Pirates, team president Coonelly part ways

October 23rd, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- On the final day of the regular season, the Pirates dismissed manager Clint Hurdle and set out to find a new voice to lead the team on the field. Nearly a month later, they’re making another change atop their management team.

The Pirates and president Frank Coonelly parted ways on Wednesday, ending Coonelly’s 12-year tenure overseeing Pittsburgh’s day-to-day operations. The club has already hired Coonelly’s replacement, who will be introduced at a press conference on Monday.

“I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for Frank," Pirates chairman Bob Nutting said in a statement. "I 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."

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Pirates are set to hire former Pittsburgh Penguins chief operating officer Travis Williams, who left Pittsburgh a year ago to become the New York Islanders’ president of business operations after 11 years with the Penguins. The club has not confirmed the hiring of Williams.

“Frank and I both agreed that it was clear a change in the day-to-day leadership of the club is needed. This leadership transition gives us the opportunity to refresh our entire operations,” Nutting said. “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.”

The transition in leadership comes after the Pirates finished 69-93 this season, their lowest win total since 2010. They went 25-48 after the All-Star break amid turmoil off the field, including three documented fights in their clubhouse and the arrest of All-Star closer Felipe Vázquez.

“The second half of our season was disappointing to our fans and to all of us in the organization," Coonelly said in a statement. "Results matter and our results simply were not acceptable. It was clear that change was necessary. 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."

The Pirates hired Coonelly on Sept. 13, 2007. Before that, he served as senior vice president and general counsel of labor in the Commissioner’s Office. His background is in labor and employment law, which he practiced as a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Morgan, Lewis and Bockius.

With the Pirates, Coonelly served as the point man for their business dealings -- media rights deals, stadium development, branding and the like -- while also being involved in baseball operations decisions. Coonelly was in charge as the Bucs ended their streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons with three straight postseason appearances from 2013-15. The Pirates set franchise attendance records at PNC Park during that stretch, peaking at 2,498,596 during their 98-win campaign in ‘15.

“I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to lead this storied franchise in this great city for the last 12 years. I will forever be grateful to Bob and the entire Nutting family for giving me this incredible opportunity to serve,” Coonelly said. “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.”

But things have taken a sharp downward turn since the Pirates’ three-year run of success. They have posted losing records in three of the last four seasons. They dismissed Hurdle on the final day of the season, with Hurdle taking his leave before Game 162. They parted ways with bench coach Tom Prince and longtime pitching coach Ray Searage, as well.

The Pirates have not played in the postseason since the 2015 National League Wild Card Game. They have not claimed a division title since winning the National League East in 1992. They have not reached the World Series since winning it in 1979.

During an appearance at PiratesFest last winter, Coonelly himself declared the club’s 40-year World Series drought to be “too damn long.” He made that fiery proclamation to a group of fans while sitting alongside Hurdle and Neal Huntington. Only one of those three is set to return next season.

While Coonelly and Hurdle are out, Huntington is likely to remain in place as general manager, according to sources. Huntington is under contract through the end of the 2021 season, per the terms of the extension he signed in September 2017. In a statement made the day the Pirates dismissed Hurdle, Nutting said that Huntington and his front-office lieutenants are “the right people to continue to lead our baseball operations department.”

Based on his track record, the reported new team president will be less involved in baseball operations decisions. Williams, who holds degrees from Penn State University and the Duquesne University School of Law, comes from more of a sports business background. He represented sports franchises, regional sports networks and other sports-related business as a partner at Reed Smith LLP. He went on to work for the Penguins, where he oversaw the development of PPG Paints Arena and the construction of the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, before joining the Islanders last November.