After a rigorous selection process, Mr. O'Neill Sanford was hired to head the program. Joining Mr. Sanford from the University of Minnesota was Associate Director David Moy, who assumed the task of writing the drills and acting as percussion instructor. Mr. Mel Orange was also hired as an Assistant Director. The Golden Girls were instructed by Mr. Ron Tassone.
Many changes were brought into effect in the 1985-86 season. An entirely new, high-stepping marching style was incorporated to replace the old Pitt Band style of arm swings, spat flashes and chairs. One major change in the band program was the addition of a 16-member Color Guard. The Guard was virtually put together overnight, with Linda Rittenhouse as instructor. They made their first appearance in Morgantown at the annual "Backyard Brawl" with West Virginia. The Stadium Review Concert, a tradition which had died out in recent years, was revived once again when the band played at the Syria Mosque late in the season. The Concert Band started its rebuilding process with a concert in Greensburg for the Golden Panthers. The basketball Pep Band grew to over 80 members, as the members wanted to travel to New York for the annual Big East Tournament.
In 1986, 260 uniforms, 8 baritones and nearly 20 new snares, triple and bass drums and cymbals were purchased with the help of Pitt Band Alumni and friends. The new uniforms were a salute to the band's 75th anniversary. These uniforms were unveiled at the 1986 game with West Virginia.
The 1987-88 year saw a change in the location of Band Camp from Pitt-Johnstown to Edinboro University of PA. This Pitt Band was a young band with a large freshman class. The band left camp with a show of five Chuck Mangione songs, featuring "Children of Sanchez". The "Sanchez" show was a band favorite and was performed numerous times throughout the season. This season saw the band traveling to Morgantown, WV for the annual game with West Virginia, with a stop at a local high school for a band festival on the way home. Later in the season, the band spent the weekend in Georgetown, performed at the Pitt-Navy game, and marched a halftime show for a game at Annapolis High School.
At the end of the season, the band traveled to Houston, TX to play in the Bluebonnet Bowl. Because of funding, the band was bussed to Houston, a trip which lasted 36 hours - each way! The band performed a joint pregame show with the Texas band, and for the halftime show, the band marched the favorite "Sanchez" show.
A strong recruiting class for basketball and the promise of post-season play kept the Pep Band at 80-100 members. The regular-season highlight was the backboard-breaking dunk by Jerome Lane during a nationally televised game. For most of the Pep Band, the season ended with the annual trip to New York for the Big East Tourney, but a smaller band traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska for the NCAA Tournament. The excitement of a first-round victory over Eastern Michigan was squashed by a last-second loss to Vanderbilt in the second round.
The Concert Band continued its 2-year growth under Sanford. The band of roughly 50 members went on a concert tour, performing at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. for the Pitt Boosters and at Annapolis High School. The final concert of 1988 was held in Pittsburgh at the Bellefield Annex.
The 1991-92 season started off with the annual Band Camp held at Pitt's Bradford Campus, a change made in 1989. While at camp, the band planned an exciting first show including "San Juan Odyssey", "Sing! Sing! Sing!" and "He Ain't Heavy...He's My Brother". The inaugural game for the Big East Football Conference featured Pitt and West Virginia in Morgantown, a game televised nationally by ESPN. Pitt embarrassed the Mountaineers by a score of 35-3. The band accompanied the 5-0 Panthers to Notre Dame in mid-October. The band spent most of Friday in Chicago and traveled to South Bend on Saturday for the game. This time it was Pitt's turn to be embarrassed, losing 45-3 to the Irish. The remainder of the season found the Panthers floundering (winning only 1 of their last 6) and the band ended the season with the annual Stadium Review Concert at the Cost Center.
The Pep Band once again made its annual pilgrimage to NYC for the Big East Tourney only to see a talented Pitt team get upset by Miami in its first Big East Tournament. The Concert Band had the honor of being selected to play at the PMEA Conference in Philadelphia. After performing at the conference, they traveled north and spent 2 and a half days in Boston, MA.
The 1992-93 season marked the temporary end to a long tradition of football games against the Penn State Nittany Lions. The final game was played at Penn State in a downpour. Neither band was allowed to take the field at halftime. Unfortunately, the Panthers lost the game, as they did many others in this last year under the coaching of Paul Hackett. The trip this season was to Washington, D.C., and the band traveled to the University of Maryland for the game.
The Concert Band traveled to New Orleans, LA, and what a trip it was. There were stops along the way in Richmond, VA and Atlanta, GA. The students had the privilege of staying in a hotel only a few blocks from Bourbon Street, and were able to enjoy a home-cooked Louisiana-style meal cooked by O'Neill Sanford's family.
In the 1993-94 season, the football program placed its trust in the hands of Johnny Majors. The band celebrated the return of the coach who once led the Panthers to a national championship in 1976 by playing a medley of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" and "Coach". Unfortunately, the Panthers did not achieve many victories in this year, including a loss on the band trip to Notre Dame. The band still managed to have a great time in Chicago.
The Concert Band was fortunate enough to travel on two trips, one of which was made possible through Pitt Band Alumni President J. Roger Glunt. The band left snow-covered Pittsburgh in mid-January and traveled to sunny Las Vegas, NV in the middle of a heat wave. The band was flown to perform for a national conference of the National Association of Home Builders, of whom Glunt was also President. Not only was the band given stay in the Gold Coast Hotel and Casino, but also given generous stipends for food (and possibly some gambling). Former General Colin Powell spoke at the conference. The other trip was a two-city tour of Richmond, VA and Washington, D.C. at the end of the spring term.
The 1994-95 season marked the final year of O'Neill Sanford as band director, and also the end of the Pitt Band's facilities in Bellefield Hall and the Stadium's basement gymnasium. The band took a trip to Niagara Falls in Canada and traveled to the Syracuse game. The band enjoyed singing karaoke in the hotel lounge along with the band staff.
Fitting with the marching band trip, the Concert Band trip was also to Canada. The students performed in Toronto and most of them saw a spectacular performance of "Phantom of the Opera".