View Full Version : Steelers' Continued Success Based on Family Values

02-03-2011, 09:49 PM
Steelers' Continued Success Based on Family Values
By Dave Goldberg
Senior NFL Writer | Follow on Twitter: @davegoldberg84

DALLAS -- The symbol of success for the Pittsburgh Steelers is the cafeteria in their headquarters. One visit and you can understand why the team calls itself a family.

Go there on any weekday during the season at lunchtime and look around: players and coaches here; employees at all levels there; media members relaxing and the bosses sitting with any or all of them at any given time -- Dan Rooney until he became ambassador to Ireland and now his son Art, who's been running the team for a while now.

"That's how Pittsburgh is, just regular people,'' both Rooneys tell you when you ask them about the democratic nature of their operation. When you ask them why, given the Steelers' success, why other teams don't do it, they shrug.

"Ask the other teams,'' Art Rooney said this week.

"I think the organization is what it is for a lot of reasons,'' safety Ryan Clark said as the Steelers prepared for a chance to extend their record of six Super Bowl victories with one more against another historic franchise, the Green Bay Packers.

"It's about the city. It's about the organization and about the way it is run, like a family."
- Ryan Clark "It's about the city. It's about the organization and about the way it is run, like a family. To see a man like Mr. Rooney, who I think is probably the most respected owner in football right now, to see him in the lunch room or go to the game and he knows kids names and hugs your wife. I think just the family aspect of the whole thing, it makes you not want to leave. They treat people fairly. It is not a situation where they go out and make the big offseason move and you see the big No. 1 free agent coming to Pittsburgh. What you do see is guys staying. You do see them taking care of home first and I think that is a big reason that guys want to be around this organization."

It's always been that way off the field, from 1933, when the Dan Rooney's father, the first Art Rooney -- aka "The Chief'' -- founded the team.

But not necessarily on it. The Steelers didn't play their first postseason game until 1972 and in those first 30 seasons were over .500 only six times. During World War II, they twice merged with other teams -- as the "Steagles,'' the Steelers and Eagles, in 1943, and as Card-Pit, a lusty 0-10 in 1944 in tandem with the Chicago Cardinals.

It started to change in the late 1960s, just before the 1970 AFL-NFL merger in which the Steelers were one of three NFL teams -- with the Browns and Colts -- to move to the AFC in order to balance the two conferences at 13 teams each. The major move was the Chief's decision to put his son Dan, then in his mid-30s, in charge of the team, including the football operation.

Dan was more than just the son of the owner.

He had been a second-team all-city quarterback in Pittsburgh in 1949, beaten out by a young man named John Unitas, two young high school quarterbacks who ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Rooney, of course, didn't make the Hall for his play. But part of the reason he was inducted in 2000 was his work in building the team that won four Super Bowls in six seasons during the 1970.

Until the mid 1960s, Art Rooney Sr. ran the operation. Then he turned it over to Dan.

One of Dan's first moves, almost 40 years before the establishment of the "Rooney Rule'' to encourage the hiring of minority coaches, was promoting Bill Nunn, one of the few African-American scouts in those years, into a key position in the front office. Nunn's contacts at small and historically black colleges in the South helped the Steelers find a number of players who were key players on those "Steel Curtain'' title teams: John Stallworth, Mel Blount, Ernie Holmes, L.C. Greenwood and Dwight White among others.

In 1969, Rooney hired Chuck Noll as coach. The Steelers went 1-13 in Noll's first season and didn't have a winning season until 1972, when they made the playoffs for the first time, beat the Raiders on the "Immaculate Reception'' by Franco Harris before losing the AFC championship game, 21-17, to unbeaten Miami.

But the momentum was established. Rooney, Noll and Nunn, among others, had the best draft in history in 1974, the year the Steelers won their first Super Bowl, when they drafted four future Hall of Famers in the first five rounds: Lynn Swann in the first; Jack Lambert in the second; Stallworth in the fourth and Mike Webster in the fifth.

The good drafting continued, although not at that level obviously. Just as important was the continuity -- Noll retired after the 1991 season; Bill Cowher stepped down before the 2007 season and Mike Tomlin is in his fourth year and his second Super Bowl.

Three coaches in 42 seasons.

Compare that with the team the Steelers face Sunday, the Packers. Vince Lombardi stepped down two years before Noll took his job and Mike McCarthy is the ninth coach since then with the longest tenure belonging to Mike Holmgren -- seven seasons from 1992-98 in which he won one Super Bowl and lost another.

The front office has been nearly as stable -- Kevin Colbert has run the personnel operation for the past 11 years and is one of the most respected executives in the NFL.

The family atmosphere means the Steelers don't lose many free agents -- a number of stars have taken less money to stay. And they don't spend big money to bring in any -- Clark is an example of a low-priced one, brought in when Washington decided to pay $20 million up front to replace him with the far less skilled Adam Archuleta, a bigger "name.''

But when a key player turns out to be other than a good citizen, he is traded or allowed to walk -- Santonio Holmes is in the first category and Plaxico Burress in the second. And in each case, Colbert and his staff find youngsters like Mike Wallace or Emmanuel Sanders or Antonio Brown to replace them.

"I think the key, really, is surrounding yourself with the right people,'' Art Rooney says. "you have to have the right people to get the job done, and we've been fortunate over the years to have a lot of great players and great coaches and people like Kevin Colbert handling the draft. It's a lot of pieces that make it work, but certainly having the right people in the right spots is the key."

For the last 40 years it's won more championships for Pittsburgh than any NFL team.