Interview: Dan Rooney, owner Pittsburgh Steelers

Wikimedia Commons/Joshua Debner

LOS ANGELES, May 3, 2014 — The Rooney family is one of the few families along with the Mara family that deserves the title of football royalty. Dan Rooney is the son of the Steelers original owner and founder, the late cigar-chomping Art Rooney Sr.

Dan Rooney, like his father, is a beloved and respected football man. One of his legacies is the “Rooney Rule,” which mandates that all NFL teams interview at least one minority candidate before making a coaching hire.

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Rooney put his money where his mouth was by hiring 34-year-old Mike Tomlin as Steelers coach. Tomlin is black, but his reputation is black and gold. The Steeler Nation loves him. Tomlin took the Steelers to two AFC Title Game victories and one Super Bowl championship.

The Rooney family has been a model of stability. While other teams were changing coaches every few years, Chuck Noll lasted for 22 seasons with Bill Cowher coming next for 15 more years. Tomlin is entering his eighth season with the team.

Dan Rooney is a man who believes that character and integrity still matter. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a pair of Super Bowl wins, but when he got in trouble with the law, Rooney put him on notice. Winning the right way matters, and nobody was too important to be cut from the team. Roethlisberger cleaned up his act to conform to the Steeler Way, the Rooney Way.

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A lifelong moderate Republican, Rooney became an early and enthusiastic supporter of presidential candidate Barack Obama. President Obama appointed Rooney to be his Ambassador to Ireland.

An elderly man, Rooney walks slowly, but his mind is sharp. An ambassador is a diplomat, and Rooney gave very diplomatic answers to questions he was asked.

Despite spending his life around football, there are “too many” great football players past and present to separate any of them as his political heroes. When asked about his heroes outside of football, Rooney declined to mention the American president who appointed him or anyone from his beloved Ireland. He said, “I am not going to start a war,” and left it at that.

He insisted nobody would remember him in 100 years. His modesty may be genuine, but his legacy will ensure he is remembered, especially in western Pennsylvania.

Rooney is a serious man, and what he is very serious about is the Steeler Way. When asked for advice for people entering the world of football for the first time, he spoke with conviction. What matters most is that people “do things right.” They must have “integrity.” They must “work hard.”

Pittsburgh is not the steel town it was 100 years ago. However, the blue collar ethic that permeates the city is as much a part of Pittsburgh’s fabric as the Terrible Towel. Values matter there, and doing things the right way is what it takes to lead men of steel.

The Steelers have won six Super Bowls, more than any other team. The one constant during four decades of championships has been the steady leadership of the Rooney family, starting with Art Sr. and continuing with son Dan.

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