Former Pitt players seek to honor Sutherland
Carson Long likes to study history, and when the former Pitt kicker digs into the history of his alma mater, the early 20th century stands out.
In those years, Pitt was a dominant force on the football field, and that dominance was led by Dr. John B. “Jock” Sutherland. The Panthers’ head coach from 1924-38, Sutherland directed the team to a record of 111-20-12 and five recognized national championships.
It’s a period of time that gives Long pride, but in the course of his research, he sought out Sutherland’s grave in Homewood Cemetery, and what he found inspired anything but pride.
“I went out to his gravesite and found it deplorable,” Long said at Pitt’s South Side facility on Tuesday. “So I called my friends and they said, ‘We’ll fix this.’”
Former Pitt running back Dave Janasek recalls Long telling a gathering of Pitt football alumni in eastern Pennsylvania about what he saw at Homewood Cemetery.
“At one of the dinners, Carson had mentioned how he had visited Dr. Sutherland’s gravesite and what bad shape it was in. But what really got us motivated was, he also told us that he had been out to South Bend and seen where Knute Rockne’s buried, and that’s pretty much a shrine to him.”
So Long, Janasek and a handful of other former Pitt football players decided to do something about Sutherland’s resting place. The cemetery told them it would cost roughly $8,000 to restore the gravesite. With that money raised, the group then turned to a bigger project: the “Sutherland Restoration Fund,” a $75,000 deposit in an interest-bearing account from which the interest will cover the costs of maintaining the gravesite in perpetuity.
““The gravesite was in terrible shape and he was forgotten,” Long said. “I read a list of famous coaches and sportswriters who, when Dr. Sutherland died in 1948, said he’d never be forgotten. And he was. His grave hadn’t been visited in years.
“So I got these men together, my best friends at Pitt, and here we are.”
For Long, Janasek and the other Pitt football alumni who have taken up the cause, restoring the grave isn’t just about paying respect to a former coach who had great success 90 years ago. It’s about reconnecting Pitt’s present with his past, establishing a link of tradition for the current and future Panthers.
“He was an amazing man; the more I read about him, the more I’m impressed,” Long said. “We want to present this to the University of Pittsburgh as part of the Pitt experience. Dr. Sutherland was a perfectionist. He shows us where we were, and by studying his life and what he did for the University of Pittsburgh, will show us where we are and where we have to go from here to get where we want to go.
“If Sutherland is part of us, we have to be part of him. Pitt takes care of its own and we’re going to do this. We hope to have it done for the first game of the football season and we’re asking the University to bring out the team once a year and have a graveside ceremony, not to talk about his death but to talk about what he did in his life.”
Fans who would like to contribute to the restoration and long-term preservation of Sutherland's gravesite can do mail a check made payable to the Sutherland Restoration Fund to this address:
The Sutherland Restoration Fund
Ashland, PA 17921