Pitt AD Heather Lyke envisions ambitious plans for athletics
Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke's office in Petersen Events Center is modestly appointed, with a small desk, some comfortable furniture and — the big item — lots of windows.
Makes sense when you consider what she sees for the future of Pitt's upper campus, where 16 of her 19 teams and 84 percent of her student-athletes train.
She sees a 3,000-seat arena for wrestling, gymnastics and women's volleyball teams. She sees medical facilities, a strength and conditioning facility, a desperately needed indoor track and a recreation center intended for everyone, including non-athletes.
She also sees the need to get everyone involved, especially Pitt's most generous donors.
“We are going to create a really clear vision for how we can transform that hill,” she said.
Her plans are ambitious, but she said they were met by an “incredibly positive” reaction from chancellor Patrick Gallagher.
She said Petersen Sports Complex is “fantastic” and has one of the best views anywhere of the city. But she is discouraged it does not house offices for the baseball, softball and soccer coaches whose teams inhabit it. She also notes the 66-year-old Fitzgerald Field House is not air-conditioned.
“I don't want to make it sound miserable because we're competing every day,” she said. “But we are certainly going to plan to have better facilities.
“When you're talking about comprehensive excellence, you can't have the experience of a swimmer be so dramatically different from a basketball or football player.”
Lyke has worked in college athletics since 1995 in areas of compliance, operations, administration and enforcement. She even was a softball color analyst for Big Ten Network.
She hasn't visited every ACC campus to compare their facilities to Pitt's, but she admits, “My sense in knowing college athletics, they're not where we could be.”
“There is a tremendous opportunity to really take a sincere look at how do you become a change agent, how do you make a difference in the lives of those student-athletes.”
That's the future — sooner rather than later, if she has her way. But Lyke ultimately will be judged on how the big two sports — football and men's basketball — perform.
The football season starts in two weeks and a repeat of the past two 8-5 seasons might not be enough for some fans. The rebuild of once-proud men's basketball won't be easy. And, oh, those empty seats at Heinz Field.
Lyke said she meets regularly with football coach Pat Narduzzi, who isn't afraid to ask for help. Narduzzi decided his players would be better served during training camp by staying at SpringHill Suites, a short stroll from the South Side practice facility, rather than being bused back and forth from the Oakland campus.
Lyke listened, launched a financial feasibility study and discovered the added cost was not significant.
The team moves out Saturday, but the three weeks in the hotel were received enthusiastically by players who didn't have to nap on the weight room floor any longer.
“It's not a very efficient, comfortable, clean, all those things, way of (living),” said Lyke, a mother of three.
She said Narduzzi has — and she expects — will ask for other amenities. Actually, if he doesn't, she'll wonder why.
“Oh, yeah. It's the nature of a coach,” she said. “And if it's not the nature of a coach, that can be problematic. If they're not thinking every day of how to make their program better and how to make the experience of our student-athletes better, that's concerning.”
Lyke wasn't around last year when Pitt defeated eventual Big Ten champion Penn State and ACC and national champion Clemson. But knowing those games actually happened, she sees no reason why Narduzzi's team can't take the next step.
“You're talking top-10, top-five teams in the country that we beat,” she said. “You can't honestly think we're that far off.
“The challenge is what it's all about. An opportunity to make an impact. You don't come to work to just do the same old thing every day.
“For me, it's all about, 'How can we make this situation better?' “You're driven to be better than we were yesterday. That's how I'm wired.”