Column: Lyke is what Pitt Athletics needs for steady success

Heather Lyke received a contract extension to remain as the Athletic Director at Pitt through 2024 with Pitt’s hope of securing more athletic stability and success. (TPN File Photo)

The best way to build a strong athletic program involves consistency and a direction. It’s very difficult for schools to form their own identity with constantly changing leadership as Pitt has experienced over the past decade with seven different head football coaches.

But Pitt now officially has plans for its future — in her first year on the job, athletic director Heather Lyke received a contract extension to remain at Pitt through 2024. This decision will lead Pitt to the athletic stability and vision it needs to revitalize its athletic department, hopefully achieving the same level of success Pitt was once known for.  

This may come as a surprise to many fans since Lyke has only had the job for a little over a year — but she’s made that year count, proving her dedication to the school.

“Heather is leading an ambitious charge to transform Pitt Athletics, and her success here is just beginning,” Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said in a statement. “I am thrilled that she will continue to push our athletics programs to new heights — and spur positive change for our student-athletes and our University community — for years to come.”

Lyke hired six new head coaches in her first 13 months and secured futures for the school’s top athletic programs. After confusion and uncertainty regarding the future of the men’s basketball program, Lyke secured a big-time hire. Lyke sold Jeff Capel on the opportunities at Pitt and hired him as the men’s basketball head coach, contrary to the assumption that he would remain associate head coach at Duke.

A few weeks later, Lyke made a similar move for the women’s basketball program with Florida State’s associate head coach Lance White. Having two nationally recognized coaches heading up the school’s basketball program will give Pitt basketball the direction and confidence it needs to win.

Lyke’s commitment extends past Pitt basketball to growing the athletic program as a whole, including the school’s non-revenue-generating Olympic sports. She hired Keith Gavin to coach wrestling, Randy Waldrum to coach women’s soccer, Samantha Snider to coach gymnastics and Katie Hazelton to coach diving. Waldrum will be new for this upcoming season, but the three others had great success in their first seasons as head coaches at Pitt.

In December, Lyke took another step toward stability in Pitt Athletics by offering an extension to head football coach Pat Narduzzi. The extension, which lasts until 2024, allows Narduzzi to build a football program where current and prospective players can rely and trust the coaching staff.

The positive changes don’t end there. Lyke publicly disclosed new plans to build a 3,000-seat arena for wrestling, volleyball, gymnastics and indoor track. She supports the introduction and expansion of the upcoming ACC Network. She plans to “flip the Pete” to highlight the Oakland Zoo supporters section for TV viewers and will replace the outdated Fitzgerald Field House.

None of this would be feasible without the support of the University. Gallagher and the University are committed to her vision of what Pitt Athletics can — and will — become. Lyke’s close relationship with Gallagher will ensure she has the resources and support necessary to help usher Pitt back into an era of success.

“We can have all the great ideas and the vision we want, but if you don’t have the support at the top and the leadership there, it doesn’t go a lot of places,” Lyke said of Gallagher. “I’m really grateful for our board and our leadership there. They believe in what we’re doing and what we can accomplish here.”

Pitt Athletics needs steady, motivated leadership. Look at Mark Hollis — since starting at Michigan State in 2008, the school’s athletic program has become a model of stability and success. Or Jim Phillips from Northwestern — when he started in 2008, he inherited a mediocre athletic program with second-rate facilities to match. But since his hiring, he’s built major athletic complexes and secured notable hires, like former Duke basketball assistant Chris Collins — sound familiar?

Lyke has already proven herself as a driven and committed athletic director. Giving her the opportunity to build stability and growth is what Pitt athletics needs to get back on top.

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