Pittsburgh Steelers, Super Bowls and Winning Teams

Well, the three-game pro football season finally comes to an end Sunday with the Steeler Bowl — oops, Super Bowl — in Dallas. And yeah, I’ll be tethered to the TV, waiving the original Terrible Towel and downing triple Jamesons.

OK. Admittedly, there are more important things happening in the world right now. Well, don’t tell that to my brothers, Mom and Dad and friends who live in Pittsburgh, or the millions of Steeler Nation expatriates, some as far away as Hungary. I know. It’s not snooker — but the Super Bowl will get a large audience outside the USA.

And I’ve opined about this before. With the exception of the nearly yearly appearance of the Steelers in the Super Bowl, I don’t pay much attention to pro football these days. Pro sports in general, for that matter. If you want to watch one corporation squaring off against another one better to watch the action on Wall Street. That’s a real blood sport.

Saying that, there’s a lesson from the success of the Steelers that can be applied to creating winning teams in business, education, government, whatever: have patience, stick with your plan, treat employees and others fairly and with respect, and manage the organization with dignity and ethical conduct.

Here’s from a NYT article by Judy Battista, “Rooney Method: Build Methodically and Await Rings“:

Art Rooney II was glancing at the enormous video screen and plush seats, taking in Jerry Jones’s monument to revenue with a bemused smile. Pittsburgh will probably never have a home quite like Cowboys Stadium, which will be host to the Super Bowl on Sunday. But this week Rooney, an owner and the president of the Steelers, had something that Jones, the owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, wanted desperately: the opportunity to explain how his team keeps returning to the Super Bowl every few years.

Rooney’s remarks in the middle of the lavish dome were in stark contrast to those made by Jones at a news conference, when he explained how badly he misjudged his team this season.

“Panic doesn’t seem to work; let’s put it that way,” Rooney said. “Enough people seem to have gone through that. Our philosophy is you pick good people and try to stick with them.

“There’s no guarantees. There are ups and downs in any sport. But if you have the people in place, you always have a chance to be successful. That goes back to my grandfather and down to my father.”

More than by any player or coach, the Steelers are identified by the way they have done business for 40 years. They build through the draft, take care of their players, maintain financial discipline, eschew flashy hires and treat people well.

And more:

“Some teams change quarterbacks like underwear,” the Steelers’ Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham said. “Then you have this organization. Stability is the key, and they let people do their jobs.”

Ernie Accorsi, the former Giants general manager, tells a story about Kevin Colbert, the Steelers’ director of football operations, whom Accorsi calls the best general manager nobody knows about. Since Accorsi retired, he has consulted with other teams looking to rebuild.

One team was looking for a general manager. Accorsi called Colbert, who has been with the Steelers since 2000, a run that has included appearances in five conference championship games and three Super Bowls.

“I didn’t even tell him the money,” Accorsi said. “I said this is a good job. He said: ‘I could never do that to the Rooneys. I don’t care what they would pay.’ Where you going to find that?”

And:

Two weeks ago, when Dan Rooney, now the United States ambassador to Ireland, returned to Pittsburgh for the A.F.C. championship game, he spoke to a handful of reporters about the N.F.L.’s labor strife. During that conversation he offered a bombshell of a quote that summed up the Steelers’ ability to take the long view of success.

“I’d rather not have the money,” Rooney said about the proposed 18-game regular season.

That comment snapped a few heads around the league, particularly among owners who would rather have the money. But Rooney wonders why it is necessary to change something — 16 games for 32 teams — that has worked successfully for years. It is a mind-set the Steelers have leaned on in the past: do not make sea-change decisions in haste.

The remark also resonated in the Steelers’ locker room, where stories about the Rooneys’ unusual affinity for the people who work for them are limitless. They shake the hands of each player after games, win or lose. They offer advice to new players on where to send their children to school. They take the men and women who work in the cafeteria at the team’s training facility to the Super Bowl.

Hey, sounds like a good management philosophy and formula for putting together a winning team.

And for those of you who want to relive the start of the glory days, here’s the original Pittsburgh Steelers fight song by Happy Louie, circa 1972.

Go Steelers!

Just sayin’.

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5 responses to “Pittsburgh Steelers, Super Bowls and Winning Teams

  1. The last line from Happy Louie says it all…”good things come to those who work and wait”.
    I have a little tear in my eye…..

  2. Brian "Breeze" Wooley

    Excellent post, Rob. The Rooney family and their stewardship of the Steelers have been and will continue to be an exemplar of class, tact, ethics, and morality–for any industry, but especially for theirs.

  3. What Breeze said. I don’t care what kind of team you run (sports, work, scout troop). Finding the right talent takes time, but too much turnover leaves a bad taste in most everybody’s mouth.

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