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Kovacevic: Hurdle safer than his bosses

| Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, 12:16 a.m.
Christopher Horner
Pirates mananger Clint Hurdle hits balls during fielding drills Monday, Feb. 18, 2013 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

Brief and to the Point …

To those unfamiliar with Bob Nutting's thinking, it might have seemed somewhat asymmetrical that, in the same week, he'd issue a contend-or-else challenge to the Pirates while also extending Clint Hurdle's contract.

It shouldn't surprise at all.

Nutting likes Hurdle. Likes him a lot, actually. It's my belief that Hurdle will remain the manager even if the front office gets cleaned out in 2013.

You might recall that, in November, Nutting described president Frank Coonelly, GM Neal Huntington and lieutenants as “an extremely cohesive team” when asked if he'd considered making piecemeal changes in management. Nutting always speaks of Hurdle as if he's in a separate category.

That doesn't mean Hurdle couldn't be fired if he were to lose the clubhouse, as he lost at least a few players during Epic Collapse II. That wouldn't reflect well or sit well.

Just don't expect it.

• Don't know about you, but if my boss ever describes my future with the company like this — “It's important that I stand behind our management team and support them as long as they are our management team” — my resume gets updated in a raging hurry.

That was Nutting, speaking with reporters a couple days ago in Bradenton, Fla.

• Friday-fun Q: What do William Shakespeare, a running back from Duquesne and a former U.S. Supreme Court justice have in common?

This is no gag, I swear.

Answer at end.

• Think Kris Letang has looked careless with the puck?

It's no illusion: His 19 official giveaways rank third among NHL defensemen and are more than double any of his teammates. He's also tied for the second-most missed shots among NHL defensemen at 21, shooting wide on a startling 37 percent of attempts.

If there's a problem, though, that's apparently news to Letang.

“I feel pretty good about my game,” he said after practice Thursday at Southpointe. “I'm starting to see the ice really well. I'm jumping into the play and making the plays I want to make. It's always about making the right read for me.”

• Sorry, but all this fuss about the Steelers' “fractured” locker room — to borrow Ryan Clark's term from his NFL Network interview this week — is a bunch of hooey.

Don't misunderstand. I don't doubt there were disagreements, finger-pointing, whatever.

But show me an NFL locker room that's cool with 8-8, and I'll show you 53 losers.

• Kevin Colbert, asked Thursday in Indianapolis about Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, revealed only that the Steelers closely evaluate all prospective draft picks.

Well, here's hoping the Te'o interview probes a little deeper than those conducted last year with Alameda Ta'amu and Chris Rainey.

And that it's face to face.

• If drafting by need, Colbert and staff should take a long look at West Virginia's Tavon Austin. Yes, he's 5-9 and profiles purely as a slot receiver. But he's an electric playmaker who can return kicks and, in essence, could be that wild card Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley had hoped Rainey would be.

Ideally, of course, Austin would last to the second round.

• The NHL employs 32 full-time referees. Which means there are, officially speaking, 32 different definitions of boarding.

• There's a better chance of the Super Bowl and Olympics and World Cup of Cricket coming here than an NBA franchise.

Setting aside the city's history of spitting out pro basketball franchises, the Penguins are in total control of Consol Energy Center, including all revenues from concerts and other events. Not to mention all development on the old Civic Arena grounds. The Penguins would listen, sure, but there's zero chance they'd ever share what they've got now. It's just too good.

• The Riverhounds' move into the city will come with a change of colors, I'm told. The team will announce in March that it's switching from its old blue uniforms to — what else? — black and gold with blue trim.

While on the topic, as of Thursday morning, only 129 tickets remained for the April 13 inaugural game at Highmark Stadium. And the rest of the schedule is roughly 60 percent sold.

• Friday-fun answer: William “Bill” Shakespeare of Notre Dame, Mike Basrak of Duquesne and Byron “Whizzer” White of Colorado were the first three first-round draft picks in the Steelers' history, in 1936-38. All three were running backs.

Wherefore art those first-round backs anymore?

Dejan Kovacevic is a sports columnist for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.

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