Pirate's President - Frank Coonelly

January, 2011

 

Frank Coonelly with his lovely wife Debbie
This month the BuccoZone had the honor of interviewing Pirate's President Frank Coonelly. You can generally see Frank Coonelly walking around PNC Park talking with fans or sitting down watching the game whenever the Pirates are playing here in the burg. When you see him around the Park, be sure to say 'Hello' and feel free to ask him any Pirate question you may have. If he has the time, he will be happy to answer any of your questions.

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Question: How many or how often do you attend Pirate away games?
Answer: It has been about 10-12 regular season games a year. Every year I make an effort to clear my schedule to enable me to make more road trips but I have not been successful in these efforts.

Question: During the pirate season, you walk around talking to fans and sitting in seats throughout the ballpark. When fans engage in conversation with you about the Pirates organization, would you say they are more optomistic or pessimestic at this point during the rebuilding process?
Answer: All Pirate fans want us to win so badly and they want it to happen as soon as possible. I understand that and appreciate the urgency that is expressed by fans who have been disappointed by the Pirates for far too long. Most Pirates fans, however, understood that it would take time to build a winner and believed that this management team was finally doing what was necessary to make it happen. While there are plenty of skeptics – and who can blame them given the record over the last 18 years – most of the fans who I meet are bullish on the “new Pirates” and the new way that we have gone about building this team and this organization. This is particularly true of our Season Ticket Holders who have been with the Club for years and, in many cases, decades. They have seen that quick fixes have not worked and are encouraged that lasting building blocks are now firmly in place.

Question: What association do you maintain with the players? Do you allow yourself to get to know the players on a personal basis, or do you make it a policy to avoid personal involvement for business reasons?
Answer: I want to learn about our players and their families. It is important to understand who they are as people as well as ballplayers. I do not find it unhealthy to get to know and to care about our players and their families on a personal level.

Question: Does any personal association affect your judgement, decision, or opinion on the performance or release of a player?
Answer: Great question. If it did, then you should not have any personal association with the players. As noted above, that is not how I operate and that is because I believe that I can separate personal feelings for a person and what is necessary to do my job. My focus must be singular – and that is the best interest of the Pirates. While it was difficult, for instance, to approve the trade of Nate McLouth because I really like him as a person and because I appreciated what he brought to the organization, I have to make decisions that are in the best interests of the Club.

Question: As president of the Pirates organization, your job is to generally oversee all operations of the ballclub. What aspect of this would you say takes up the majority of your time and talent?
Answer: My time is split between the business operations, baseball operations, working with government officials in our jurisdictions, the media and, most enjoyably, the community.

Question: What responsibility do you have that you like the least?
Answer: Any responsibility that distracts me or my staff from improving the ball club.

Question: What area of your job, if any, do you feel you need to improve on?
Answer: We continue to struggle to have our story told well in the media. Many members of the media have become so disenchanted that they will not see or believe the fundamental change in the organization until we win on the field at the Major League level. While frustrating, this is not difficult to understand. Despite this mindset, we must do a better job of telling our story, both in terms of the growth of our baseball operations from top to bottom but also of all of the great things the Club and our players do in the community.

Question: What is your most memorable experience you have had so far as President of the Pirates?
Answer: There have been many, but watching the joy on the faces of the children and their parents when we first yelled “Play Ball” at the Pirates Charities Miracle League Field in Cranberry has to be number 1.

Question: Typically, how many hours a week do you work, and how many weeks of the year do you get off to relax, go on vacation, and forget about Pirate problems?
Answer: I cannot say that I ever stop thinking about the Club. I work too many hours over too many weeks from my family’s perspective, but there is a lot of work to do and I owe it to the fans of this Club to devote the time necessary to get the job done. While this is probably not a healthy lifestyle, Pirates fans deserve no less from the leadership of this Club.

Question: I understand that you earned your bachelor's degree from Penn State University and your law degree from Catholic University. How long were you a lawyer in private practive before you began to serve as the Senior Vice President in the Commissioner's Office?
Answer: I worked for the law firm of Morgan, Lewis and Bockius in Washington, DC for 12 years, first as an associate and then as a partner. During much of my time with the firm we represented Major League Baseball as its outside labor counsel and I was fortunate enough to work on that account.

Question: When you began studying and attending law school, did you place any particular emphasis on sports related law, or is that something that just came about and interest as time progressed?
Answer: As much as I always loved sports, no. I fell in love with labor law in my second year of law school and pursued a career as a labor lawyer. I was simply very fortunate to be able to do labor work for Major League Baseball. It does not get much better than that for a kid who dreamed of becoming a Major Leaguer for as long as he can remember.

Question: You were hired as President of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2007 When Kevin McClatchy resigned. The question is, how does one get hired to such a position?
Did you basically apply for the position when you learned the organization was looking as anyone does when looking for a job; Did you personally know Bob Nutting prevously to being hired by the Pirates; Were you recommended to the Pirates as a replacement as a result of the work you had done in the Commissioner's Office; or was it a combination of these?
Answer: I had worked with Bob Nutting on certain Pirates matters and had talked to him at Major League meetings. Bob sought advice from many different people within the game on candidates to interview for the position and, apparently, my name was recommended by several people with whom he consulted. I then had a series of very productive meetings with Bob and came away convinced that the Pirates were heading in the right direction again and I wanted to be part of the team that turned the franchise around.

Question: When you retire or move on from your present position, I am sure that you would like to be remembered as a President that not only kept the team finacially solvent, but also a President that helped put together a winning world series team. Impress on us, the fans, how much of a desire you have to put together a winning world series team as opposed to just making profit.
Answer: The Pirates need to operate in a fiscally responsible manner in order to be successful on the field over a sustained period. The last time that the Club had a payroll that its revenues could not support, it was forced to make poor baseball trades in order to bring its payroll back in line with its revenues. It has taken years to recover from the damage that this type of spending caused the organization. My charge from Bob Nutting is simple – to build a sustainable winner on the field – not to produce profits. Everything we have done over the last three years was done to build a winner. Every investment that we have wanted to make – in the Dominican, in the scouting budget, in the player development budget, and in the draft (where we have spent more than any other Club in baseball over the last three years) Bob has approved enthusiastically.

Question: Can you give the fans a brief synopsis of your family?
Answer: My wife of 26 years is Debbie (nee Pursell). My children are Erin – 2010 PSU graduate, working at St. Clair hospital, Tara – Senior at Temple University, Kelley – Junior at PSU, and Kyle – High School Junior.

Question: Last Thought?
Answer: Looking forward to seeing everyone at Piratefest and PNC Park for the 2011 season.

Frank Coonelly talking with members of the Gold Club 9-26-10 Frank Coonelly at Bowling with the Bucs 2009 Frank Coonelly with wife Debbie at Fan Appreciation Day 09/26/10
Frank Coonelly with Joanne at Piratefest 2009 Frank Coonelly talks to fans at Piratefest 2010 Frank Coonelly at the Miracle League Field 05/16/09
Frank Coonelly talks with fans at Winter Caravan 2010 Frank Coonelly sits among the fans and watches the game 05/02/09 Robert Nutting, Joanne, and Frank Coonelly at Batting with the Bucs 11/09/09