Kennedy. Has there ever been a player that has looked more lost due to a line mate being traded? I’d be calling Carolina to see if they want to reunite Kennedy with Staal.

    Glass and Kennedy have done little to deserve the ice time they are getting. Shows a lack of depth on offense in the system.

  7. Eric Bowser says:

    Vokoun has faced 93 shots over the last 3 games (played 2.5) and given up 16 goals.

    That’s 1 goal every 5.8 shots and .827 save %

  8. TJ says:

    you mean GOALkun

  9. Eric Bowser says:

    TJ – Hossa was in Detroit and Roberts in Tampa Bay during 08-09 season.

  10. Eric Bowser says:

    Agreed, Pens are getting next to nothing from either winger. That’s gotta change since there’s no one in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton,

  11. TJ says:

    Yes they were… but Therrien had them going to the finals the year before. You mention that Kunitz, Guerin and Adams were acquired after Therrien was fired. All I’m saying is that Therrien had talent and veteran leaders during his time on the bench with the Pens.

  12. Arriba Wilver says:

    I enjoyed it, too. On the clubhouse thing, when Leyland was here you’d here stories about him jumping around through the clubhouse in just his jock. How does that fit in? (Not suggesting Clint do that.)

  13. Eric Bowser says:

    The point is that when talking about Bylsma’s job winning the cup, people want to point out that he did it with the same group that MT coached and that’s just dead wrong.

    They don’t win the cup without Guerin on that team.

  14. TJ says:

    Actually they don’t win it without Talbot on that team. But Guerin was huge.

  15. TJ says:


    Loved the Hurdle article. I honestly think he really is the right man for the job. The only thing that scares me is that comment about him seeking advice this offseason from those inside the organization!!

    On a serious note I’ve always been taught that as a manager and times get tough you must have the mentality as though you were the captain of a ship. If you lose your composure and start to panic then everyone on board is going to do the same. If you are able to steady yourself through the rough waters and send a message of calmness those on board are likely to feel more safe and comfortable.

    I’m not saying he needs to be as calm as sleepy Russell was but Hurdle seems to have a steady mentality which is what I like the most; and knows when to stand up for his club.

  16. Ghostc says:

    To Eric’s question above — “I’d like to ask Hurdle why it took until the offseason and this Spring to make a change regarding the running game” — it seems to me that I read somewhere (here?) that holding runners on had not a teamwide priority, and that this started at the top. Maybe I was just imagining that, though. Regardless, good to know holding runners is now being emphasized.

  17. Ghost says:

    To Eric’s question above — “I’d like to ask Hurdle why it took until the offseason and this Spring to make a change regarding the running game” — it seems to me that I read somewhere (here?) that holding runners on had not a team-wide priority, and that this started at the top. Maybe I was just imagining that, though. Regardless, good to know holding runners is now being emphasized.

  18. Ghost says:

    By “top” I don’t mean Hurdle, I mean the guy we used to call Opie around here.

  19. radio wave says:

    Loved the article.
    Control of opponents runners, starts with the pitching coach.

  20. John Lease says:

    I have a sinking feeling about the season. 7 losses in a row in spring mean something more than 1.

    You need good players to win, something Pirate management still doesn’t seem to grasp. Russell Martin can’t throw? He can’t DH here.

  21. Drew71 says:

    i WANTED to dislike the column. Especially after Thunder and Arriba liked it so much.

    it KILLS me to say it, but I couldn’t. Much insight, well presented. Good column.

    This clubhouse separation doesn’t come as a surprise to me. I renember Chuck Tanner once hinting – just hinting – at the physical divide between players and manager in the clubhouse. So i asked my father.

    I’ve mentioned before that my dad had played pro ball. Mainly minor leagues, but had a cup of coffee with the New York Giants. So the NY thing dates it. This was the 1940s. He also managed and owned a minor league team for a season during his last year of organized baseball. And yes. He said that this was traditional. And that it was considered to be old school in the Nineteen Forties.

    He told me not to overread it as an angry labor-management divide. As he described it, the tradition reminded me of my high school. Students could knock and go into the teacher’s lounge anytime to ask a question. Even in that regulated environment, a knock was all that was expected. But students never did. And I’m old enough to have gone to school when we had an outdoor smoking lounge for students. The only times I recall a teacher venturing out was when fights broke out.

    Glad to see that Hurdle is seeking to close the divide a bit without disrespecting the players’ decades long traditions. Smart.

