Pitt gives AD Pederson 5-year contract extension through 2018

Former Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson
Former Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson
Photo by Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Jerry DiPaola
| Tuesday, June 11, 2013, 8:03 a.m.

When he arrived at Pitt in 1999, men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon didn't know much about Pitt Stadium or its history or why so many people were upset with athletic director Steve Pederson for trying to hit it with a wrecking ball.

Today, he gets it. More to the point, he understands why Chancellor Mark Nordenberg gave Pederson a five-year contract extension that was first reported by the Tribune-Review on Tuesday. Pederson's new contract runs through 2017-2018.

“Now, you look back and (say) those are tough decisions that had to be made,” Dixon said.

Pitt Stadium's demise carved room on an Oakland hillside for Petersen Events Center, which has a current sellout streak of 202 men's basketball games and a waiting list that numbers 11,000 people.

“To get to the point you want to be, you have to make some tough calls and make some people angry,” Dixon said. “Steve has done a lot of tough things. At the end of the day, that's what you have to do as an athletic director.”

Nordenberg did not release financial terms of Pederson's new contract, but USA Today reported earlier this year that Pederson's annual salary was $596,595.

“Just two years ago, during a period of significant conference instability, Steve was a driving force in helping us to find the best possible conference home,” Nordenberg said. “Our receipt of their invitation reflects well on both our overall institutional strength and on the tremendous progress made in Pitt athletics under Steve's guidance.”

Pederson, 55, has been hired twice, first in 1996 and later in 2007. In between, he spent five years (from 2002-2007) in the same position at Nebraska, his alma mater.

Pederson's new contract has little to do with victories and defeat. After all, football has lost 14 games and three head coaches in the past 30 months, and men's basketball is four years removed from a serious run through the NCAA Tournament.

What matters to Nordenberg and the Board of Trustees was Pederson's ability to recognize problems and do something about them.

Pederson was instrumental in moving Pitt out of the unsteady Big East and into the stable ACC. “Our greatest fear is being on the outside looking in,” he said.

“You better be in one of those five (power) conferences, and we are, and Steve is the reason we are,” Dixon said.

Pederson arrived in 1996 when the football program was at one of its lowest points in history. Pederson hired Walt Harris to replace Johnny Majors, and Pitt went to its first bowl game in eight years at the end of the 1997 season.

The program languished under Dave Wannstedt, who was fired in 2010. Pederson tried twice to properly replace Wannstedt, but Michael Haywood was arrested on a domestic charge two weeks after he was hired, and Todd Graham stayed 11 months.

Through it all, Pederson never flinched, said Brian Generalovich, chairman of the athletic committee of the Board of Trustees.

“You can really see the worth of a man when you're going through adverse times,” said Generalovich, a former Pitt basketball player. “It took very, very strong leadership to keep the university on course through that entire time. Steve doesn't panic.”

The football program, under second-year coach Paul Chryst, has a lot of catching up to do, but Pederson said Tuesday the university is 11,000 tickets short of selling out 2013 on a season-ticket basis.

His next projects are increasing scholarships for men's soccer, the only Pitt sport that isn't fully funded to NCAA scholarship limits, and building a track and field facility. But no spending spree is planned. “We always thought we were going to work hard and do more with less,” Pederson said. “We are not going to change dramatically how we do things.”

The trick is to find a way to become more competitive in football and baseball — two sports of strength in the ACC — and put the men's basketball program back in the national spotlight.

“It is one thing to get there,” Pederson said, “but now you have to maximize what you are getting out of it, and we will.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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