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The Usher Of Two New Eras In Penn State Athletics

October 23, 1982. No. 9 Penn State is in Morgantown for a matchup with No. 13 West Virginia.

The Nittany Lions lead 10-0, but the Mountaineers are in the red zone at the start of the fourth quarter. Jeff Hostetler drops back as the Nittany Lions’ defense forces him to scramble out of the pocket. On the run, he fires a bullet towards his running back.

But Hostetler wasn’t anticipating Scott Radecic. Penn State’s linebacker picks off the pass and goes 85 yards to put the nail in the Mountaineers’ coffin.

“Everybody joked, still jokes to this day, about how long it took to do that,” Radecic said. “It was basically the thing that brought the momentum back to us and secured that win and then we went on to win the National Championship.”

In Joe Paterno’s 17th year as Penn State’s head coach, the Nittany Lions finally won a national title. Radecic’s pick-six propelled his team to the 1983 Sugar Bowl, where it beat No. 1 Georgia 27-23. To this day, Radecic says when he thinks of his days playing college football he always goes back to that New Year’s Day in New Orleans.

“It was so loud at the Superdome that when we would try to make adjustments on defense, I couldn’t even hear what I was saying. We had to come up with some signals for things as the game got started because you just can’t hear what you’re saying,” he said.

“Everybody felt my freshman year and sophomore years, that those two teams were much stronger, more talented teams and there was always kind of talk about national titles and national championship opportunities,” he added. “Each of those years we lost a game or two at inopportune times that kind of prevented us, but this was kind of a team that nobody really expected to have the success that those first two teams did.”

The journey to the top of the college football world started a few short years earlier when Radecic was a freshman at Brentwood High School in Pittsburgh. Penn State first came on his radar when Micky Urquhart, a senior at the time, was recruited by Paterno and subsequently committed. Urquhart and Radecic watched Sunday morning shows about Penn State football together from that week on, so Radecic was excited when his offer finally came. His college decision came down to a few Ivy League schools in addition to Virginia, Purdue, and Penn State. With a role model in Urquhart playing for the Nittany Lions and the convenience of Happy Valley’s proximity to home, the chance to play for Penn State was too much to pass up.

His four years playing for Penn State were as individually successful as they were for the team. He was an Academic All-American in 1982 and his exhibition of being a complete package led him to the NFL Draft and soon after, Kansas City.

The Chiefs selected Radecic in the second round of the 1984 Draft with the No. 34 pick. He spent three seasons there, with highlights including two starts and a pick-six in his rookie season. His only playoff appearance with Kansas City was a loss in the Wild Card game in 1986, which was his last game as a Chief before heading to Buffalo. He spent three seasons with the Bills and began starting games more regularly, including the only two playoff starts of his career. Finally, in 1990, he went to his final team: Indianapolis, where he spent six seasons and ended his career with a 1995 playoff run to the AFC Championship Game.

scott radecic
Blue steel. (Trading Card Database)

Football is a rapidly changing entity, so the only logical constant is that nothing lasts forever. Radecic knew that, and began working for an architecture and design firm in his last five offseasons in Indianapolis. That way, as soon as his playing days were over, Radecic was poised for a successful career in the field — and there aren’t very many better ways for it to have started:

“My very first project, talk about serendipity or providence, was the Lasch Football Facility at Penn State.”

Radecic explained that success in his industry makes job opportunities snowball. His work on the Lasch building raised awareness for his employer, HOK Sport Venue Event, as well as himself. In 2009, Radecic was part of a team that bought out of HOK and reformed under a new name: Populous.

Radecic works at Populous’ main office, based in Kansas City (again, talk about serendipity), but it has expanded into a global enterprise with branches in New Zealand, England, China, and more. Since the mid-80s, think of a major stadium or athletics-oriented college and you’ll find HOK or Populous’ mark.

31 Super Bowls? Check. Sites for the 2000, 2002, 2008, 2012, and 2014 Olympic Games? You bet. Soccer City, the site of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final? Camden Yards, Yankee Stadium, and Wrigley Field improvements? Populous’ website gets more intriguing the longer you spend time on it. Fans of Pittsburgh sports will recognize Heinz Field, PNC Park, and CONSOL Energy Center and Philadelphia fans will recognize Citizens’ Bank Park and the minor league Coca-Cola Park. Sports fans at large will recognize Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, Wembley Stadium in London, Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, EverBank Field (home of the TaxSlayer Bowl) and so, so much more.

Populous is becoming synonymous with stadium and arena architecture and it has expanded into four new offices in the United States in the last two years. Oddly enough, Radecic’s work keeps bringing him home.

In addition to his work on the Lasch building, Radecic was involved on the 2001 Beaver Stadium renovations, the design of Heinz Field, renovations for the Colts’ RCA Dome, and renovations for the Bills’ Ralph Wilson Stadium and the Sabres’ HarborCenter (with the latter project also involving Terry and Kim Pegula).

