Pirates to replace Frank Coonelly as president with ex-Penguins COO Travis Williams
The Pittsburgh Pirates announced Wednesday the club is parting ways with Frank Coonelly as team president, and sources confirmed to the Tribune-Review he will be replaced by former Penguins chief operating officer Travis Williams.
Williams, who has a law degree from Duquesne, spent 10 years with the Penguins and rose from chief legal counsel to COO before leaving in November 2018 to become chief business officer for the New York Islanders.
With the Penguins, Williams oversaw the development of PPG Paints Arena and the construction of UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex training facility in Cranberry, bringing both projects to completion on time and under budget. Williams also brokered the Penguins’ television contract with AT&T SportsNet and served as the liaison with AEG Facilities, working with the building manager on bringing concerts and national sporting events to the arena.
The Pirates plan to formally introduce Williams on Monday. The club still is conducting a search for a manager to replace Clint Hurdle, who was fired last month after nine seasons.
Williams brings a business and legal background to the Pirates, along with an existing relationship with city officials and corporate partners that could be beneficial. Where Coonelly came to the Pirates in 2007 from the MLB commissioner’s office and was involved in day-to-day baseball operations, that Williams comes from the NHL represents a philosophical change for the Pirates’ front office.
In announcing Coonelly’s departure, Pirates chairman Bob Nutting said in a statement he will “forever be grateful for his tireless work ethic on behalf of the organization, as well as his and his family’s commitment to making a positive impact in our community.”
“Frank and I both agreed that it was clear a change in the day-to-day leadership of the club is needed,” Nutting said. “This leadership transition gives us the opportunity to refresh our entire operations. Internally, the organization is energized as we prepare to introduce our new president on Monday, while we continue to work to identify a new field manager and build our coaching staff.”
Pittsburgh Pirates and Team President, Frank Coonelly, agree to part ways. pic.twitter.com/zmmQjjTouW
— Pirates (@Pirates) October 23, 2019
After 82 wins in 2018 — only the seventh winning season since 1990 — Coonelly told fans in a Q&A session at PirateFest at PNC Park that the club’s four-decade drought from winning a World Series was “too damn long.”
“Nobody is satisfied with 82 wins in the organization,” Coonelly said at the time. “Everybody is committed to doing what we can to putting a World Series championship team on the field, and we do know that we can do it.”
The Pirates followed by finishing 69-93 and in last place in the NL Central this season. They were 44-45 on July 7 and 21⁄2 games out of first place but endured a 4-24 stretch after the All-Star break. The second half included clubhouse chaos that forced the Pirates to suspend a coach after an altercation with a player and saw reliever Kyle Crick injure his thumb in a fight with All-Star closer Felipe Vazquez, who was later arrested and charged with statutory sexual assault and faces multiple felonies.
“The second half of our season was disappointing to our fans and to all of us in the organization. Results matter and our results simply were not acceptable. It was clear that change was necessary,” Coonelly said in a statement.
“As we worked through a comprehensive assessment of everything that we do, I undertook an honest self-evaluation. While not an easy conclusion to reach, I ultimately decided that the best interests of the Pirates would be served if the club had a new leader who would bring new ideas and a new direction.”
Coonelly, 59, joined the Pirates prior to the 2007 season. One of his first duties was hiring Neal Huntington to replace Dave Littlefield as general manager Sept. 25, 2007.
Coonelly previously served as senior vice president in the commissioner’s office, where he was in charge of arbitration hearings and draft bonuses, among other tasks. He was a lawyer in private practice before that.
“I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to lead this storied franchise in this great city for the last 12 years,” Coonelly said. “I will forever be grateful to Bob and the entire Nutting family for giving me this incredible opportunity to serve. I am grateful as well for the opportunity to work with the highly talented and dedicated women and men who have worked for the Pirates during my time here. Whatever level of success we were able to achieve during this time was the direct result of their dedication to the organization and its fans.
“And, finally, about those fans — the men, women and kids who love and support the Pirates fueled me each and every day. I will never be able properly to thank them for the love and inspiration that they gave my family and me.”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .