It's early one morning in late March. The media room at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia - site of the NCAA men's basketball tournament South Regional - is nearly empty, save for a man and a woman sitting together at a table. Patrick Pierson, the assistant athletics director for communications at Florida Gulf Coast University, walks in, sizes up the situation and does a little mental volleyball - ''Do I pick one of the 20 empty tables to sit at or do I ask the two media types if I can join them?''
The answer to him is a no-brainer.
As he settles in his chair, Pierson hears Dana O'Neil, a basketball columnist for ESPN.com, say to Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated: ''I can't wait to learn about the Florida Gulf Coast team. They're so interesting.''
Frewsburg native Patrick Pierson has taken a liking to his new job as the associate media relations director at the University of Arkansas. So much so, in fact, that he has been making a fashion statement once a week, calling it, ‘‘Bow Tie Tuesday.’’
Photo courtesy of Patrick Pierson
Seizing the opportunity, Pierson looks at O'Neil, smiles and says: ''I think I'm your guy.''
Fast forward six months.
Now the associate media relations director at the University of Arkansas, Pierson sits in his new office in Fayetteville last week and regales a caller with his memories of that early-morning March Madness moment.
''It was awesome,'' he admits.
That adjective could be applied to Pierson's career since the day he graduated from Frewsburg Central School in 2000.
From his days as an undergraduate at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, to sports information stints at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Fla., to the home of the Razorbacks, Pierson has left an indelible mark every where he's been.
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Pierson's successes in athletic communications wouldn't have been possible, he maintains, without the guidance, encouragement and expertise of many people along the way, including Jim Duzyk, the sports information director at Robert Morris; Liz Smith, another Robert Morris grad, who is now the assistant SID at Gonzaga University; and Steve Mest, the former associate athletic director for communications at Bona.
Taking a little bit from each one - ''they really molded me into who I am today'' - Pierson has advanced pretty quickly in a demanding career.
''I still stay in contact with them more than ever,'' he said. ''Even though I'm 10 years in, those were the ones who reached out to me (when he was hired at Arkansas in June). ... It's cool to think back all these years and they were the first ones to contact me with phone calls or text messages.''
What Pierson also counted as crucial was his decision to become involved in sports information activities while he was still an undergraduate at Robert Morris. In addition to working three years in the sports information office, he was also a marketing intern for a year, served as a promotions intern for Pittsburgh's ESPN Radio and was a NFL Experience intern for the Pittsburgh Steelers for two years.
''One thing I know is that if you go to college and you want to work in sports, but don't involve yourself or do something with the athletic department, I refuse to hire you,'' he said. ''I won't look at a resume of someone who hasn't worked for their university. ... It's an opportunity to learn right in front of you.''
Pierson has been credited for helping propel the ''Dunk City'' mania during Florida Gulf Coast's improbable run to the Sweet 16 earlier this year.
''It's amazing how our guys handled themselves,'' he said. ''That's the most rewarding part of that run. No one changed. Everyone stuck together.''
And that attitude helped make Pierson's job easier.
''The cool part of it for me was how much the guys enjoyed the media,'' he said. ''That's what we train them for, and that's what we're trying to do with the Arkansas guys. It's a formula that has worked every where I've ever been. You have to show a different side of yourself.''
Pierson landed his new job in late June. Among an assortment of duties, he will be the primary contact for communications for the Razorback men's basketball and men's golf teams.
''At (Florida Gulf Coast), I was important to 10 people,'' he said. ''Here, you may not know the other head coaches in the sports you don't cover. ... It's been a learning adjustment for me just to figure out where I go with things and getting it to the right person.''
Something tells me that Pierson, the son of Debbie and Greg Pierson of Frewsburg, has it figured out.
''How you take it to the next level is how you treat people,'' he said. ''I truly enjoy working with the media. I respect the profession. I read 100 media articles a day. I understand. I get it.''
And even though he hasn't always agreed with articles that have been written or segments that have aired, he accepts those challenges.
''Every where I've been when I've left, I've left on good terms (with the media),'' Pierson said. ''If you can get that relationship, you know you're doing the job pretty well.''
Last night I sent a Facebook message to Pierson, inquiring if he was OK with me running the photo that is accompanying this column. I found the image of him wearing a bow tie and sunglasses when I Googled his name.
See KINDBERG, Page B3
See KINDBERG, Page B3
The inspiration for ''Bow Tie Tuesday'' came from Pierson's friend who lives in Virginia and works at Salvation Army national headquarters in Alexandria.
''He just kind of started the 'Bow Tie Tuesday' thing a couple months ago and I jumped on board,'' he said. '' ... People have started to pick it up. It's more of a goofy thing, a social media thing. He's taken it and run with it and I'm just having fun with it (on Twitter).''
Judging from his experiences since the start of the New Millennium, Pierson is used to having the last laugh.
#BowTieTuesday could use the love,'' he wrote on his Facebook message to me. ''Haha.''