Bob Nutting has, indeed, begun firing everyone.
And good for him.
At 10:37 a.m. Wednesday, the Pirates officially announced that the team and Frank Coonelly "agreed to part ways," confirming my exclusive reporting the previous day in Tuesday Takes that he was on the way out. The announcement included quotes from both Nutting and Coonelly, portraying the split as amicable, but I'm told -- and have been told for weeks, as I've been reporting in that time -- that Nutting wasn't done with his housecleaning after firing Clint Hurdle Sept. 29.
From there, Wednesday afternoon, two sources told me Travis Williams, the former COO of the Penguins and all-around total pro and good guy, will be the next team president, with a formal introduction coming Monday at PNC Park.
I'll say it again, this time from the figurative top of Mount Washington: Good for Nutting. This has all been to his credit and no one else's.
Now, let's see what's next, particularly as it pertains to Neal Huntington and the actual baseball operations. Because there's a mountain of work still ahead for Nutting and for Williams.
Like most, I'd presume, I ripped through the Coonelly announcement looking for any clues about what'll follow, and this was the pivotal paragraph in the portion quoting Nutting: “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. 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 money phrase in there, of course, is "the opportunity to refresh our entire operations." Because there's almost no way to interpret that other than there's a ton more to come. If Nutting believes -- and I couldn't know if he does or not -- that a new team president will "refresh" anything at all about a mechanism this monstrously flawed, then he'd be a mile deep in delusion. And at this point, with this move now having been made, it's obvious he isn't.
First, Nutting took action on Hurdle. Then, as I'd reported in Friday Insider shortly thereafter, Nutting was going to proceed as deliberately and methodically as he usually does in looking at all the rest. And judging by his statement upon Hurdle's firing that "Huntington and the leadership team that he has assembled are the right people to continue to lead our baseball operations department," it might have sounded like everyone on that shelf was safe.
They aren't. They never were. Even if they somehow stay aboard into the 2020 season, they'll be under the pressure of a new boss, a new voice, a new urgency unlike any since coming aboard in late 2007. But I'm not seeing them staying aboard. Not now. Not when the franchise owner has an opportunity, right here and now, to affect a complete change, or at least as complete as it can get without his selling it.
Look at it another way: If Nutting wanted to end all discussion on Huntington's status, he could've done so in this statement Wednesday. He didn't.
Maybe it'll be another amicable parting. That's how the Hurdle firing was put forth, and that's how Coonelly's has been put forth. Huntington was reported to have received an offer last offseason to join the Giants in an executive capacity, something he'd eventually confirm but something I was never able to independently confirm. If it was accurate, maybe another job awaits and, in turn, another amicable parting.
It's clear, even if just from Nutting's wording on Hurdle and Coonelly leaving, that his respect for all concerned is genuine, and he'd rather not bury anyone on the way out.
“I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for Frank," Nutting further wrote in the announcement Wednesday. "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."
An aside here: Coonelly and I didn't agree on much of anything as it relates to the club he was running, but Nutting's completely correct that he displayed a "tireless work ethic." He really did, both related to the Pirates and from-the-heart charity work. That was confirmed by most everyone who knew him, and I witnessed it myself. Further, as I've written many times, he did extensive work to bring back both people and traditions -- and the traditional uniform look -- of the Pirates from the past. That's always been respected on this end.
He had to go. Good for him, too, for saying as much in his own statement, which is below in full:
“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.
“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.
“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. 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. The people of Pittsburgh welcomed us to town and supported us throughout this entire journey. I will forever be rooting for the Pirates organization and its great fans.”
As I further reported in Tuesday Takes, I believe Coonelly's headed back to the Major League Baseball offices to work alongside old friend Commissioner Rob Manfred toward the coming labor negotiations. He'd been looking into such a move for a while, in part, I'm told, because he was weary of taking bullets on this front. He put his house up for sale in the past week, and other family members had been quitting their jobs, apparently toward a collective move back to his roots in Philadelphia.
Only about a month ago, it might've seemed the Pirates and their existing front office would be linked forever. Now, not so much.
Nutting's vision of the team president role, as he laid it out for me back in 2007 before hiring Coonelly, is that he or she should oversee all operations, both business and baseball. His motivation in the moment was preventing another debacle trade like the one Dave Littlefield made that year to acquire an aging Matt Morris and his eight-figure salary for Rajai Davis. Basically, he wanted someone to have final say on all money matters, including those related to the team. Coonelly embraced all aspects of that role at both ends, though I was told he often could be overbearing when it came to Huntington, at least once having killed a trade -- Ronny Paulino to the Indians nearly a decade ago -- that could've helped the Pirates.
Williams, without a doubt in my mind, will carry identical authority. Only he'll come with an infinitely more relatable personality than the lawyer-to-the-bone Coonelly, and he'll come from an organization that only understands winning as a priority. It won't be seamless. Williams' background, between the Penguins and the job he recently took with the Islanders, is all NHL. He'll have so, so much to learn. But he's intelligent, passionate and he's pure Pittsburgh. An Indianapolis native, he went to school at Penn State, then Duquesne, then worked at Reed Smith, a Downtown law firm. That matters around here. It just does.
Lucky for him, it shouldn't take more than five minutes to figure out what his first move should be.
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