The Sweet Caroline effect

Pitt football Q&A with Paul Zeise

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Q: Do you think the playing of "Sweet Caroline" really made a big difference with the fans and it rubbed off on the team in the fourth quarter? And what do you think the university administration can do to try and get a sell-out for the Iowa game?

Bill Frankston, Point Breeze

ZEISE: As much as I appreciate the music of Neil Diamond and thought it was fairly cool to see the entire crowd at a Pitt football game actually engaged in one of these tired marketing gimmicks designed to manufacture atmosphere for sporting events -- (I mean, let me have this soap box moment -- I'm not an old fogey yet, I enjoy music, but why does every stadium, arena, baseball park, etc., etc., feel the need to overwhelm us with music, silly promotions, racing pierogies and hot dogs shot out of cannons or T-shirt tosses - does the game count for anything any more? Do people actually enjoy watching sports any more?) -- and as much as I really enjoy the song, don't get me wrong when I say this -- it was absolutely 100 percent irrelevant in the grand scheme of things and had no bearing at all on the outcome of the game.

And the fact that it has been discussed so much on blogs and message boards and even talk radio should tell you the sorry state of where the Pitt football program has fallen. I mean, we've spent the past three seasons discussing everything -- recruiting rankings, marketing schemes, song selections, logo changes, the ridiculous whining about the script helmets -- EXCEPT winning football games. It is not a good thing that all of these things are discussed so much all the time and it is more proof that Pitt really needs a long run of winning games because the fan base is really getting restless.

And you ask me to give Pitt's marketing guru Chris Ferris and his crew some pointers on how to sell out the Iowa game?

Simple. I'd say they should take a page from the Pirates -- who are experts at getting people into the seats while maintaining a lousy team. They should go find a popular 80's Arena Rock band - like Reo Speedwagon, Styx, Def Leppard, Kansas, Triumph, Warrant --- (any of those bands will play well in Pittsburgh) - which is willing to do a concert after the game and call the promotion a "DinoCat Blast" night. Then add fireworks and presto a sell-out....

Oh wait, they tried that with Night Ranger in the opener and fireworks last week and well, they still were about 25,000 short on both occasions ... Never mind.

But hey, I guess, if push comes to shove they could always try playing "Hello Again" before kick-off, "Forever in Blue Jeans" in between the first and second quarter, "Song Sung Blue" as half-time begins then "Cracklin Rosie" before the third quarter -- keep "Sweet Caroline" in its current time slot at the start of the fourth quarter and "I Got the Feelin'" any time the Panthers are going to start a two-minute drive to tie or win the game.

That'll pack them in I'm sure ...

Look, I know some of you get angry with me because I like to poke fun at these kinds of silly gimmicks and these long drawn out discussions about logos and uniforms but I've been saying this for years: The best -- and at this point as fans are out of patience, the ONLY -- marketing program or plan that will put people in those seats at Heinz Field is WINNING FOOTBALL GAMES WITH SOME DEGREE OF CONSISTENCY.

Period.

The athletic department's marketing people have done a great job with the hand they've been dealt but they have gotten absolutely no help from the team and ultimately that is the only thing that matters in this market, particularly for a team that is trying to compete with three professional franchises for media attention as well as fan dollars -- if you win and produce a good product, they will ultimately come to watch. Heck, thankfully even the Pirates are starting to find out that concerts, skyblasts, bobbleheads and fireworks are no longer enough to keep people interested in coming back to the ballpark.

So again, as Al Davis says "Just win, baby" and all of this other stuff will go back to being a part of the meaningless sideshow to the main event, which should be the actual football played on the field.




Q: I don't think Wannstedt should be fired. He's a great face for the program and can recruit but I am beginning to believe the man cannot win. This team should not be losing to and struggling with MAC teams and its not unrealistic to say the program should be a lot further along in his tenure. I want to believe in him, but when is it time to say enough is enough and is there a way he can remain involved with the program to help recruit and do all the other stuff without being in charge of it?

Bob Fitzmaurice, St. Petersburgh, Fla.

ZEISE: Ah, the figurehead coach idea -- I've heard it floated several times. It goes something like "Wannstedt would remain head coach in name only, he'd recruit, do speaking engagements, fundraise, run the actual program and hire two strong coordinators to actually coach the team." I don't know that it would work for two reasons: 1) Why would Wannstedt agree to that, how does this benefit him? and 2) I'm not sure there is an example of where it is working. One of the reasons most people cite for the drop-off of Florida State and Penn State over the past ten years is that they have figurehead coaches. And in some ways, it seems like this is the situation at West Virginia and there are some signs that it probably isn't going to work as well as the administration down there hoped. I am a firm believer that you can and should be able to hire a coach who can do it all. As for when is "enough, enough," stay tuned. If at the end of this season the Panthers aren't in bowl game, well, that might be the time that the administration says, "OK, enough is enough ..."




Q: Why is Oderick Turner so inconsistent and looking so disinterested at times? I thought he came from an NFL family (his father played in the NFL). Shouldn't he know how to play with more passion and intensity?

Jeff O'Donoghue, North Strabane

ZEISE: Being the son of an NFL player only means your dad was a good football player. It doesn't mean a thing if you don't take the lessons you learned from him and put them into practice. And when I watch Oderick Turner play it is somewhat frustrating to me. He has all the talent he needs to be a big-time player, I just don't get the impression he really loves it that much. There are times he makes big plays, but he leaves so many big plays on the field every game he's become somewhat of an enigma. You contrast the way he approaches things with that of Derek Kinder, who loves to play and it is easy to see if you just watch him run around out there. He plays with heart, with passion - he really goes after it every play. Turner still hasn't developed this kind of consistency and I fear he might not ever get it.



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