  22. JAL says:

    Baseball morning links

    JAL’s Life Is Just a Bowl of Cheeries Morning Links


    1- MLB Transactions

    2-MLB Trade Rumors-Pirates

    3 Go Buccos- Pirate News (from external sources)

    4 Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Spring Training Tracker

    BLOGS and such

    5—Pirates Prospects

    Draft Prospect Watch: Gonzales Joins The Mix

    6 Bucs Dugout

    Jeanmar Gomez pitches poorly again as Pirates lose to Tigers

    7 Bleacher Report

    Pittsburgh Pirates: Early Spring Training Trends and Observations

    8 Rant Sports

    Fantasy Baseball 2013: Something to Know About Andrew McCutchen

    9 Rumbunter

    The Sunny Side of the Pittsburgh Pirates Pitching Staff

    10 Green Weenie

    Bucs Not Clutch, Lose 4-1

  23. JAL says:

    NEWSPAPERS and MAGAZINES and Other Media

    11 Bradenton Herald

    Tigers 4, Pirates 1

    12 KDKA

    Melancon Eases Way Into Pirates’ Bullpen

    13 CBS Sports

    Tigers 4, Pirates 1

    14 NBC Sports

    Clint Hurdle opening up communication in Pirates clubhouse

    15 News Press

    Poll: Is Roberto Clemente the best to call Lee County home for spring training?

    16 Toronto Star

    Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie calls out Russell Martin

    17 ESPN

    The best five-year pitching peaks

    18 PBC SITE

    Martin familiarizing himself with Pirates’ arms

    Gomez acknowledges room to improve

  24. JAL says:

    Life is just a Bowl of Cheeries Gisele MacKenzie & Dean Martin 1966. Ethel Merman introduced this song in George White’s Scandals of 1931, Rudy Vallee had hit with it that year. Song has been recorded by many, including Doris Day, Judy Garland, and Johnny Mathis

  25. Drew71 says:

    On the other hand, so Dejan talked to the manager.

    So what?

    EYE’m waiting for the talking-McKechnie-Field column.

  26. JAL says:

    I didn’t think the record right now means anything. Royals are 8-0 and Reds are 2-8, Angels are 1-6, Astros are 5-2

  27. BillyBaduka says:

    Kennedy has been a huge disappointment since they re-signed him at $2.5. He’s a scrappy energy guy at league minimum. Bust at 2.5 potential top 6.

    I like his effort but it seems he will always shoot, unless there is no Penguin in the zone with him. He just may throw a soft pass into the slot…

    It happened in Carolina Wed and I went nuts. Ok, overreacted. Thinking, “now, now you decide to pass?”

    It’s hindsight but its obvious he was the wrong forward to keep.

  28. chuck Snow says:

    Enjoyed the column this morning. First half was very good.. It was a group of players that got lost in the Team. The second half they got lost in their individual struggles. Managers job keep everybodies head in the game for 162 games. Good Luck Clint. I know I am pulling hard for you.

  29. John Lease says:

    It doesn’t mean a lot, true. But 7 in a row means something, especially when they look that bad losing them. I’m not at all worried about Burnett and Wandy. But the others, yes.

    I’m a worrier.

  30. BillyBaduka says:

    I can definitely see parallels with the 09 season.

    I agree that Therrien’s D and discipline went a long way to helping that team win the cup.

    I also agree with comments that acquiring Guerin was key that year.

    A change is definitely needed this year. Solid D and the right veteran locker room voice are the two priorities in my opinion.

    If they play with intensity they did last night in Montreal and get the right veteran voice and a stay at home D they could recapture much if not all of the magic of 09.

  31. BillyBaduka says:

    True enough TJ. Max will always be the Game 7 hero and his locker room presence is missed.

    But he was on the roster and the spirit of the post seems to be on the impact of acquisitions.

  32. 21sthebest says:

    Not sure I like a manager explaining his moves to the players. I think these twice a month meetings could backfire if they’re not careful.

  33. Pat4PGH says:

    Not a Hurdle fan and he hasn’t shown me yet that he can be a winning manager. He makes way too many stupid in game decisions and his refusal to adjust, not just a DB issue, drives me crazy.

    He is a nice guy. I have met him and he is truly personable. I am jut not sure he has the skills or experience to deliver a winner. His managing history seems to say he cannot and will not do so.

    Would love to be proven wrong…..

  34. BillyBaduka says:

    While the defensive play leaves a lot to be desired, it was great to see the Pens determination, effort and resilience last night.

    Did it erase the issues? No. Are they past them? I hope so, but probably not.

    Still, it’s hard not to be smilin’ after a game like that. And Pens fans should be smiling this morning. What a game.

    Sutter’s subtle move to get into the slot was a thing of beauty.

    Lets go Pens!

  35. cherokee23 says:

    Sounds very similar to what John Harbough did with the Ravens this past season….hope it leads to improvement, but I don’t think the end result will be the same.

  36. cherokee23 says:

    How do you all feel about scratching Kennedy and playing Boychuk?

  37. Thundercrack says:

    Yes ! I can’t wait to read what the new Tiki Bar in left field has to say.

    I will be sitting out there in 2 weeks

  38. MadTurk says:

    Agreed, a little sloppy at times, good determination though in not givig up, and a fun game to watch.

