Which Pittsburgh Sports Front Office is the Best Right Now?

You reach the pinnacles of success when your franchise is run by strong management teams. So who's doing it right — right now in the 'Burgh?

photo by dave dicello


The main reason the Penguins’ finish was so disappointing? The franchise is so stacked with talent, so drunk on achieving nine straight playoff berths, that anything short of going to the Stanley Cup Final seems to smack of failure.

The Steelers haven’t finished below .500 since Jason Gildon and Kendrell Bell were propping up the linebacker corps (2003, if your memory is foggy). Yet last season’s 11-5 record and division title could not satiate the demanding fan base.

As much as people complain about the disappointments with Pitt athletics, one would never guess the football team has made seven straight bowl games, and the basketball team reached 12 of 14 NCAA Tournaments.

Face it: as fans, we are spoiled. We’re the 1 percent. We’re Richie Rich. If Cleveland got a hold of just *one* of the 11 championships Pittsburgh has been blessed with over the last half-century, their joyous tears would flood the Cuyahoga.

You climb to such pinnacles of success when your franchises are run by strong management teams. In this age of plenty for our sports teams, which front office currently is the best in the City of Pittsburgh?

photo courtesy of university of pittsburgh athletic department


Incomplete: Pitt Athletics

The University of Pittsburgh rightly gets an “incomplete” at this point. New athletic director Scott Barnes barely has had time to buy an office chair since his hiring last week, let alone make any big decisions about the school’s programs.

Barnes comes in at an exciting time for Pitt football, though. Fans rightfully are suffering from “new coach” fatigue, but Pat Narduzzi’s transformation of the Michigan State defense into the Spartan Curtain should have you feeling optimistic.

photo by dave dicello


3. Pittsburgh Penguins

It is too soon to submit a final grade for Jim Rutherford and Jason Botterill, though the early results are not great.

You won’t hear any complaints about their acquiring Patric Hornqvist and Ian Cole. But the win-now strategy of trading off valuable draft picks did not pay off — the production from Daniel Winnik and David Perron did not match the assets dealt away.

Granted, the Penguins have a lot of youngsters ready to contribute next season, the most exciting being The Great Finnish Winger Hope in Kasperi Kapanen. The franchise’s future will depend on whether or not the team can develop those prospects into low-cost complementary pieces.

photo by chaz palla


2. Pittsburgh Steelers

It’s the same front office that built two Super Bowl champions and more than a decade of seasons at .500 or better. And oh yeah, remember that 11-5 season and division title that just happened?

The men running the Steelers remain one of the best management units in the NFL. But they face substantial challenges ahead.

“The Steelers’ aging roster” has become “the Steelers’ retiring roster.” They’re out retirees Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark and Jason Worilds. If you thought it was tough to put your black-and-gold No. 43 jersey into the attic, have some sympathy for GM Kevin Colbert.

For years, Colbert flashed a Midas touch of turning first-day draft picks into defensive gold. Now it has been a while since the Steelers have developed a defensive start out of the draft. Offense? Sure! They have unearthed skill players like Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace … just none of them can play linebacker.

The Steelers’ brass will get their chance this weekend to turn around one of the league’s worst performing defenses in 2014. The first two rounds of the draft will provide plenty of options for adding a pass rusher or defensive back to the mix. They may need a couple such draft classes to get back to the kind of defense Pittsburghers expect.

Pirates Chairman Bob Nutting (l) and General Manager Neal Huntingdon. Photo by Dave Arrigo, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Pirates 

1. Pittsburgh Pirates

Remember the terrifying depths of failure in which the Pirates found themselves around, say, 2007? The Streak was up to 15 straight losing seasons (and three straight with 90-plus losses) and a below-average minor league system despite getting high draft picks.

Enter team president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington. And wouldn’t you know it, the results were … still lousy. They made mistakes. Dealing away Jose Bautista for Robinzon Diaz could be the worst baseball trade of the decade.

But Trader Neal’s victories (superstar Andrew McCutchen would be a free agent at the end of this season without the Pirates extending him) eventually outnumbered the duds.

How do you turn 20 years of baseball ignominy into a pennant contender? You make trades like selling Nate McLouth at peak value. You actually spend on amateur players in the draft and Caribbean. You hire arm whisperers Ray Searage and Jim Benedict to turn pitching rejectamenta into control artists. You combine their plans with those from Dan Fox’s data team to build a run-prevention machine on the cheap.

The Pirates also appear to be the only pro team trending upward. A wealth of top prospects will start turning into reinforcements, with pitcher Nick Kingham likely the first to make the Majors leap.

Here’s my wager: The next Pittsburgh team to win a championship will be the Pirates. I like the moves management has made. I like the young talent. I like that maybe, just maybe, we’ll see more free -gent investment ahead.

Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing title runs from all three teams. What can I say? I’m greedy.



Categories: Working The Count