The past year has witnessed a renewed energy surrounding Pitt Athletics. The Panthers are prowling again with an unmistakable strength of purpose.
The catalyst behind this energy is Heather Lyke, now in her second year as Pitt’s director of athletics. Although her tenure has been brief, Lyke’s impact has been considerable and impressive.
Her influence has been evident in the recruitment of nationally regarded head coaches, a strengthened focus on the total student-athlete experience and the establishment of a culture of comprehensive excellence.
At the conclusion of her first year at the university, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher announced a new six-year agreement that will ensure her leadership at Pitt through at least 2024. The move was not only a reward for Lyke’s momentous first year, but also a reflection of the institution’s long-term commitment to a championship future for Pitt Athletics.
“Heather is leading an ambitious charge to transform Pitt Athletics, and her success here is just beginning,” said Chancellor Gallagher. “I am thrilled that she will continue to push our athletics programs to new heights—and spur positive change for our student-athletes and our university community—for years to come.”
“I am grateful to Chancellor Gallagher and our Board of Trustees for their belief in me, our team and what we are building in Pitt Athletics,” Lyke said. “Their support is invaluable and every member of our department knows our university is committed to helping us construct a championship culture with the right people. I want to thank our university leadership for their belief in our vision of what Pitt Athletics is capable of achieving—athletically, academically, within our campus community and in the City of Pittsburgh.”
Since joining Pitt in March 2017, Lyke has recruited eight new head coaches. This past offseason, she appointed Jeff Capel—who owns a championship pedigree as a former Duke player and coach under the iconic Mike Krzyzewski—as the new leader of the Pitt men’s basketball program. She also named highly regarded Florida State associate head coach Lance White as Pitt’s new women’s basketball coach.
Lyke additionally hired six other coaches in her first year: baseball’s Mike Bell, considered one of the nation’s top lead assistants while at powerhouse Florida State; softball’s Jodi Hermanek, who owns nearly 400 career wins and built Ohio University into a perennial championship contender in the Mid-American Conference; women’s soccer’s Randy Waldrum, a two-time College Cup champion while at Notre Dame; wrestling’s Keith Gavin, a former NCAA champion at Pitt; gymnastics’ Samantha Snider, who led the Panthers back to NCAA Regional Championship competition for the first time in five years; and diving’s Katie Hazelton, who previously distinguished herself in leading the Duke Diving Club to unprecedented success.
Lyke also solidified the future of Pitt’s ascending football program by extending the contract of head coach Pat Narduzzi, who has directed the Panthers to signature wins over Clemson, Miami and Penn State during the past two seasons.
Beyond recruiting top coaching talents, Lyke has outlined an ambitious goal of achieving championship results in each of Pitt’s 19 intercollegiate sports. Under her direction, the Panthers—staff and student-athletes alike—have adopted a daily mantra of striving for the “Gold Standard.” This standard dictates that Pitt Athletics will strive to achieve excellence in each and every endeavor it undertakes.
Lyke has simultaneously worked to pay homage to the Panthers’ rich history—the inaugural Pitt Athletics Hall of Fame class will receive induction in September—while also putting a bright spotlight on the achievements of Pitt’s current student-athletes. The 2017-18 year of competition was celebrated at the first-ever Panthers’ Choice Awards, an ESPYs-style show that recognized Pitt student-athletes’ achievements in academics, athletics and citizenship.
“It has been a tremendously rewarding and fun first year at Pitt,” Lyke said. “But the best part is we are just getting started. As proud as we are about our history and tradition, Pitt’s future can be even greater. We are highly motivated to usher in a new Golden Era for Pitt Athletics.”
Lyke is the first woman to hold the full-time director of athletics post at the University of Pittsburgh. (The athletic director position at Pitt is more than a century old, dating back to 1911 when Charles S. Miller became the university’s first A.D.) She arrived at Pitt already owning an exemplary 22-year record of increasingly high-level roles in collegiate athletics administration.
From 2013-17, Lyke served as vice president and director of athletics at Eastern Michigan University. Prior to EMU, she was a ranking athletic administrator at Ohio State for 15 years. Lyke additionally held posts at the University of Cincinnati and with the NCAA.
