Tony Dungy shares his memories of Dan Rooney

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Hall of Fame head coach Tony Dungy started his NFL career 40 years ago in Pittsburgh, undrafted after teams went through 12 rounds of picking new players. But he made the team as a rookie, and in 1978 Dungy led the team in interceptions.

During Friday’s PFT Live, Dungy shared one of his most enduring memories of Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, who passed away Thursday at the age of 84.

“Something I’ll never forget,” Dungy said. “I was, as a free agent, one of the lowest paid guys. I took the minimum contract. We won the Super Bowl. I led the team in interceptions and I had a little bonus in my contract. If I played 50 percent of the plays I would get — I think it was a $2,500 bonus. And I didn’t play 50 percent, I played about 38 or 39 percent but had an impact, and Dan came to me and said, ‘Hey, I know you didn’t make it by the numbers but you made it by your impact and we want to give you that bonus.’ And it was $2,500 but it was huge to me at that time. Just the fact that he would reach out and not say, ‘Hey, too bad you didn’t quite make it, this is what we negotiated’ [but say] ‘we want to do what’s right and what’s fair and you contributed more than we expected and we want to reward you.’ And that’s just how he was in everything.”

It’s a good story, and a concrete example of Mr. Rooney’s character. But Dungy had an even better story that didn’t involve him directly.

“I’ll tell you another story about Dan Rooney that really probably has as much to do with the success of the early Steelers teams of any,” Dungy said. “When he hired Coach Noll there was another hiring that didn’t generate as much buzz but was just as important. There was a gentleman by the name of Bill Nunn who wrote for the African-American newspaper, The Courier, in Pittsburgh and for years the Steelers were losing and Bill wrote some scathing articles about their scouting department, about the fact that they didn’t have a lot of black players on the team, and really very critical.

“And Dan called Bill Nunn and said, ‘Hey, would you come to lunch with me?’ And he said, ‘You know what, you’ve been critical of us. Do you have some suggestions? How can we do this better?’ At the end of the lunch he said, ‘Bill, why don’t you come work for us?’ And he talked Bill Nunn into leaving his job at The Courier and becoming a scout. Bill got the jump on a lot of other teams in the NFL at that time in scouting the predominantly black colleges. You look at that roster, Mel Blount, Glen Edwards, Sam Davis our offensive captain, Frank Lewis, John Stallworth, Ernie Holmes. Guys from those SWAC schools, predominantly black schools, they got the edge, but it was really from Dan not reacting negatively to a bad situation but saying, ‘Let’s talk, how can we make this better?'”

Dan Rooney always was trying to make things better. When it came to the adoption of the rule that bears his name, Dungy said that Rooney’s push to mandate interviews of minority coaches wasn’t about avoiding liability as much as it was about helping NFL teams improve by not dismissing without serious consideration a group of coaches who could be very talented, and who could help teams win games.

For everything Dungy had to say about Mr. Rooney, check out the full segment from Friday’s show.