The impact and influence of the late Bill Nunn can never be overstated when it comes to crafting a legacy of scouting and drafting for the Pittsburgh Steelers that continues to exist to this day. Nunn, who passed away in 2014, spent 44 years with the team until his death, and the team renamed their draft room after him.
Nunn was a sportswriter and then managing editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, an outlet geared toward the African-American demographic. He was highly critical of the Steelers’ and Dan Rooney’s failure to proper scout prospects from historically black colleges that were routinely overlooked.
It was in the late 60s that the Steelers began to open their ears to Nunn and by 1970 they hired him as an assistant personnel director under Art Rooney, Jr., Dan Rooney’s brother. It was thanks to Nunn’s influence that they were able to scout and access players such as John Stallworth out of Alabama A&M in 1974 in the fourth round.
But his value went far beyond opening eyes to lesser-scouted areas of the country. He had a keen eye for scouting in general—after all, that would have to be the case if he was kept around for nearly half a century.
One thing that he helped to nurture, according to pro scouting coordinator Brandon Hunt, was an environment for constructive debate. “I remember the great Bill Nunn used to love arguments”, he recently told the team’s website.
“Whenever guys had totally different grades—one guy had a first round on a guy, another guy might have had a fifth—those are the ones he would lock in in his chair to see what the emotions of the room are going to be”.
I would like to think that the debates held in the Steelers’ draft room were a little more productive and constructive than the arguments we often see in the comments of any mock draft that we post. There will always be a divergence of opinions when it comes to evaluating players, but for a scouting department, the goal is always to reach a consensus.
“We all respect each other’s opinions, but we all understand that we evaluate differently”, General Manager Kevin Colbert said. President Art Rooney II even joked that he would be disappointed if there were no disagreements from time to time.
Nunn is unlikely to ever make it into the Hall of Fame as a contributor in spite of the tremendous influence that he had in drafting the Steelers’ dynastic roster of the 1970s, but he certainly shouldn’t be far off from entering the team’s own Hall of Honor.
He is already honored with a draft room, as well as a bench that overlooks their training camp grounds, where he was known to hold court in the shade. Bob Labriola talks about the impact of the conversations he had with Nunn sitting there over the years. I’m sure Labriola never bothered to try to argue against him, though.