HICKORY – Through the years, Bill Hillgrove has seen many changes in the sports broadcasting and journalism worlds.
Part of his success has been the ability to adjust.
Now, as the football season for the Pitt Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers approaches, Hillgrove is optimistic changes for both teams he holds dear will be positive.
Pitt is in the Atlantic Coast Conference, after moving from the Big East, and the Steelers for the first time in recent memory are not considered a Super Bowl contender or a serious NFL playoff threat.
“The move to the ACC is totally positive for Pitt football,” said Hillgrove, who was awarded the Myron Cope Legend in Sports Award Thursday night at the Hickory Lions Club Sports Dinner at the Hickory Fire Hall.
“It looks like this is setting up with good timing. With the schedule the way it is, there will be a lot of people in (Heinz Field) this season. If they can win some, you get your fans and enthusiasm back. It could be the shot in the arm the program needs.”
Hillgrove said the Panthers’ home schedule has created a lot of anticipation and excitement. The home schedule includes games with Florida State, Virginia, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Miami – in addition to non-conference games versus New Mexico and Old Dominion.
Hillgrove, who became the voice of Panthers football in 1974, said because of the move to the ACC, Pitt has changed its identity to deal with the overall speed in the conference.
He said Pitt could not handle the speed of Mississippi in last season’s Compass Bowl, which led to a lopsided defeat.
“Ole Miss had the SEC (Southeast Conference) speed. (Pitt coach) Paul (Chryst) knows what it is going to take to be successful in the ACC. The conference doesn’t have the overall speed of the SEC, but it is not far behind.
“We’ve all ready seen changes. You no longer see the big lineman from the past. He has recruited smaller, faster lineman, who can move. We have seen how Paul and the coaching staff are adapting things to deal with the change.”
Hillgrove became the fourth man to receive the award named in honor of Cope. Previous honorees included former Steelers linebacker Andy Russell (2008), former Steelers defensive lineman and former Washington & Jefferson College football coach John Banaszak (2009) and current Detroit Tigers manager and former Pirates manager Jim Leyland (2010).
Hillgrove, the long-time voice of Pitt football and basketball, is entering his 20th season as the voice of the Steelers. He teamed with Cope for more than a decade on Steelers broadcasts and the pair were together for one Pitt football season.
The veteran play-by-play man said this award is special.
“This one means probably as much as any award I have received,” Hillgrove said, “simply because it bears Myron’s name. In addition to being broadcast and work colleagues, he was a very dear friend.”
Cope combined with Hillgrove to form one of the most entertaining broadcast teams in the NFL.
Hillgrove said this season is unique that no one seems to be talking about the Steelers or giving them much chance to make the postseason.
“They love it,” Hillgrove said. “They are feeding off it. Nobody is picking the Steelers to do much this season. They could use that kind of challenge to their advantage.”
Hillgrove is hopeful that Pitt basketball will make a swift adjustment to the ACC. The Panthers were successful with a workmanlike, blue-collar style in the Big East – where often offensive possessions look as painful as a root canal – but that particular approach does not fit the ACC’s up-tempo approach.
“They are going to have to try and slow things down a little bit,” Hillgrove said. “But in the ACC, many teams rely on the three-point shot. You just can’t guard it, you better be able to shoot it, too.”
The move also will change the type of players the Panthers recruit.
“They have to take a step up (in recruiting),” Hillgrove said. “I know (Pitt coach) Jamie Dixon has a plan and will figure out what is best. It’s an exciting time.”