Radecic chalks all of that up to coincidence and the amount of work he has.

“Once your company does a good job for somebody, it helps position you for additional jobs when clients have additional projects that they’re interested in,” he said. “So I would really say it’s more coincidence and it’s really more serendipity sometimes because it was never really a conscious thing to go back to places I played and do projects. It was just, opportunities would arise and we were able to be successful to secure those design commissions and do good work for people.”

Thanks to Radecic and Populous, sights like this are possible.

Now, Radecic is once again working on a project at Penn State — the athletics facilities master plan, which is still in its early stages. The success he’s found in his field almost didn’t come to fruition if his original post-NFL career panned out.

In a 2001 interview with Sports Business Daily, Radecic said being a senior principal at HOK Sports was a dream job but he can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if he was hired in his first dream job.

“It’s true,” he said at the time. “I really had it in my head that I wanted to get into coaching. I took a lot of shots at it.”

But every time something seemed close to coming to fruition, it fell through. First, there was the promise from Jerry Sandusky, Radecic’s defensive coordinator at Penn State. Sandusky promised he’d hire Radecic if he won the head coaching job at Maryland. When he didn’t, Radecic moved on to consider becoming a position coach in the NFL. The Colts and Raiders both had openings, but salary issues and other confusions stifled that. Finally, according to the 2001 interview, Kansas City’s Marty Schottenheimer promised to call Radecic about a job that seemed like a done deal. He never called. However, reflecting 21 years later, Radecic doesn’t think he’d change a thing.

“I believe that the Lord put me exactly where he wanted me to do this stuff,” he said. “Everything that has happened has been a wonderful career, to be able to be a part of really exciting projects for athletes, whether they’re training facilities or they’re competition facilities, stadiums and arenas and ballparks for student-athletes all throughout the U.S. colleges, and the NFL…I can’t believe I get paid to do this, it’s awesome.”

Radecic maintains that he’d have had success coaching in college or the NFL however — not only because he’d been told he was a smart player his entire life, but because he saw his peers make it big too.

Jack Del Rio played linebacker for the Chiefs in the late ’80s, soon after Radecic did. He has enjoyed Del Rio’s rise to fame, first becoming a head coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2003-2011 then being hired to lead the Oakland Raiders in 2015. The other former teammate-turned-coach needs no introduction. A decade and a half after Jim Harbaugh played quarterback for the Colts while Radecic was on the team, he coached the 49ers to the Super Bowl and most recently, beat Penn State 28-16 in Happy Valley while at Michigan’s helm.

“I’d like to be positive about it,” Radecic said. “I like to think at this point in time I would’ve been a position coach, then a coordinator, and then at some point maybe had a shot to be a head coach somewhere, college or pro.”

***

Scott Radecic isn’t leading 22 men up and down a football field; he’s leading a larger team across plenty of different stadiums, arenas, and ballparks.

His current project — and arguably the largest of his career — is the Penn State athletics facilities master plan. Athletic director Sandy Barbour’s second year began with a want to overhaul the athletics facilities and, needing a professional team to review the current state of affairs, she reached out to Populous. Conveniently, a prominent alumnus who had worked on Penn State facilities in the past was ready to help.

A phrase often used to describe the master plan’s ultimate goal is “comprehensive excellence” — in other words, to have the best facilities possible to set a new national standard for the student-athlete and fan experience. At most large universities, comprehensiveness is too ambitious to follow through with; at Penn State, Barbour insisted that all 31 varsity programs are looked at.

“I’ve said a few times this is the largest master plan that we’ve ever done and I’m not sure that there’s been a larger one performed in the US or anywhere, for that matter,” Radecic said. “There aren’t very many schools that even have 31 sports, and a lot of times even when we’ll go into a university to do an athletics master plan, many times they’ve finished recent projects so they’ll exclude certain sports. So if they have 23 [sports], we may only end up looking at 13 or 15 of them in the master plan because they feel like the other ones don’t need to be included.”

Barbour’s plan combined with Radecic’s comments raise cause for speculation, both positive and negative. On one hand, Populous has arguably the best-equipped and most capable team in the world looking at Penn State’s facilities — better venues are on the way. On the other hand, Populous’ team is looking at all the facilities. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to upgrade facilities and while some are certainly overdue (the McCoy Natatorium and Jeffrey Field come to mind), other venues like Pegula Ice Arena are perfectly fine the way they are. Before coming to Penn State, Barbour spent ten years as the athletic director at Cal. In her penultimate year, the athletic department was $445 million in debt. The blame is far from hers alone, as her chancellor and vice chancellor at the time came up with a faulty fundraising plan that didn’t work, then the group collectively (though not necessarily intentionally) misled investors into approving a massive loan.