Lyke found the beginning of her professional path during her days as a scholarship student-athlete at the University of Michigan, where she captained the Wolverines’ Big Ten champion softball team. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Michigan and a Juris Doctor from the University of Akron School of Law.
At Eastern Michigan, Lyke oversaw a department that sponsored 21 varsity sports with more than 550 student-athletes. Her tenure witnessed high levels of achievement not only in the competitive arena but also academically and from a fundraising standpoint.
Eastern Michigan earned national recognition for athletic department efficiency and effectiveness when it received the Excellence in Management Cup presented by Texas A&M’s Laboratory for the Study of Intercollegiate Athletics. The “EM Cup” annually recognizes the athletic department that best maximizes fiscal resources through championship victories. EMU ranked No. 1 out of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools for 2015-16.
As a member of one of the nation’s most competitive athletic conferences, EMU annually distinguished itself in the Mid-American Conference under Lyke’s watch. Under her direction, the Eagles captured 16 MAC team championships, garnered 17 MAC Coach of the Year awards and had nearly 400 MAC All-Academic honorees. For the first time in school history, Eastern Michigan was honored with the MAC’s prestigious Cartwright Award for all-around athletic department excellence (2013-14) and the Jacoby Award for female athletic excellence (2014-15).
Under her watch, EMU’s football program was revitalized on the field and in the stands. The 2016 Eagles achieved a 7-5 regular season and earned a berth in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, EMU’s first postseason invitation in 29 years. Eastern Michigan had a 100% increase in total season ticket growth from 2014 to 2016.
With Lyke’s unyielding emphasis on classroom performance, Eastern Michigan achieved a record 81% Graduation Success Rate (GSR) for 2015-16. During the 2016 fall semester, Eagles student-athletes earned the highest term (3.238) and cumulative (3.266) grade point averages in the history of EMU Athletics.
From a fundraising perspective, Lyke conceived and implemented “Eagles Pride,” the first annual fund in Eastern Michigan Athletics history. Providing financial support for all EMU teams, Lyke’s vision for engagement produced record-breaking results with the highest number of donors and most cash received in program history. Lyke garnered the largest cash gift in the university’s history ($6 million) in 2017.
Lyke spearheaded numerous capital improvement projects for EMU Athletics. The highest profile was the installation of college football’s first gray Revolution Field Turf playing surface in 2014. Dubbed “The Factory” in honor of the region’s automobile industry history, the field was selected No. 2 among all colleges in a USA Today fan vote (behind only the University of Tennessee).
A reflection of her undergraduate studies in education, Lyke is enthusiastically dedicated to helping younger professionals in their growth and advancement. She is a frequent speaker and presenter at national conferences and serves on the Board of Directors of Women Leaders in College Athletics.
In 2014, Lyke became the first woman to chair the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Committee. She additionally chaired the Mid-American Conference’s Cost of Attendance Task Force.
From 1998-2013, Lyke worked at Ohio State, where she was a member of the athletic department’s executive team and a lead figure in the development of the Buckeyes’ strategic plan. Lyke directly oversaw 10 of Ohio State’s 36 athletic programs and had oversight of all facets of the athletic councils involving budget, revenue generation, facilities and OSU’s golf course operations.
She additionally supervised the Buckeyes’ sport performance division, which included the strength and conditioning coaches, athletic training staff and sports medicine staff. Lyke also developed Ohio State’s first student-athlete internship program, “Bucks Go Pro.”
During her Ohio State tenure, the Big Ten Network tapped her expertise as a color analyst for softball telecasts from 2009-13.
Prior to Ohio State, Lyke served at Cincinnati as the assistant athletic director for compliance as well as the senior woman administrator from 1996-98. She began her career at the NCAA as an intern in the enforcement and student-athlete reinstatement department from 1995-96.
Born and raised in Canton, Ohio, Lyke starred at GlenOak High School in volleyball, basketball and softball. She accepted a softball scholarship from Michigan, where she lettered four years as a first baseman and was an All-Academic Big Ten honoree. She was a two-time team captain and helped Michigan to the 1992 Big Ten championship.
Lyke and her husband, David Catalano, have three children: Elle, Sophie and Eli.