Pitt hires Utah State’s Scott Barnes as athletic director

Scott Barnes (Michael Conroy/Associated Press)
Scott Barnes (Michael Conroy/Associated Press)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Scott Barnes spent a quarter century hopscotching across the western half of the United States from one college sports administration job to the next, building a reputation as a talented fundraiser who could generate off-field excitement and on-field results in places that didn’t necessarily have a long track record of either.

Given a chance to come east to a school looking to find its place in the ever-changing landscape, Barnes didn’t hesitate. The way Barnes figures it, Pittsburgh already has the tools necessary to succeed. His job will be to make sure those tools get to the right people.

“Athletics truly is a front porch,” Barnes said after being introduced as athletic director on Friday. “It is not the most important room in the house but it is the most visible and what comes with that is opportunity and responsibility.”

Barnes spent the last seven years at Utah State, helping the Aggies build a competitive football program that has averaged 10 wins a year over the last three seasons. He also guided Utah State to a spot in the revamped Mountain West Conference in 2013, a ripple effect of the conference restructuring that really started with Pitt’s announced move from the Big East to the ACC in 2011.

Though Barnes won’t officially start until July 1, he stressed he’ll basically be juggling two jobs over the next two months. Barnes replaces Steve Pederson, who parted ways with Pitt in December the same day football coach Paul Chryst was introduced as the new coach at Wisconsin.

The Panthers took their time charting a new course. Barnes was targeted by an outside search firm and a 14-person university committee cast a wide net. Ultimately, Barnes made the final decision easy. Interim athletic director Randy Juhl said the vote on Barnes’ hire was unanimous while chancellor Patrick Gallagher called Barnes “a perfect fit.”

The 52-year-old Barnes will be in charge of helping the Panthers gain traction in the ACC, particularly in football. Pitt hired Pat Narduzzi in December, the program’s fourth head coach since 2010.

A string of middling falls — the Panthers have finished the regular season 6-6 in each of the last four years — hasn’t done much to galvanize the fan base. Attendance at Heinz Field has plateaued. Barnes will have to find a way to help the program generate buzz in a crowded local sports scene that also includes three professional teams, not to mention Penn State three hours to the northeast and West Virginia an hour south.

Barnes called it a “great challenge” but is not intimidated. He spent nearly a decade at Utah State. Utah State teams won 20 conference titles during his tenure and graduated 84 percent of its student athletes.

“Scott has seen it all and shows that he can work under almost any circumstance to bring any success to the program,” Gallagher said.

Now Barnes will get to do it while calling the shots at a Power Five conference school for the first time. His first task will be to find a way to open up revenue streams to keep the Panthers competitive for better facilities, coaching salaries and recruiting budgets.

Gallagher called Barnes’ reputation as a fundraiser “very important” and part of his “special sauce.” Barnes isn’t sure he needs to alter the recipe much to get people to invest in a program that he believes already has all the hallmarks of a winner.

“It’s about relationships,” Barnes said. “It’s about listening. It’s about matching interest and ability to do important projects. When you have that vision that you put together and … you talk to people that have a heart for Pitt and what you’re doing, it tends to come together.”

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