PITTSBURGH PA - JANUARY 23: Owner Dan Rooney (L) and Team president Art Rooney II (2ndL) of the Pittsburgh Steelers recieve the Lamar Hunt Trophy as CBS sportscaster Jim Nantz looks on after their 24 to 19 win over the New York Jets in the 2011 AFC Championship game at Heinz Field on January 23 2011 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Welcome to another edition of our ongoing series on the most successful draft philosophies, owing credit to JohnGio56 for the idea. Today well look at the highly successful Pittsburgh Steelers, who have been successful in the draft for over 4 decades. Follow me, my friends, to the clearing at the end of the jump to see how the Rooney family has fostered the best run of drafting success int he league......
By The Numbers:
6: Super Bowl Championships won by the Steelers
8: Conference Championships won by the Steelers
20: Division Champions won by the Steelers
3: Number of coaches that have led the Steelers since 1969 and all of the above championships have been earned in that same time period.
1: Number of majority owners since the the founding of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1933 (The Rooney Family)
18: Number of players that the Steelers drafted or acquired as undrafted free agents that started in Super Bowl 45.
19: Number of players that The Steelers drafted or acquired as undrafted free agents that started in Super Bowl 40, a feat that has only been equalled by the Packers in Super Bowl 45 and has only been topped by the Colts, who started 20 of 22 in Super Bowl 44.
Continuity. It's a word that the Steelers ownership lives by and has lived by since Chuck Noll was hired in 1969. Prior to that hire, the Steelers has run through 13 head coaches in 36 seasons. But all that changed when they hired Chuck Noll. And the going wasn't easy. There have been times when the fan base has clamored for a firing. But the Rooneys' have held steady through the storms and road it out with their guys.
Since Noll was hired, 42 seasons passed... but only three men have been called "Coach": Noll (23 seasons), Bill Cowher (15 seasons) and current Head Coach Mike Tomlin (4 years and running). And no coach has been fired (Noll retired and Cowher resigned to spend more time with his family) and all three have won a Super Bowl and been to multiple Super Bowls. If that's not continuity, I don't know what is. Additionally, many of the assistants have stayed on through head coaching changes. This sort of continuity has led to a long history of very good drafting, starting with Chuck Nolls first pick...."Mean" Joe Greene.
As patient as the Rooneys' have been with Coaches, they have been equally patient with their players. They like to give players time to develop rather than making rash decisions and moving on to the next big thing. They trust their scouts more than they trust the media. And they trust Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert.
Colbert was hired away from the Lions (he served as their head of scouting) after the Steelers fired Tom Donahue in 2000 because he and Cowher didn't mesh. Colbert and Cowher, both Pittsburgh natives coincidentally (or maybe not) quickly built a great relationship and enjoyed draft success. That transferred to Tomlin when he took over, and a lot of that is based on Colbert's emphasis on the importance of the coaches, ALL of the coaches, in the drafting process.
Potential draftees have to mesh with the coaches, the scheme, the other players and the "Family" to make the cut. Cowher once said that they were looking for production, character and dependability.
They tend to trust their own judgement about players rather than media hype, both on the roster and in the draft. This has led to more than a few "surprises" on draft day. Like the Steelers trading up in 2003 to get their hands on Troy Polamalu. Most thought they would go offense in the first. But Polamalu was a guy that Cowher and Colbert saw as a "Steeler Guy" and jumped at an opportunity to trade up to grab him.
And the Steelers are known for being very thorough when interested in a potential draftee. Eric Berry tweeted in January that the Steelers were the only team at the combine that was measuring knee size. Whatever their measures, they work. Check out some of their draft successes just since '98......
1998: Alan Faneca and Hines Ward. 1999: Joey Porter and Aaron Smith. 2000: Plaxico Burress and Clark Haggans. 2001: Casey Hampton. 2002: Kendall Simmons, Antwaan Randle El, Chris Hope and Larry Foote. 2003: Troy Polamalu and Ivan Taylor. 2004: Ben Roethlisberger and Max Starks. 2005: Heath Miller, Bryant McFadden and Trai Essex. 2006: Santonio Holmes, Anthony Smith and Willie Colon. 2007: Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley and William Gay. 2008: Rashard Mendenhall and Dennis Dixon. 2009: Ziggy Hood and Mike Wallace. 2010: Maurkice Pouncey.
And they've had some successes signing undrafted FAs, as well. Like a relatively unknown player named James "I never met a fine that didn't like me" Harrison. Also "Fast" Willie Parker. Also role players like Anthony Madison, Chris Hoke and Raymond Foster.
The Steelers tend to avoid FA and trading for players as well (though they are not opposed to trading players away for more picks). And their highest picks tend to stay home. In fact, the Steelers have not went without a 1st round pick since they traded one to Green Bay in 1967.
In this, our third installment, we are running into more of the same. The philosophies don't really change very much. High Character. Reliable. Coachable. Fits the scheme. Fits well with the other players. It's the execution that seems to differ.
It is getting more interesting, though, as we move closer and closer to comparing these teams to the Bears and Jerry Angelo. Check back again later as we look into Ted Thompson and the Green Bay Packers.