Over on NFL.com the other day, Jim Trotter posted an excellent article and insight from the Rooney family about the organization leading the way when it comes to diverse and inclusive coaching and front office hires. From Bill Nunn to Tony Dungy to Mike Tomlin to new GM Omar Khan, the Steelers have been at the forefront of minority hires. Even in their first season, way back in 1933, Pittsburgh was one of just two teams with a black player on their roster, OL Ray Kemp.
Trotter spoke with current Team President Art Rooney II and younger brother Jim Rooney to talk about the organization’s process and the legacy of Dan Rooney and Art Rooney, The Chief.
“If you surround yourself with good people, you have a chance to succeed,” Art Rooney II told Trotter. “That’s been the efforts going back to my grandfather and father, just try to bring in the best people we can find and have them help us find success.”
Pittsburgh’s success began when they hired good people. That began in 1969 with Chuck Noll, who brought stability and a vision to an organization lacking it for the first 30 years of their existence. Prior to Noll, they rotated coaches, re-hired ones who were fired, with The Chief taking a very hands-off approach to the process. He didn’t need to do much in order to guide Noll but stuck with him through the first couple of lean years as Noll reconstructed almost the entire roster, only keeping a couple of holdovers like LB Andy Russell. By 1972, the team won a playoff game in historic fashion, the Immaculate Reception, and two years later, they won their first Super Bowl.
It wasn’t just Noll who built the team. Much of the credit goes to Nunn, writing for the Pittsburgh Courier and eventually hired as a full-time Steelers’ scout. He had the knowledge, insight, and connections to HBCUs and helped bring in names like John Stallworth, Mel Blount, and Donnie Shell, all Hall of Famers.
Fast forward to 2007 following Bill Cowher’s retirement. The team seemed likely to go with an in-house replacement but surprised many by hiring Tomlin, then the youngest head coach in the league, with just one year of coordinator experience. Jim Rooney said the team began with a whopping 37 initial candidates before creating a finalist list of four. Choosing Tomlin had little to do with football.
“There was no talk of X’s and O’s with finalists for coach job with Tomlin. That part of it was established early in the process. Those final questions, I know he asked Mike about his grandma, about his high school coach. He was looking for these cues to see how Mike related to people.”
Pittsburgh’s selection paid off and the Steelers won their sixth Super Bowl in 2008 while remaining competitive ever since. Now Khan is taking over for Kevin Colbert as the Steelers’ next GM, their first such change since 2000. Khan is believed to be the first GM of Indian and Honduran descent in league history. And though Rooney told Trotter Khan wasn’t hired because of his ethnicity, it’s another example of the Steelers walking the walk when it comes to the Rooney Rule.
Go read the entire article Trotter wrote that’s full of additional quotes about The Chief and Dan Rooney. It’s well worth your time.