What Scott Barnyak knew he was going to get at Carnegie Mellon University was a great education and the opportunity to play football. What he couldn't have imagined was how unique his football experience would be and how the great friendships he built there, including with head coach Rich Lackner, would grow well past his playing days.
"I knew I wanted to play football and maybe baseball and had some Division I possibilities," Barnyak recalled. "When all was on the table, it came down to where I could get the best education, I could play, and get the best package."
Barnyak's time at Carnegie Mellon included the creation of the UAA and three home fields over the course of four years. "I liked the aspect of the UAA then and I like it now," he said. "It is a great concept. We were losing traditional rivals at the time, but this was a new and exciting thing, breaking ground with a conference that coalesced around academic similarity."
Yet the main transition Barnyak remembered was not joining a new conference, but about the fields the Tartans were playing on. His freshman year was the final year of the grass field on the Carnegie Mellon campus with Mount Lebanon High School serving as the Tartans’ home field the next two seasons.
“I will never forget we would practice in different spots on campus,” Barnyak remembers with a chuckle. “We would be in the middle of campus practicing while students were walking around with their books.”
His senior season, a momentous one in Tartan football lore, was the Tartans’ first in the new Gesling Stadium, which still serves as the home field today.
That season, the Tartans won all 10 of their regular season games and earned a trip to the NCAA Division III Football Championship, while Barnyak earned his second consecutive All-America honor.
“He made those teams fabulous,” Lackner said. “He was a great football player and a great young man. He was a pleasure to be around and was truly the face of the program on offense at that time.”
Barnyak earned All-Association honors all three years he competed in the UAA. He led the Tartans to nine wins in 10 UAA games in that period, including a 4-0 mark in the first full Association season in 1990, when he was named Offensive Player of the Year as the Tartans captured the first UAA football title.
Barnyak became the first Tartan to rush for 1,000 yards in a season when he gained 1,088 yards in his senior campaign. He finished his career as the program’s all-time rushing leader and the first to surpass 2,000 career yards with 2,662. He remained the school’s career leader until 1999 (surpassed by Mike Campie) and still ranks fifth all-time in rushing yards.
“I can still see him playing,” Lackner remarked. “He wanted the football. At the same time, he was incredibly humble and unselfish. He would have given up any record for another win or two.”
Balancing athletics and academics is always a challenge at any UAA institution. “I always loved playing sports and my parents always stressed that I needed to excel academically,” Barnyak said. “If my grades slipped at all, I would not be able to continue with athletics. I was always motived to do both so I learned to use my time wisely. Every professor thought his/her class was the only class you had, but everyone was going through it together.”
One of the things Barnyak appreciated most about his days as a student-athlete was playing for Lackner. “He treated football very seriously, while understanding that you were there to get a great degree,” Barnyak said. “You were expected to give everything you had on the field. One of the best things about Rich is that he gave you the same attention on and off the field. Whether you are a sophomore looking for an internship or someone who played for him in the early days, he is always just a phone call away.”
Things went full cycle when Barnyak returned to help coach and assist new Offensive Coordinator Andy Helms in 2014. Helms and Barnyak played together for Lackner and belonged to the same fraternity. Time limitations from being a partner in his own company keep Barnyak from coaching as much as he would like to, but he enjoys being back with the program. “I initially was there just to help Rich and Andy, but I got so much out of it,” he said. “Coaching gave me an excuse to turn off work for a little while and have fun, giving back to something I really enjoyed, and spending time with young people who are going through a similar scenario I went through as a student-athlete.”
Of course Lackner is a big reason why Barnyak maintains such a strong relationship with the Tartan program. “From playing days to career, you transition from coach to friend, but ultimately he is still a coach,” Barnyak stated. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t feel as close to the university. He is one of the best people you could ever meet. His entire family is fantastic. He is the glue for that connection back.”
“He is a blessing for our program,” Lackner said. “It gives our current student-athletes a chance to interact with an alumnus who has done everything right. He had a great athletic and academic experience and then went on to do wonderful things in the business world.”
Barnyak has used his experiences at Carnegie Mellon to lead him in his business career. “The intensity of that environment was different,” Barnyak remarked. “Just like in business, you adapted or you failed. You don’t want to let your teammates, your coaches, or yourself down.”
After working in consulting and sales from 1994-2004, Barnyak and two former colleagues started their own consulting company, SDLC Partners. “I would go to football alumni golf outings and a large percentage of them decided to start their own company,” he said. “Why can’t I be successful doing the same thing?”
The company launched in late 2004 and the three partners funded themselves without compensation for the first 15 months. Success soon followed and 11 years later, the company has grown to 400 employees. “We are focused on execution, translating big plans into something digestible,” Barnyak said. “We are intent on getting stuff done. It is a derivative of the Western Pennsylvania mentality and work ethic.”
The company’s growth has included hiring the right people from all over, including Carnegie Mellon graduates. “We know the caliber of person and worker that comes from there,” Barnyak remarked. “Our goal is to reach $100 million by 2020 and is all about bringing in the right people. As I learned from Rich and has stuck with me as I have gotten older: it comes down to people.”
“Role models are hard to find and Scott is great to have as a role model,” Lackner added. “I have such admiration for him today in what a great man he has become.”