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David Morehouse's Legacy


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Copied from the Post-Gazette this morning. I knew he was a sharp guy but that's one interesting background.  Wish the guy all the best...

 

David Morehouse has four kids, but on July 7, at least for few moments, he probably will feel as if he has five. That is the first day of the 2022 NHL draft. Logan Cooley, born and raised in West Mifflin, is expected to be a top-five pick.

 

Cooley is a significant part of Morehouse’s wide-ranging legacy with the Penguins.

 

Morehouse, who resigned Wednesday as the team’s president and CEO after joining the organization in 2004, will be remembered for pushing hard to find the political support and financing to build PPG Paints Arena and the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. He oversaw a franchise that made the playoffs the past 16 seasons, including this one, and won Stanley Cups in 2009, 2016 and 2017. He hired Hall of Fame general manager Jim Rutherford. He made coming to games an event to the point the franchise attracted sellout crowds for 14 consecutive seasons, a streak that ended earlier this season.

 

“The challenge is sustainability,” Morehouse told the Post-Gazette a few years ago. “There have only been a couple of teams in the history of sports that have sustained a championship-caliber organization. One just happens to be in town. Just look across the river at the Steelers, and you see a sports franchise that is run the way it’s supposed to be run.”

 

Morehouse has played a key role in putting the Penguins in a similar spot. He has made the franchise stronger and put it in position to survive the post-Crosby-Malkin-Letang era.

 

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.

 

Morehouse, 62, could have spent his adulthood as a boilermaker. Or maybe as a big shot in a Democratic White House. You might say Morehouse has had a rather diverse professional life.

 

A Beechview kid who was known as “House,” Morehouse joined Boilermaker Local 154 on Banksville Road after graduating from South Hills Catholic High School. He still might be at that trade if a steel beam hadn’t snapped as he was welding it, striking him in the head and nearly killing him. He needed weeks to recover and months before he fully regained his memory and balance.

 

“Getting hit in the head knocked me cold, knocked some sense into me and knocked me in a new career direction,” Morehouse told me in 2009.

Never much for school, Morehouse began taking classes at Community College of Allegheny County. That was just the start of an education that led him to become a major political figure. To this day, he will tell you he has no idea how, years later, he was accepted into and then graduated with a master’s degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

 

Read that again. Harvard.

 

Morehouse was working as a docket clerk in inheritance tax at the Allegheny County Register of Wills in 1991 when he joined the Bill Clinton presidential campaign. He started at the bottom, driving in Clinton’s motorcade, but quickly rose through the ranks. At one point, he coordinated the president’s travels and estimated he made the equivalent of 17 trips around the world on Air Force One.

 

Presidential candidate Al Gore hired Morehouse in 1999 as his campaign’s trip director and senior adviser. It was Morehouse who had to physically stop Gore from prematurely conceding to George W. Bush on Election Night 2000 because of problems with votes in Florida. Morehouse took one more crack at the White House in 2004 with John Kerry as Kerry’s traveling chief of staff and senior adviser. Had Kerry beaten Bush, Morehouse almost certainly would have been his deputy chief of staff.

 

It was Morehouse’s connections with Democratic heavyweight and Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle that led him to the Penguins. Burkle recommended him for a consultant role on the team’s arena project. Morehouse stayed on as team president after that job was successfully completed in 2007 and was promoted to CEO in 2010.

 

It has been the ride of a lifetime for Morehouse. “A perfect job, my dream job,” he called his positions with the team. It’s one thing to be in the White House. It’s another thing to hoist the Stanley Cup not once, not twice, but three times. Not even a billionaire like Burkle can buy that thrill. It has to be earned.

 

Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby always will be remembered for saving hockey in Pittsburgh. How lucky have we been to have two of the five greatest players in NHL history, not to mention all of the other Hall of Famers who laced their skates here? There would be no Penguins without Lemieux and Crosby.

 

But Morehouse deserves credit for making Pittsburgh, in his words, “a true hockey town.” He is not a lawyer or business genius, as most CEOs are. His strength is marketing. He did such a fabulous job with the Penguins’ brand that the organization, at various points, was No. 1 among all pro sports teams in fan relations, according to ESPN The Magazine, was named as the fastest-growing brand in the NHL by Forbes magazine, and led all U.S.-based NHL teams with record-setting local television ratings, website hits and merchandise sales.

 

Morehouse saw the success that HBO Sports’ “24/7 Penguins/Capitals” national series had in 2010 by granting cameras total access to the players, coaches and staff. Why not do that regularly on a local basis, Morehouse thought? The result — the Penguins’ “Inside the Room” segment — brought fans closer to the team than ever before.

 

Morehouse was all about community outreach. Think of the big screen outside of the arena for playoff games. That has been a popular promotion.

Even as the Penguins became successful and an annual Cup contender, Morehouse was willing to spend more money to make them even stronger. Among his many initiatives were donating free field hockey equipment to elementary schools and building deck hockey rinks in the area through sponsors and the Penguins Foundation. Morehouse knew not everyone can skate or afford ice time, but this gave kids an opportunity to fall in love with a similar game instead of football, basketball or baseball. He also knew those kids might just grow up to be Penguins fans and ticket-buyers.

 

More recently, Morehouse started the Penguins’ Executive Management program, which is designed to create opportunities for female and minority athletes. He introduced U.S. women’s hockey star Amanda Kessel — Phil’s little sis — as the first participant in the program.

 

“The thing I’m probably most proud of is being a part of the growth of youth hockey in Pittsburgh,” Morehouse told the Post-Gazette last week.

That brings us back to Cooley, the talented kid from West Mifflin.

 

In 2009, Cooley joined Crosby’s “Little Penguins Learn to Play” program during its inaugural season. The program has Morehouse’s fingerprints all over it and is designed for first-time hockey players ages 5 to 9. Kids are given free head-to-toe equipment and eight-to-10 weeks of age-appropriate, on-ice coaching and instruction.

 

Cooley eventually worked his way through the Penguins Elite Hockey program to become a world-class player. He is playing for the U.S. national under-18 team.

“Obviously, hockey is a pretty expensive sport, especially just getting into it so young,” an appreciative Cooley told the Post-Gazette earlier this year. “It’s really nice what Crosby does to be able to give all those kids free equipment and being able to grow the game.”

 

Just as Morehouse envisioned.

 

No one who knows Morehouse is surprised by his success.

 

“The first thing I can tell you about David is that he is very smart, an extremely quick study,” Gore said via email for Post-Gazette columnist Gene Collier’s brilliant piece on Morehouse in 2010. “He had a great feel for people, and he was very calm under pressure.

“It was obvious to everyone he was a guy who was going places.”

 

Now, Morehouse is moving on from the Penguins. The timing is right.

 

Burkle and Lemieux sold the Penguins to the Fenway Sports Group in November. Although all parties said Morehouse wasn’t pushed out by the new owners, he didn’t have the same autonomy that he always has had. There also were health issues to consider. Morehouse has had two other heart episodes after having a major heart attack while traveling with the team in San Jose in 2009.

 

Morehouse insisted he isn’t retiring, that this is a merely a pause to recharge. Clearly, Morehouse won’t have a problem finding another job.

 

Just as clearly, the Fenway Sports Group would be lucky to find another Morehouse.

 

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com and Twitter@RonCookPG. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Joe” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

First Published May 1, 2022, 6:00am

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