Carroll H. “Beano” Cook, the former University of Pittsburgh sports information director who became known nationwide as the “Pope of College Football,” has passed away. He was 81.
Cook graduated from Pitt in 1954 with a bachelor of arts degree. After serving 21 months in the Army, he returned to campus and served as his alma mater’s sports information director from 1956-66.
“Tom Hamilton was the athletic director who hired me at Pitt,” Cook recalled in a 2006 Pitt interview. “Frank Carver was the number two man in the athletic department. Frank used to be the sports information director years before and he gave me two pieces of advice that I still remember to this day. He told me, ‘They always have the last word.’ ‘They’ was referring to the media. It’s like what Lyndon Johnson told Spiro Agnew, who was going after the press at the time. Johnson said, ‘Spiro, you’re crazy. Those newspapers come out every day. You don’t come out at all.’ That advice still holds true.
“The second piece of advice he gave me was, ‘No matter how bad you screw up, Beano, they are still going to kick off at 1 p.m.’ That put it in perspective.”
His tenure at Pitt was highlighted by the 1963 football team, which went 9-1 and finished No. 3 in the final polls, and the All-America performances of men’s basketball player Don Hennon (1956-59). Cook quite famously, but unsuccessfully, attempted to pose Hennon with Dr. Jonas Salk — who discovered the vaccine that cured polio — for a photograph entitled “The World’s Two Greatest Shot Makers.”
“My two favorite Pitt athletes are Mike Ditka and Don Hennon,” Cook remembered. “If the bad guys are coming over the hill and I have to be in a foxhole with anybody, I’d want to be with Mike. He might not feel the same way about me. I really liked Don and he was the best basketball player we had at Pitt during my ten years there and is definitely one of the best ever.
“Getting to know the athletes really provided me with my fondest memories. That was the most fun. Sports information directors live in a world of reflected glory. If someone makes an All-America team you feel like you had something to do with it. Maybe you did and maybe you didn’t. The player who got the honor probably was ninety-nine percent responsible but it was still gratifying being part of the process.”
Cook left Pitt in 1966 and went on to serve as the NCAA press director for ABC Sports until 1974. Following stints as a sportswriter for the St. Petersburg Times, public relations director for the Miami Dolphins and public relations director for the Mutual Radio Network, Cook joined CBS sports and served in a public relations capacity from 1977-82.
He was a studio commentator for ABC Sports’ College Football Association telecasts from 1982-85. Cook joined ESPN in 1985 and went on to serve as a college football studio commentator for the all-sports network. In recent seasons he remained a frequent guest on ESPN Radio and also had a weekly popular podcast on ESPN.com with Ivan Maisel.
Cook was not shy in professing his love for the college game over the professional ranks. When asked why, he replied, “The passion.”
“A lot of us who follow college football are like Walter Mitty,” Cook said. “We dream of being the Saturday hero. On Sundays they play for money. On Saturdays they play for passion, for the love of the game. I think that’s why it’s our greatest sport. When people study this civilization ten thousand years from now, historians are going to be baffled about why more people followed pro football than college. They are going to decide that it was a weakness of this civilization that more people wanted to watch pro football on Sundays rather than college on Saturdays. Many things have changed about the game during my lifetime but the one thing that hasn’t changed is the passion.”
On Oct. 10, 2002, Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson unveiled the Beano Cook Media Room in the new Petersen Events Center. The dedication plaque reads: “This media room is dedicated to Beano’s legendary contributions to the field of sports journalism and unyielding dedication to his profession. Beano brought the national spotlight to Pittsburgh as he became a college sports icon.”
“Beano left a legacy never to be matched. Not matched in accomplishment, wit or loyalty to Pitt and his friends,” Pederson said. “Like so many others, it has been my privilege to be the beneficiary of Beano’s counsel and friendship. He loved the University of Pittsburgh and his name is synonymous with all good things at Pitt. We all feel a tremendous void in our lives today.”
Cook was born on Sept. 1, 1931. At the age of seven, his family moved from Boston to Pittsburgh, where he would reside the rest of his life as a committed bachelor. Because of his Boston roots, people in his neighborhood gave him the nickname “Beano.”