Barnes: Nordenberg leaves with positive impact on Pitt athletic program

By Nate Barnes / Sports Editor

August 1, 2014 will mark 37 years in which Chancellor Mark Nordenberg has been a member of Pitt’s faculty, as he completes his 19th year as the University’s leader. But that day is also the one on which his tenure will end, as he announced to the Board of Trustees June 28. 

Since Nordenberg took over the chancellor’s chair, Pitt athletics has endured its fair share of tough times alongside a university that went through a bomb threat fiasco and a shooting at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in the spring of 2012. 

Olympic sports, such as track & field and swimming & diving, have remained mostly unsuccessful and the football program had four head coaches in the span of just over a year as the quest to return to former glory spans decades. But if there’s one thing that can be definitively said about Pitt’s sporting ventures under Nordenberg, it’s that he left the athletic program better than he found it, which is about as much as you could ask for. 

A lot of the work done to improve Pitt athletics’ standing was done by athletic director Steve Pederson. Pederson was brought back to the University by Nordenberg, a relatively unpopular choice at the time, and was given Nordenberg’s faith to improve that standing. 

Look no further than the move to the ACC, placing Pitt in the most competitive conference for sports such as soccer and basketball. The transition moved Nordenberg and the rest of the powers that be to grant Pederson a contract extension.

On a similar note, basketball head coach Jamie Dixon will remain on the Petersen Events Center’s sidelines through 2023, via a 10-year extension he signed after the most recent season completed. 

Under the leadership of Nordenberg, Pederson, former head coach Ben Howland and Dixon, the basketball team is undoubtedly in its golden age as a program.

Dixon’s 11-year tenure at Pitt has seen the Panthers post a .753 winning percentage, three Big East championships, the program’s only 30-win seasons and three Sweet Sixteen appearances. Dixon’s work following Howland’s helped the Panthers to reach the NCAA Tournament in 11 of the past 12 seasons. 

Additionally, Pitt’s head coach set the NCAA Division I all-time record for most victories after eight years as a head coach with win No. 216.

From a talent perspective, the recent years of Pitt hoops saw NBA Draft picks DeJuan Blair, Sam Young and Aaron Gray. In the recruiting field, Dixon brought in some of the most talented players to ever don the blue and gold from the likes of Khem Birch and Steven Adams, despite each player leaving the program earlier than conceived. 

While the football program endured its bumps in the road, the Panthers are now in a good position for the future under the leadership of head coach Paul Chryst. His recruiting efforts have already paid tangible dividends in the form of freshman players such as wide receiver Tyler Boyd and running back James Conner. 

The 2013 season started on a low note after Pitt lost 41-13 to Florida State, which is to be expected as Pitt navigates its way through its first few seasons in the ACC. The future looks bright, however, and the same can be said for other programs as a result of the move to the ACC. 

When a team faces a high level of competition, it’s only natural for that team to rise to the level dictated by the top talent in the conference. The next few seasons will prove this not only for the football and basketball programs, but also the Olympic sports. 

The baseball and soccer programs join a conference that boasted the most teams ranked in the final Top 25 polls of last season. The soccer teams may endure a winless season this year, but the recruiting boost and increased talent level will aid the men’s and women’s programs as they build for the future. 

On the diamond, the baseball team likely won’t win another 40 games this season, but a successful final season in the Big East has the Panthers set up for success that should come sooner rather than later.

The themes for these programs apply across the board to the wrestling, volleyball, softball, track and field and cross-country programs. The going will be tough at first for most sports, but they’re set up for future success. 

Prospects for success down the line have a lot to do with the work done by Pederson and Nordenberg.

To reiterate, when Nordy ends his days as chancellor on Aug. 1, 2014, he will have left Pitt athletics better than he found it.