Athletics director Scott Barnes had many tasks when he assumed his new job about one year ago. One of those was to take a tangled mess of branding and fix it into something salvageable that would create value.
Enter, Pitt script.
To get here, though, we've got to start at the beginning. The New York Times did a great job in helping to explain the Script's origins. The tl;dr version goes something like this.
Former Pitt football head coach Johnny Majors famously helped develop the idea. He wasn't real happy with the look of the logo and upon coming to Pitt in 1973, decided to do something about it. He worked with an artist to model it somewhat after the UCLA logo, of which he was fond, and the rest was history.
Pitt was successful with the logo change and the accompanying blue/mustard color scheme gave the athletics teams a distinctive look. In football, the school not only won a national championship in 1976, but had wild success leading to top ten rankings and a real place at the top of the mountain in that sport. Basketball was more of a work in progress, but also found occasional success in the 1970s and 1980s.
The script's main goal, to give Pitt a unique look, was working.
Enter Steve Pederson
The script still remained, but only until Steve Pederson arrived in 1996 as athletics director. Before we get to Pederson, however, even more context is needed. Barnes walked into a bit of a mess in terms of branding but Pederson walked into a disaster in a different way - on-field production.
Over the years, Pitt began to fade on the field. What Barnes inherited was nothing like the disaster that sat upon Pederson's shelf. The athletics projects, run by Oval Jaynes before him, were in complete disarray - particularly the important ones. The basketball team averaged 11 wins a year in his final three seasons at the helm. The football team was even worse, winning no more than three (yes, three) games in any of his last three seasons.
Even the official athletics department bio on Pederson (which is still alive on the interwebs) says Pitt athletics was perhaps at its lowest point in terms of being competitive and its crumbling infrastructure. Forget mess - Pederson walked into your worst nightmare.
Pederson had to look around him and see the utter chaos. Things just didn't need changing, they needed a complete and utter overhaul. Given all of that, it becomes much clearer to see the thought process of why things needed to change.
Also as a contextual point of reference, the Pitt job was Pederson's first as athletics director. Previously, he worked his way up the ladder in various roles, including as a sports information assistant, football recruiting coordinator, and then as an associate athletics director at his Alma Mater, Nebraska with stops also at Ohio State and Tennessee. Dare I say it - Pederson was an emerging face in the world of college athletics administration. It was clear to me that his goal was to make his mark and break through. To do that, things needed a complete overhaul - including the brand.
Under Pederson, change came swiftly. In 1997, 'Pittsburgh' was introduced. Pitt was short, quirky, and probably deemed unprofessional to some degree, so it was banished into the deep reaches of the galaxy. In August of that year, Pittsburgh along with a jagged looking Panther of sorts, was introduced for the fall. Media was told of the change as outlets were supposed to identify the school as Pittsburgh.
Overall, the new Panther head logo looked like a jumbled mess. We all knew that. Ironically, it wasn't just Pitt fans that saw the Panther head as messy. In 2007, Whitmer High School using the old Panther head, was forced to change it since, you know, it wasn't actually their logo. Upon having a student redesign it, the high school's athletics director had this to say of the new logo vs. the Pitt iteration:
"It's cleaner," he said. "It's not as busy."
In the years following Pederson's announcement, the athletics department underwent a series of branding transitions, which included changing Pitt to Pittsburgh (and back again), dinocats, otters, spare teeth, etc. Things were nothing short of a mess for many years and if you purchased apparel or walked around campus/venues, you would routinely see a variety of graphic iterations. If you want to relive the horror, Chris Creamer's Sports Logos page allows you to do so (view at your own risk).
The important thing to note, of course, is the large number of changes. From 1973 to 1996, Pitt had a total of five logos (including color variations). In the 20 years since then?
A big thing to remember here is that, while it didn't necessarily play a part, the logo's change also was accompanied by more successful programs. Walt Harris turned around the football team and Dave Wannstedt took it even further. The basketball program replaced football as the most successful sport on campus and gained good traction with Sweet 16 appearances.
Part of the reason the branding nightmares were allowed, I maintain, was not only because other schools were doing it (and trust me, that trend in college athletics played a part in the number of logos that were developed). It's because it didn't matter as much since the key programs were winning more.
Return of the Script ... sort of
The reasons are varied when you ask Pitt fans as to why the script returned. Some think Pederson was in a desperate fit to retain his job (his job that, by the way, he took for the second time after the Jeff Long era ended if you're unfamiliar with this whole situation). Whatever the reason, the script returned.
In a Friday press conference, it was announced that the script would return for Pitt's football game against Georgia Tech - and then, for the rest of the season. Pederson later went into a little more depth about bringing it back but clarified that it would be used in limited fashion and was by no means a catch all for everything.
But while most of the world was celebrating its return, JD actually delivered a wealth of great criticism wondering aloud about the timing and haphazard release. And guess what - he was right.
The timing was odd and the lack of pomp and circumstance for something that meant so much to so many fans was stranger still. It was rushed, delivered poorly, and all sort of confusing. That didn't really matter because fans were so into the moment but the actual release was just weird (keep that in mind).
Hello, Scott Barnes
Only a few months later on December 14, the University dropped a bombshell. Pederson, the two-time athletics director, was gone. It was described as a mutual parting of ways but few believed that. Alas, Script cannot make all things right. Chancellor Patrick Gallagher was taking things in a different direction and with a new football coach hiring on the horizon, things happened sooner rather than later.
After Pat Narduzzi's hiring, new athletics director Scott Barnes was brought on board. Unlike Pederson, he entered a relatively stable atmosphere in terms of the feature sports. Sure, football was no better than mediocre but 6-6 is a far cry from the 3-9 seasons endured by Pitt before Pederson came on board. Basketball had also regressed a bit in the last few years, but the Panthers were still, for the most part, a perennial NCAA Tournament team. Factor in that Barnes was in a much better financial situation with the protective shelter of the ACC, and it's easy to see that the Pitt job was a pretty good one despite some transition.
No, Barnes' problem wasn't as much as inheriting terrible programs - it was that whole branding thing. Pitt was using more logos and trademarks than you could shake a stick at and something had to ...
Like Pederson before him, it didn't take Barnes all that long to tackle branding. Having only been on the job for a few months, Barnes announced that not only was the script sticking for football, it was being transitioned across all sports for the 2016-17 season.
Just. Like. That.
Sure, things would take a while to fix. Barnes himself estimated that it would be about three years before all branding was consolidated to the script. But make no mistake about it, it was back.
That brings us today. Remember that part about the initial script release I wrote being handled poorly? Wednesday's planned release, which will take place in the evening, was anything but that. Athletes tweeted themselves wearing new script. There's a VIP reception followed by the official release (a public event) at The Pete today, Pitt's premier athletics facility. There are new merchandise mentions with it being available on Wednesday across retail partners. Pitt no doubt heard the grumbles from the initial release timing and in as calculated an effort as you will ever see, meticulously put this entire thing together with the precision of a surgeon. There has been a strategic build-up to give fans ample time to basically go nuts. This doesn't just feel right, it's awesome.
What shouldn't be lost here is that it's a complete and utter reaction to what fans wanted. For years, fans have screamed for the script and there's no other reason that it was brought back other than the fact that the fans were very clear in their desires. The move was overwhelmingly positive with fans afterward and that continues until now. Look no further than #PittScript, which is trending on Twitter. As I've always said, fans have a voice. And in this instance, it was heard.
At the end of the day, a logo doesn't help players run faster, play harder, or win more games. But after many years of branding frustration, it's great to see that Pitt got it right under Barnes.