Acting athletic director talks replacement, future plans

By Chris Puzia / Sports Editor

By the time Pitt students take their final exams this semester, they may have a new athletic director.

Dr. Randy Juhl, Pitt’s vice chancellor for research conduct and compliance, has served as acting athletic director since former athletic director Steve Pederson and Pitt mutually agreed to part ways on Dec. 17 after his second stint with the school.

Pitt recently announced a search committee composed of various student-athletes, coaches and administrators, yet Juhl said it might be a little while before the committee selects a final candidate.

“I’d like to have it done before summer,” he said.

With the help of Chicago-based search firm DHS International, the committee will first find a pool of 15-25 candidates. After vetting each candidate, the committee will whittle that number down to 10-12 for interviews. From there, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher will select the next athletic director from the 3-4 finalists. Juhl said the process will remain private, including names of specific candidates.

The Pitt News spoke to Juhl about the selection process and his tenure as acting athletic director.

The Pitt News: The search committee seems to be an effort to incorporate different aspects of the Pitt community (student-athletes, coaches, administrators, etc.). How do you think that will affect the athletic director search?

Dr. Randy Juhl: It was done intentionally to make sure that the constituents of the University who have an operational interest in athletics are represented, from the board of trustees to the Office of the Provost, as well as student athletes and coaches. We have some review committees. That’s the thought we had going in.

TPN: One name not on the list was men’s basketball head coach Jamie Dixon. Was there any specific reason for that?

RJ: It was difficult to decide who to ask to be on the committee when they’re in the middle of their season. The most prominent coaches are both men’s and women’s basketball and football. We want a balance of old eyes and new eyes, men’s and women’s. We asked [women’s head basketball coach Suzie McConnell-Serio] to take on that role. All coaches will have an opportunity to meet with candidates when we get to that point. The committee is the place where most of the work gets done, but we’ll have much broader participation.

TPN: How will the committee go about finding candidates? 

RJ: We received, before the committee met, a couple dozen nominations or applications for the position from what I would say would be qualified candidates. We hired a search firm, they have already facilitated the announcement of advertisement in national publications. They do this for a living, so they have a sense of who might be good and who is movable.

TPN: Is there any timetable for when the committee will narrow down to a decision?

RJ: I’d like to have it done before summer. These things follow their own time course. The next question is when can they be here.

TPN: Will the University announce any of the candidates or elimination processes?

RJ: We like to keep names out of paper as much as we can. When somebody is just making an inquiry and doesn’t know if it’s serious, they don’t want to jeopardize their current position. We likely won’t be able to talk to the best candidates unless we can offer a promise of confidentiality. It makes the pool better for us.

We don’t plan on announcing our list of candidates, but names do find their way into the media.

TPN: You’ve been pretty active as acting athletic director, one example being the addition of black basketball uniforms. What’s the process of making these changes been like so far?

RJ: Those kind of things don’t happen overnight. They happened before I was here, so a lot of that was [former athletic director] Steve Pederson. One misconception people have is that we can just call up Nike and say, “can we change our jerseys for the basketball team?” Those things get done a year or two ahead of time. Nothing you undertake in a day happens overnight.

I found that, although athletics has a high level of visibility, their department has to make sure the facilities are running here, like labs need to be running across the street. We have people to hire. We have University relationships to deal with, lots of events. Planning part of those events is big part of what happens here. I do limit myself in the kinds of decisions I make knowing that we’ll have somebody else here in a few months. There’s plenty to do on a day-to-day basis.

TPN: The University has recently incorporated the “Pitt script” more, as well as the new black basketball uniforms. Is this part of some effort to rebrand the University?

RJ: With “Pitt script”, it’s something that’s been around, but de-emphasized when we went to “block Pitt.” We’ll see more of that kind of branding with football come next fall, expansion of the brand to mark return to the good old days. The script will be prominent next year as well.