Spencer Thomas | Sports Editor
One of the most familiar faces around Duquesne Athletics said goodbye earlier this month, as Dave Saba retired after a 25-year career as the Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations. He worked with a variety of teams around campus, including football and men’s soccer, and spent every season of his time on the bluff with the basketball program.
After some time working in the athletic department at the University of Texas, Saba returned to his native Pittsburgh in August of 1998.
Despite being new to campus, Saba was no stranger to the once highly specialized industry of Sports Information. It was an interest that had found its way into his head long before.
“My sister was the director of promotions for the Pirates in the ‘70s,” Saba said, “And I just remember her coming home, and one day she had a set of game notes… She must have grabbed by accident.”
Saba picked up and studied those notes.
“It was so interesting,” he said. “That kind of piqued my interest in the field.”
After working internships with the Philadelphia Eagles and the USFL’s Pittsburgh Maulers, Saba was hired to work for the ticket office in Austin. Despite not being within the department he desired; Saba left his landscaping job in Pittsburgh upon the advice of a friend.
“I thought what the heck. I might as well give it a shot”
Upon landing in Dallas, he drove directly to the Cotton Bowl, where he worked at the will-call booth for the legendary Texas vs. Oklahoma rivalry game. Once things settled down, Saba got to know the Longhorns Sports Information Director Bill Little, who Saba says gave him his break when he offered the chance to write occasionally in game programs. In 1988, Saba was offered the job as the baseball SID, and within a year he was with the team as they made a run to the National Championship game. Soon after, he was working with the basketball program as they made runs as deep as the Elite Eight. After 10 years, Saba went to Duquesne, and brought an unmatched level of competence and expertise.
“He was an ultimate professional when he came here, and he stayed like that his whole time,” said Paul Hightower, Duquesne’s Senior Assistant Athletic Director and a close friend of Saba. “He was always very consistent in what he did and how he handled things.”
Despite being in a role that often goes unsung, Saba’s talents caught the eyes of some big names in the industry. Hightower described how ESPN Senior Bracketologist Joe Lunardi described Saba as “having the best game notes of anybody in the business.”
Hightower also attributed Saba’s success to his people skills and personability.
“I think that when you last this long in this profession, a lot of that comes down to how well you deal with people and build relationships,” he said.
In his quarter century, Saba built a towering list of friends from on the court to within the media. He described how his conversations with reporters would vary from basketball to each other’s families and how they were doing. Even as people moved behind keyboards in place of face-to-face interaction, Saba valued the importance of human interaction.
“I miss the relationship aspect of things,” he said, “To see kids grow up from a 17-year-old that would barely say a word to a 21-year-old graduate that is a polished adult ready to go out with the world. It’s one of the most rewarding things about this job. It’s just fun to watch them grow up.
“I remember [Former Duquesne cornerback] Leigh Bodden standing in my office after he got a free-agent invite to the Browns and talking to him about how if he was going to make the team, he would have to excel on special teams… and I got to watch him up close.”
Saba fondly ran down the extensive list of former players who he still keeps in touch with, including former basketball star Aaron Jackson, whose name is littered throughout the program’s record books, and recently finished a decade long career playing professionally in Europe.
Saba also got the chance to work with household names like Randall Cunningham and Ricky Williams, as well as the thousands of names who passed by while Saba operated March Madness when it came to Pittsburgh five times during his tenure. Despite those brushes with celebrity, nothing meant as much to Saba as the people he got to know.
“Dave could be having a bad day and look up and see Aaron Jackson,” Hightower said, “And suddenly he’s in a great mood because he’s seeing somebody that he genuinely cares about and makes him smile.”
Over his career, Saba quite literally became a fixture courtside around the country. Last season he covered his 1,000th men’s basketball game. “I have wondered at times what it would be like to have a weekend off and go home at 5,” he said.
In 2001, when Hightower and Saba were in Greensboro for the NCAA tournament, news broke early in the morning that Duquesne’s basketball coach had resigned. Hightower chucked about seeing Saba jump out of bed and scramble to write press releases and contact the media.
“It’ll be weird not having him around,” Hightower said,
“Especially during basketball season.”