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Pittsburgh Steelers’ history shows power of inclusive hiring practices

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Run your index finger through the Pittsburgh Steelers’ historical timeline and you’ll not only find 496 wins and six Super Bowl titles since 1969, but an ode to the power of inclusion.

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In the early 1970s, they hired Bill Nunn, Jr. as one of the league’s first full-time black scouts, and then used his connections as a former newspaper columnist as a conduit to bring in major players from historically black colleges and universities, many of whom played a pivotal role in the franchise, winning four championships in six years.

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In 1984, coach Chuck Knoll made 28-year-old Tony Dungy not only the youngest defensive coordinator in the league, but also its first African American defensive coordinator. And in 2007, the team hired Mike Tomlin, an African-American with only one year experience as a coordinator, as head coach. It took him only two seasons to win the Super Bowl and another two years to return to the title game.

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The man who nurtured this culture of inclusion was Dan Rooney, the late owner of the Steelers, who not only championed diversity in leadership positions, but supported it. According to his family, he believed it was morally correct and made business sense, a moment not to be missed by the current owners, who have struggled to hire Black head coaches.

There are currently only three of the league’s 32 teams, two of which were hired in the off-season. But before we get too far down that path, let’s change direction and focus on something more important: If owners need a plan for how to hire coaches, Rooney has provided one in his many decades of leadership of the Steelers.

“No matter what you are trying to do in life or business, if you surround yourself with good people, you have a chance to succeed.” — Art Rooney II

He had a gift for hiring the right people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or any other category. The fact is, no one has ever done a better job of identifying, hiring and empowering coaches and scouts. Think about it: he hired Knoll, Nunn and Bill Cauer, who are all in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He agreed to the promotion of Danga, who in the Hall of Fame. And he hired Tomlin, who is probably going to the Hall of Fame.

This success is unprecedented, and it became the basis of what we are still seeing with the Steelers five years after the death of Dan Rooney. Its impact was what significant. If his approach could be reduced to three elements, they could people, prudence as well as goal.

People: According to his grandchildren, franchise founder Art Rooney Sr., commonly known as The Chief, believed that there is dignity in everyone, and as a leader of an organization, it is important to respect this dignity. When people mention the Steeler Way, they are essentially referring to what they are talking about: the importance of people.

“No. 1 is a people-run organization,” said Art Rooney II, son of Dan Rooney and current president of the Steelers, when asked to define the Way of the Steelers. “No matter what you are trying to do in life or business, if you surround yourself with good people, you have a chance to succeed. It was an effort going back to my grandfather and father, just try to get the best people. we can find and ask them to help us succeed.”

Prudence: Dan Rooney could be morbidly rude when hiring. He liked to start with a large number of candidates, and then reduce them to a minimum. According to family members, he believed that the longer he waited, the more opportunity he would have to gather information. It is no coincidence that both Kaucher, who succeeded Knoll as head coach in 1992 and remained in that position until 2006, and Tomlin were among the last hires during their respective hire cycles.

“He always took as much time as needed to get to know people and get as much information out the door as he could,” said Art Rooney II. “I was there when we hired Bill Cauer, and I don’t even remember it being a long process, but people were wondering: What’s taking so long? My father always had this approach to things, where he said: never make a decision until you have to make it.

Jim Rooney, Art’s younger brother, recalls how his father started out with 37 candidates before Tomlin was hired. Then he reduced the pool to 12, then to four.

“There was no talk of X and O with the finalists to coach Tomlin,” Jim said. “This part was installed at the beginning of the process. These last questions, I know, he asked Mike about his grandmother, about the high school coach. He looked for these clues to see how Mike relates to people. like objects he could step on to advance further in his career, or was it deep respect? Was he going to engage people in a way that would help him improve the culture and make the organization more successful?”

Target: Jim Rooney tells a compelling and instructive story in his book. Another Way to Win: The Dan Rooney Story from the Super Bowl to the Rooney Rule. In 1962, a young Catholic priest named Mark Glasgow was appointed to the Rooney Church. Many of his sermons were replete with references to the civil rights struggle.

“Dan, now in his early 30s, was already involved with the City League and the Pittsburgh chapters of the NAACP,” writes Jim Rooney. “But Father Glasgow’s sermons and personal conversations convinced him that he could have done more. In 1965, after beatings and, in some cases, killings of civil rights activists and defenders, he and a couple of other priests went to Selma. Glasgow’s father invited Dan to join. In a decision that my father regularly cited as the biggest mistake of his life, he didn’t go.”

Over the phone, Jim Rooney added: “Civil rights — all the marches and events — really had an impact on him. Father Glasgow really encouraged him to think about it in a spiritual context. He had a great sense of humor. and personality, but he was a very serious person, I think he took this spiritual element to heart and asked: Where can I get the most benefit?

The focus on purpose, reason and people carried over into Art Rooney II. He recently appointed Omar Khan as general manager. Khan is considered the first person of Honduran and Indian origin to hold the title. Despite its historical significance, this fact has never been taken into account in the decision-making process. For Rooney, it was all about the person and their capabilities.

FROM Rooney rule being named after his father – in its current state, the rule requires each team to interview at least two external minority candidates for open head coach positions and at least one external minority candidate for a coordinator or open QB coach position ; at least one minority candidate and/or a woman must be interviewed for leadership positions. Art Rooney II said he didn’t feel the pressure of filling his recent GM vacancy with another candidate, and that’s the way it should be. Interview a diverse pool and hire based on ability and qualifications, period.

This is what Dan Rooney did and many owners could follow suit.

To follow Jim Trotter on Twitter.


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