Pittsburgh Pirates President opens up about recent leadership challenges


Photo by Allison Schubert

Frank Coonelly, President of the Pittsburgh Pirates, spoke to the Ed.D in Leadership and Administration program as the second installment of their 4 part series of guest speakers. Coonelly’s appearance follows Mayor Bill Peduto’s visit to the program.

Written By Josh Croup, Editor Emeritus

Days after the Pirates traded the face of their franchise, team president Frank Coonelly visited Point Park to highlight the recent leadership challenges his organization is facing.

“Your timing is impeccable,” Coonelly joked to open his lecture.

The Ed.D in Leadership and Administration and the Education Department hosted Coonelly for the second installment in a four-part lecture series. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto led the first event last semester.

In an interview with the Globe before his leadership lecture, Coonelly said when times are tough in the organization, he wants to take the blame. When the positives outweigh the negatives, he said he defers congratulations to others within the organization.

“As a leader of an organization, you should be out there when people are not happy with your organization and make sure you know that you’re accountable and you’re responsible if we have an issue,” Coonelly said. “We do right now. Here I am. Please blame me.”

His talk last Wednesday came two days after the Pirates dealt former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen to San Francisco.

That trade came two days after the team traded former first round draft pick Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros.

The reaction from fans and local media was a mixture of anger and frustration directed towards the Pirates front office staff including Coonelly, General Manager Neil Huntington and owner Bob Nutting. A petition circulated on social media last week that received more than 50 thousand signatures trying to move Nutting to sell the team.

The Pirates president said during the lecture that management had meetings with employees to explain the recent moves, including the ticket sales team, who Coonelly said has a tough road ahead of them due to the recent moves.

One Pirates employee, longtime broadcaster and Point Park alum Greg Brown, came to the defense of his owner on Twitter the day after Coonelly’s lecture.

“Some #FakeNews out there,” Brown said. “I happen to know Bob Nutting. He is as good a man as I have ever met. He is an excellent team owner who righted a sinking Pirates ship. He cares deeply about the organization & wants to bring a championship to Pittsburgh. THAT is the truth.”

The broadcaster’s post was met by some agreement, but was largely scrutinized by fans.

Coonelly said the outrage the team is receiving from fans reminds him of the early years with the club. He took over as team president in 2007 and told the audience the expectations for the team were low when he arrived, with many telling him the team would “never win again.”

The team did bounce back from 20-straight losing seasons in 2013 to reach the postseason three years in a row. Pittsburgh missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons.

“We have people who are really upset with us,” Coonelly said. “That’s good. That means the expectations for the organization have been raised, the expectations are high, and that’s what we wanted. It’s now our responsibility to say we have a vision, we know how to accomplish it, and we need to make sure that we are demonstrating to our fans that we will execute this vision again.

The reaction hasn’t been 100 percent negative, Coonelly told the audience. One season ticket holder told him the recent decisions are consistent with what the team has done and what it has to continue to do in order to have a winning team in Pittsburgh.

“Chests were made for spears,” the fan told Coonelly. “Just keep pulling them out and moving forward with your vision.”

Coonelly took a few questions from the audience after his talk. Event organizers asked if he wanted to screen questions ahead of time, but he declined.

Kamryn York, the graduate assistant in the doctoral program, helped plan the speaker series along with Eric Stennett, director of the Ed.D in Leadership and Administration program. York said Coonelly declined the option to screen questions because taking questions is being a leader and being in his position.

Stennett and York said the next guests in the speaker series haven’t been confirmed, but the possibilities include someone in the nonprofit world or a prominent female leader.

“Anytime you can hear from a leader and get some tips an d advice is always helpful in our development, especially as students in leadership,” York said.

The point Coonelly repeated throughout his talk was the importance of focusing on a mission and vision through tough times, something he is putting into practice with the Pirates.

“We have to stay relentless in pursuit of our mission,” Coonelly told the Globe. “We just have some bumps in the road here and we need to figure out as an organization how we’re going to push forward through these bumps in the road.”