  39. Brad, Indiana PA says:

    I don’t know if this request has been made yet (probably has) but is it possible to display more than one thread for the blog at Maybe it’s just my computer, but the wakeup call is replaced by the next thread and so on down the line so that it takes awhile to find the wakeup call later on.

  40. Eric Bowser says:

    Until Malkin is healthy, Boychuk should play over Kennedy.

  41. Brad, Indiana PA says:

    In keeping with my distaste for Rossi’s twits the other day about fans scapegoating Bylsma, he writes an article to deflect blame and continue his blind analysis of the Pens’ issues.

    Firstly Rob,

    It’s not just “extreme” fans who blame Bylsma for his fair share of the current problems. Writing him a free pass is no more foolish than you perceive the scapegoaters to be; especially when your arguments are rather poorly evidenced and not well-contemplated and your argument isn’t well-supported. And while he’s hardly the only problem, stop pretending like he can do no wrong.

    While the Pens are currently at 28 points and in 2nd place in the East (yet have 2 less than Montreal and only 1 more than Ottawa) they are also a short 3-4 game losing streak from being out of the playoffs. It’s a precarious situation at best.

    “Do not presume this team is built to win the Cup…”? What else do you presume about a team that has spent to the cap limit for years and has two of the best players on the planet? If the coach is so good, why should we not assume this, even if one of those stars is injured? They went over 100 points in a year that saw them without both guys for much of the season. Why couldn’t that translate to at least a deep playoff run? Why did it end with a loss to a team that clearly outcoached our own?

    No Jordan Staal. Ok. Sutter has 2 more goals right now and is a +8 opposed to Staal’s -2. Staal is the 7th leading scorer in Pens’ playoff history. Yay. He was in the playoffs every year of his career. A good player is going to produce with that much opportunity. And you’re considering Gary Roberts’ 10 goals with PIT from 06-07 and Adam Hall’s 2 goals as a scoring threat? Come on. Satan wasn’t a 4th liner, no matter how you try to paint it. Didn’t DB sit him for lack of production?

    For this D corps, “Moving the puck is no problem.” Are you serious? Doesn’t Letang dominate the giveaway department this year? It’s not horrible, but it’s not among the best in the league.

    So Bylsma did no wrong whatsoever in the Tampa series when his team led the series 3-1 and lost? He couldn’t have done a little more scheming to put pressure on Halak and Rollosson? He couldn’t do something drastic to reign in his out-of-control team last year?

    Sitting Despres and keeping Bennett in check are wise moves right now with Kennedy playing like an AHL waterboy and guys like Orpik, Engelland and others playing downright poorly? Will 2 rookies change the whole season? Probably not. But the alternative is better? Come on. Oh, but that must be a problem beyond the bench.

    The D are playing pathetically and the actual defensive scheme is softer than warm butter, but that must be from beyond the bench. Forwards are irresponsible with the puck, but that’s beyond the bench.

    The puck stops at “the bench”. If guys aren’t doing what they are supposed to, it’s the head coache’s job to deal with that. Bylsma doesn’t like to “develop” younger players. Also part of the job unless I missed something and every prospect and minor-league player that comes up now is NHL-ready. The players need to play better. There’s no doubt about that. But the coach needs to coach better, too. He’s shown historically that he doesn’t adjust and he won’t adjust. So yeah. Maybe it’s time for someone else to right the ship.

  42. Nate83 says:

    A short 3 or 4 game losing streak from being out of a playoff spot? So are the other 8 teams currently in playoff spots. The team is winning 2 out of every 3. I will take that any time. Does the team have some weaknesses? Of course they do, every team does, except for maybe Chicago. Hopefully they address those issues going forward but I’m sure most teams and fans would switch their situation for ours.

  43. cherokee23 says:

    It’s not so much that they have weaknesses, but the fact that it’s the same weaknesses over and over without being corrected. I think the record can hide this during the regular season. As it stands now, without any corrections,I think this team can win one round of playoffs, depending where they finish and who they draw. I think they can be called a contender, but not a favorite. If they make corrections, they can be one of the favorites. I’ll probably get creamed for this, but I think Bylsma will be replaced if the same inconsistencies continue over the next month. Although Malkin is currently out, injuries can’t be blamed this year, they’ve been a pretty healthy bunch. I think this is a direct opposite of when Therrien was let go. At that point, they needed set free a bit. At this point, I think they need reigned in to a tighter game.

  44. Dwf says:


    Couldn’t agree with your post more! There are homers and then there is Rossi. Dude must be writing in an alternate universe!

  45. Brad, Indiana PA says:

    It’s borderline delusional. Yeah, the players and Shero have made some major oopsies, but so has Disco Dan. Well, unless you go off of Rossi’s latest tweets and articles.

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