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The Day that Dan Rooney Fired his Brother: Redrafting 1987 Part I

Associated Press

The Day that Dan Rooney Fired his Brother: Redrafting 1987 Part I

In this retrospective series, we’ll use 20/20 hindsight to play General Manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers to review past drafts – focusing primarily on top 2-3 selections – and personnel decisions year-by-year and redraft or implement trades based on the Steelers roster at the time.

General rule:  Any “redrafted” pick will generally fall within a 15-pick range and trade propositions being realistic and attainable.


Steelers situation and needs:  The Steelers front offices makes a MAJOR change

  • An argument can be made that 1986 was the worst season have endured in the 50 years since the NFL Merger.
  • The Steelers finished 6-10 but, as clearly evident through this series, with the exception of Louis Lipps the Steelers drafts had been horrible through the 1980s.
  • While Head Coach Chuck Noll deserved credit for the great drafts of the 1970s, the scouting team led by Director of Scouting Art Rooney Jr. along with Director of Player Personnel Dick Haley and Assistant Personnel Director Bill Nunn was more responsible than the coach.
  • Behind the scenes, the power struggle went far back as the early 1970s between the Rooney brothers that escalated to the Chief himself, Art Rooney in the 1980s in which Dan Rooney shares insights with in his 2007 book: “My 75 Years With The Pittsburgh Steelers And The NFL

Dan Rooney: per “My 75 Years With The Pittsburgh Steelers And The NFL” – Rooney p. 227:

Art and Chuck had different opinions on the draft ever since Chuck arrived in Pittsburgh.

Dan Rooney: per “My 75 Years With The Pittsburgh Steelers And The NFL” – Rooney p. 227-228:

After our second Super Bowl, Art and Dick Haley came to my office to discuss the role of coaches and scouts in the preparation and selection of the draft choices.  It was the ongoing complaint of scouts, especially the heads of personnel, that the coaches had too much say in this process.

My position was the scouts and the coaches, especially the head coach, should be involved in the discussions about the players who would be drafted.

Chuck had made it very clear when we first hired him that he and the coaches expected to be involved with the draft.  All of the great tams of the 1970s were a collaborative effort between scouts and coaches. Chuck had just won us two Super Bowls.  He was the main reason for our success.  We had to stay together.

Dan Rooney: per “My 75 Years With The Pittsburgh Steelers And The NFL” – Rooney p. 229:

Art and I disagreed.  He and the scouts always felt they should have more control over the draft.  I was very firm and said we had to work together.

We got through the 1980 draft and the next November Art and I discussed it again.  This time it got more heated.  We tried to settle our differences, but couldn’t.  I could see the separation could only get worse.

One of the most important decisions Dan Rooney ever made for the Steelers:

By the end of the 1986 season, it was clear that Art Rooney Jr. and Chuck Noll had  could no longer work together and Dan Rooney made the decision to fire his brother.  While not trying to cast blame or make “Artie” the scapegoat (Noll had make some poor choices in that time as well), it was time to make serious changes because the Steelers were headed in reverse.

In part of the changes following the dismissal of his brother, Rooney’s organization restructuring led to the hiring of the man who would be the Steelers main scout: Tom Donahoe.  The hiring would led to even greater changes in a few years.


Thoughts or comments – leave them below.


PMP; CSM; CSPO and host of the PMI-TB Agile Podcast. A lifelong Steelers fan, I had the chance of a lifetime when I was able to celebrate Super Bowl XLIII with the team. I love talking everything Steelers from the old days to the new and look forward to working with the team to grow this platform to be the premier Steelers site.

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