Colin Dunlap: Nordenberg’s Stamp On Athletics Is Indelible
On Monday, the University of Pittsburgh athletic programs officially transitioned into the Atlantic Coast Conference, leaving behind a depleted, worn-out shell of a once-proud Big East.
Grand plans were slated to mark the occasion.
Fireworks were to be fired.
Luminaries were to shake hands.
A band was to play.
All the pomp, all the circumstance to signify the 12 current ACC schools welcoming Pitt (along with Syracuse and Notre Dame) to a stable enclosure in a seemingly ever-shifting landscape in collegiate athletics — where the only constant has been a lack of stability.
If you are a Pitt fan on this day, know what you will most likely think of?
The impending basketball games against Duke or North Carolina.
Or, you might, today, think about the football game at Heinz Field against Florida State that will begin ACC play and, with it, bring a heightened sense of attentiveness.
Maybe, just maybe, your mind will begin to contemplate all the upgrades and advantages Pitt will understand from a $17 million television contract share as opposed to the just over $3M they received last season.
Here is what you should do, however.
Take a few moments to think about University chancellor Mark Nordenberg.
Without him, none of this happens.
Without him, the view through the windshield of Pitt’s athletic department isn’t filled with sunshine.
Nordenberg, who announced Friday he’s stepping down as Chancellor after 19 years of service in August of 2014 – at which time he will continue as a member of the law school faculty — has been a steadying force at Pitt; one who had a vision university-wide with tentacles that planted deep into athletics.
Since Nordenberg became Chancellor in 1995, Pitt’s endowment has spiked from $463 million to almost $3 billion. He has also directed a university that pushed beyond the 30,000 mark in enrollment and has undergone a noticeable renaissance.
In all of this, Nordenberg never forgot the power of secure athletic programs to a Division I university community.
Nordenberg eloquently, yet with firm coaxing, fought off the faction that didn’t want to see the crumbling Pitt Stadium torn down.
Now, on that very same plot of land, no one can argue what the Petersen Events Center has done for the athletics department — and, by extension, the university.
A move to the UPMC Sports Performance Complex also occurred during Nordenberg’s tenure, culminating in story after story of a potential recruit speaking glowingly about the football facilities.
Nordenberg also understood the importance of some of the lesser profile sports, greatly helping in the facilitation of the construction of the Petersen Sports Complex, a 12-acre home for the Pitt’s baseball, softball and men’s and women’s soccer teams.
A decade ago, no one would have envisioned that land could have become what it is today.
With Nordenberg at the top, Pitt made it happen.
With Nordenberg at the top, Pitt made the shrewd move to not be reactionary in whatever was going to happen with the Big East, but, rather, act proactively and shift into the ACC.
As it stands, there is no question the University of Pittsburgh is stronger than it has ever been. Also, there is zero question the athletic department is supported more to succeed than in any time in history.
When I think of the tenure of Nordenberg at Pitt, one story comes to mind. Involved in an accident in which he got banged around pretty good, and needing some time to recover, Nordenberg received well wishes from many.
One card came from the late Beano Cook, a man of interminable wit, Pitt’s former sports information director and noted college football historian.
Cook wrote, with tongue firmly planted in cheek: “Get Well. But, better you than McCoy.”
Naturally, Beano was referring to Pitt’s standout running back at the time, LeSean McCoy.
In a memorial service for Cook, who died in October, Nordenberg rehashed the tale with a chuckle, drawing hoots from those in attendance.
Here’s the crazy part: It isn’t hyperbole to say that Nordenberg most likely would have accepted such a trade-off; not overstatement to say that, if faced with that precise dilemma, he would have rather been banged up than seen Pitt’s top running back shelved.
It is just how selfless and proud of Pitt Nordenberg is.
Need proof? Take a walk around campus — or, better yet, look at what the athletic department has become — since the day he became Chancellor.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his bio here.