USL Pro: Exclusive Q&A with New Pittsburgh Riverhounds President Richard Nightingale

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CoC: How much are you involved in the on-field product?

RN: We’ve got a sporting director in Jason Kutney and we were so blessed to get Mark Steffens as head coach, when you consider he has 18 years in the league and 13 years in the playoffs. He’s won it three times, he’s in the hall of fame. At the point in time the club is at, we couldn’t ask for someone better to come and coach.

I always have dinner with Mark on Sunday night. We talk about things constantly and they update me on players, but I have total trust in them. We have 20 players signed, with six that are carried over from last year. These guys have done a phenomenal job in what’s been a really competitive market. I feel really good about the players who have come in. We have a great spine of the team from the goalkeeper to some quality forwards.

When people ask me what I expect from the team, I say, ‘Shock and awe.’ I think that’s what people are going to see. We’ve got so much pace on the team, it’s incredible to watch. I always joke with Mark that you can’t coach speed and it’s going to be electric and a thrill to watch. There are going to be a lot of goals, but at the same time I feel like our back four is very strong with Anthony Arena returning.

As the fans get to know some of these players, as we introduce them, I think they’re going to say, ‘You’ve got some quality.’ These are guys who will only be with us a year because they’ll be playing in the MLS, I have no doubt. No doubt at all.

CoC: In the recruitment process, have you guys sensed an excitement from the players about what’s going on here? Moving forward from bankruptcy, new leadership, a new coach, and all that.

RN: First, Tuffy Shallenberger’s been first-class. He’s hands-on but he’s not, he respects what everybody’s skill sets are and lets us get on with it. I think you have to have that in an owner, so from that regard (it’s) been fantastic.

You know, it’s funny when you talk to some agents and you let them know that Anthony Arena signed, suddenly they want their player to come and play alongside him, because they know he can make their player better. (The players) know people like Arena are going to attract scouts and so they’ll have people looking at them.

The players we have coming in, we’ve got some proven players. There’s one player coming out of South Africa that I think is going to light up the league. When people see him, they’re just going to go, ‘Wow.’ I’ve watched a lot of soccer all around the world and at all levels, this kid is destined to play at a really high level.

CoC: Even though you have a new coach, you still have (former CEO) Jason Kutney as your sporting director and (last year’s interim coach) Niko Katic is still onboard as well. What have they brought in terms of stability to an organization that has gone through some change?

RN: I think you need that. You need to respect what’s gone before and the heritage of it, right? Last year Niko was put in an insane situation and did a fantastic job. We wanted to reward him. He’s got such an enthusiasm that Mark (Steffens) wanted to have. Obviously he’ll bring some assistants up from Charlotte who will be announced soon. We feel like we have a really good balance.

With Jason, putting him in that role is what he loves most, what he’s best at. He’s done a great job to date, and it goes back to what I was saying earlier about putting the right people in the right jobs. I feel really, really good – and we started probably behind the 8-ball, behind a lot of other teams who were ahead of us in terms of securing players – so in that sense we’ve done a remarkable job.

I’m not trying to set myself up for a fall, but I’m very optimistic. We’re not going to win the championship, but we’re going to give people a lot of hard games, here and on the road.

CoC: When you’ve talked to potential (corporate) sponsors, what’s your selling point?

RN: Once again, it’s about the pyramid of soccer and what we’re trying to do here throughout the community. With Allegheny Health (Network), we’ll go out and do clinics, do camps. We want to be great ambassadors for the game of soccer in western Pennsylvania. I don’t want to be insular and say, ‘Hey, look at me, I’m a professional soccer team.’ That’s just one piece of it, and we want people to come in and enjoy that. That’s the icing on the cake.

Talking to sponsors, they don’t want to just put up signs. They want to actually go out into the community and assist and help. So we can put our plans together, whether it’s Rob Cochran, or Nike, who is onboard as our official equipment (provider). We’re talking to Dick’s, the Trib (Total Media), 84 Lumber, and it’s consistent. They want to know what we’re going to do for the greater good of the game. How can you raise it all up so that everyone can benefit? That’s an important part.

CoC: It says in your bio that you’re a risk-taker. How do you feel you’ve developed that reputation?

RN: (Laughs) I tend to embrace change. I mean, when I go, I go hard. I decided to come out here and take this job, leave my family in Oregon for a while. Just digging in. Coming out of bankruptcy it’s not easy, but I see the great potential. I’m forever an optimist and I love a challenge. I’m ready to roll the dice and fire everybody up.

Coming out of Nike, one of the quotes that always stays with me is – and I (tweeted) this last night – ‘To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.’ That’s what I’ve said to everybody, from the front office to the players to Mark Steffens. Add value every day and really go out there so you’ve got no regrets about anything.

You see the youth players every game, they leave it on the field. So have great fun, enjoy it. I hope that carries through to everybody and we become a club that’s known for that, whether it’s front-office people that want to come and work here, players want to come play here because of the training they’ll get and the culture and environment. I want to have a culture that’s envied.

CoC: Last thing, what kind of reception have you gotten from the fans, whether for the Hounds or just soccer, that you’ve met?

RN: It’s been really good. I met with the Steel Army, we had dinner. People just want success, they want to be included and be part of the story of building a new chapter. I’m all for that. It’s about embracing everybody and driving forward, building something that will last for years.

I’ve tried to talk to everybody and be respectful of those who have been part of this soccer community a lot longer than I have, people like (Pittsburgh soccer legends) Paul Child and Gene Klein. Just listening to them and listening to our coaches. I’ve done a lot of that, and hopefully – going back to your question about being a risk-taker – I’m just going to go from there.

Some decisions will be popular, some will not be, but I think that’s what you have to do in a leadership role.

Thanks again to Nightingale for the time and to Ian Thomson of the Hounds for setting up the interview.

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