It may have gone way over budget, but Cal ended up with a good-looking bowl. (By Andrew Hogan)

Six years after the plans at Cal were finalized, Barbour is leading another university on the opposite coast into another massive undertaking. She didn’t single-handedly cause Cal’s debt and it’s hard to say what decisions were hers, but she led the team. Her insistence on analyzing all 31 varsity programs and every athletic facility doesn’t have to be a cause for concern, especially when “analyzing” could mean any number of things. But with the last Barbour-led large-scale project ending up going way over budget, and with an early emphasis on thoroughness, that’s something to keep in mind. Will she and the athletic department be wary and learn from Cal’s mistakes, or will affairs go awry again?

There’s no answer to that question right now, and there won’t be for a long time. Right now, most of the public information regarding the facilities master plan came from Barbour’s town hall meetings and Radecic’s press conference in November. On Penn State’s side of the equation, the pressing tasks are raising funds for when Populous finalizes the master plan and re-branding (though Barbour sought a different word to use at the town halls) the athletic department’s image. Here’s our recap of her first town hall and the entire five-part “Strategic Plan Framework.” The athletic department’s funding isn’t tied in with the university, so the facilities master plan won’t come out students’ tuition, for example. It’s expected to come from donors, a fact made more obvious from surveys sent out in recent weeks. They were sent to season-ticket holders and asked questions about how much fans are willing to pay to go to a game and how much extra they’d pay for upper-class benefits like luxury suites or private tailgating spots.

Which brings us back to Populous. They’ve spent almost a year interviewing committees at Penn State and reviewing facilities and the potential impact of a master plan. Assuming fundraising is successful and assuming renovations or replacements need to be made, the next phase of the plan will begin in July or August, Deputy Athletic Director Phil Esten said at his own master plan presentation in late January.

“We’re progressing very well,” Radecic said. “The fall was really filled with a lot of user group meetings and lot of goal-setting-type sessions, and so we met with well over 80 different user groups in athletics or outside of athletics that have some influence on the student-athlete life or the business of collegiate athletics.”

He went on to explain that notes are being taken about every existing facility (like number of seats in the bleachers or numbers of rooms, cafeterias, or offices) and noted “introducing new venues” is on the table.

“We’ve looked at all the previous master plans in the recent past that Penn State has commissioned to look to see if there’s any applicability from those to what we’re doing,” Radecic said. “We’ve had our consultants walk campus and walk the athletic venues. Our engineers have climbed through some of the older buildings to assess some of the various features that are in them. So we’ve done all that work, we’re doing our programs, and we’re starting into the conceptual design phase of all the different projects that will come out of the master plan. We’ll be working to refine the programs and refine the design options and look at each one of these venues, propose new buildings or propose renovations and start to look at how that renovation conceptually occurs at each of the venues, then we’ll start some of the early cost estimates so we get a sense of the scale and cost of what these improvements might be. We’ll just keep working that until we get to this summer and have some final solutions.”

The personnel working within the athletic department and with Populous haven’t revealed anything too specific, which makes sense. At town halls, some predictions and projections came out. Venues are being looked at on a loose spectrum of “Natatorium” to “Pegula,” with Beaver Stadium landing in the mid-to-low range. It likely won’t be demolished and replaced but there are some glaring problems that will be looked at, including railings on the steps, renovated bathrooms and concession stands, and a winterization of the entire stadium so that it can be used more than six or seven times a year — whether those extra uses are for concerts, soccer games, or an outdoor hockey game.

But while the Penn State master plan is a complicated subject that will take about a year to form, Radecic has even more on his plate. He explains that there “is no typical day” at his job, unless he’s traveling. He flies on about four days during the week and focuses mostly on NFL and college assignments.

“The average day starts with you get up in the morning, take a run, clear your head, say your prayers, then you go to your client meetings and you conduct your meetings and then you’re looking for a way to catch a flight to get home or to your next city the next night,” he said.

***

Scott Radecic has traveled all over the world for his job. If you ran into him, you might think he used to be an athlete, possibly a football player. You probably could infer he’s a Penn State alumnus from his apparel. If you didn’t know any better, you probably wouldn’t connect the two — he’s from Linebacker U, but he’s no Jack Ham.

But he is one of the leaders from the first-ever Penn State Nittany Lion championship-winning team, and he is one of the leaders on the team in charge of reinventing the image of Penn State athletics. He says he doesn’t want to be thought of as a college football and NFL player, nor does he want to be known as a senior principal at Populous. He’s just Scott Radecic.

“I love Penn State,” he said. “I love being associated with it and as somebody who’s come from Penn State, I loved my NFL career but I love my post-NFL career too.”

And for a simple man with a busy life, that’s all he could ask for.

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About the Author

Doug Leeson

Doug is a sophomore and Onward State's Assistant Managing Editor. Dislikes: popcorn, Rutgers, and a low #TimberCount. Likes: "Frozen," Rec Hall, and you. Contact him via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @DougLeeson.

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