The Pittsburgh Steelers, NFL and sporting world was stunned to hear the news that longtime owner and chairman Dan Rooney has passed away at age 84. Rooney had been the Chairman and controlling of the team after the passing of his father, founder Art Rooney, Sr. Rooney also served as the United States Ambassador to Ireland from 2009-2012. He was also inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
“Few men have contributed as much to the National Football League as Dan Rooney,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he was one of the finest men in the history of our game and it was a privilege to work alongside him for so many years. Dan’s dedication to the game, to the players and coaches, to his beloved Pittsburgh, and to Steelers fans everywhere was unparalleled. He was a role model and trusted colleague to commissioners since Bert Bell, countless NFL owners, and so many others in and out of the NFL…He was a voice of reason on a wide range of topics, including diversity and labor relations, Dan always had the league’s best interests at heart. For my part, Dan’s friendship and counsel were both inspiring and irreplaceable. .”
Although his father was the Chairman, Rooney truly followed in his dad’s footsteps and learned everything about the family business as early as 1960 when he was named the director of personnel. He then began managing the day-to-day operations of the team and personally selected the coaching hire of Chuck Noll. He was appointed team president in 1975 and was officially given full operational control of the franchise by his father who remained Chairman and President Emeritus, as well as the public face of the franchise until his death in 1988. During his tenure, he has implemented a philosophy and management style that emphasizes open, practical and efficient management. The results have been obvious: since 1972, the Steelers have won 15 division championships, 8 AFC Championships, and an NFL record 6 Super Bowl Championships.
Like his father, Rooney wasn’t just an NFL owner just taking up space in a boardroom, but he was truly an influence to his organization as well as the league as he played a role in many prominent and critical decisions that have molded and shaped the NFL today. Born in Pittsburgh January 20, 1932, Rooney was a graduate of Duquesne University, majoring in accounting. Although his presence loomed large amongst NFL owners. He helped lead the negotiations of the collective bargaining agreement of 1982 and is largely credited both by owners and players of having ended a strike that lasted half of the season. He is also one of the main architects of the salary cap, which was implemented in 1993.
Rooney was also very instrumental in the creation of “The Rooney Rule”, which is an NFL policy that requires league teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. It is sometimes cited as an example of affirmative action, though there is no quota or preference given to minorities in the hiring of candidates. t was established in 2003, and variations of the rule are now in place in other industries. The rule was named after Rooney, who also followed the example of the rule when he hired current Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
As the United States Ambassador to Ireland (appointed by then President Barak Obama and installed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton), Rooney was the benefactor of the Rooney Prize of Irish Literature and Vice-Chairman of The American Ireland Fund.
On July 7, 2008, Dan and his son, team president Art Rooney II, announced that they were seeking to buy out Dan Rooney’s brothers’ shares in the team. Currently, Dan and Art Rooney II, reportedly control 16% of the Steelers’ shares but conduct most of the team’s operations. Together, the Rooneys hold 80% of the company. The other 20% is owned by the McGinley Family, who are first cousins of the Rooneys.
Like his father before him, Rooney has turned day-to-day operations of the franchise to the next generation of the family. Although he was still chairman and to many fans the public face of the team, his son Art Rooney II has now assumed full operational control of the Steelers.
Upon hearing news of Rooney’s passing, thousands of tributes began to flood websites and social media honoring the legendary Steelers owner:
“RIP Dan. My Mentor & friend. Thank you for your Guidance & Wisdom. I came as Young Coach & left a Better Man. Your spirit will live forever.”-Former Steelers Head Coach Bill Cowher
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Steelers and Steelers Nation on the passing of a true Pittsburgh icon, Dan Rooney.”-The Pittsburgh Penguins
“This is a sad day for anyone who has had an association with the NFL,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a news release. “Whether it be fans, players, coaches, broadcast personnel, media, team owners or club employees, Dan Rooney’s influence touched us all — and made all of our lives better.”
“We’ve lost the heart & soul of Steeler Nation. Incredible person humanitarian & true patriot. May his memory be eternal. Love U PapaRooney”-Former Steeler S Troy Polamalu
“Dear Mr. Rooney, When we first met in 2010 you embraced me with open arms. You made me feel welcome. You looked at me as more than just another jersey number. One of the most genuine, and humble human beings I’ve had the pleasure of knowing…”-WR Antonio Brown
The University of Pittsburgh Athletics also gave statements on the news of Rooney’s passing:
Statement from University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Patrick Gallagher:
“Dan Rooney was an innovative leader who forever shaped the sport of football and the city of Pittsburgh. His knack for resolving conflict, championing diversity and pursuing excellence with integrity earned him not only Super Bowl rings, but our collective admiration and affection. On behalf of the University of Pittsburgh, I extend my deepest sympathies to the entire Rooney family and the Steelers franchise.”
Statement from University of Pittsburgh Head Football Coach Pat Narduzzi:
“A truly unforgettable and special moment for me was getting a personal visit from Dan Rooney after I had just accepted the head coaching job at Pitt. This is a man who built one of the most successful and famous sports organizations in the world, yet he was always so humble and accessible to everyone. Mr. Rooney represents the very best of the game of football and the very best of Pittsburgh. I don’t believe this unique collaboration between an NFL team and college program could exist anywhere else. The credit for that goes to Mr. Rooney and his passionate commitment to Pitt and Pittsburgh. Our hearts and prayers are with the Rooney family and Steelers organization.”
Statement from University of Pittsburgh Director of Athletics Heather Lyke:
“Growing up in Canton in the shadow of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I became educated very early on about ‘The Steeler Way’ and the incredible family tradition of this iconic NFL franchise. Since arriving in Pittsburgh last month, I have been able to experience firsthand the tremendous class and warmth of the Rooney family. Dan Rooney has an incredible legacy that goes well beyond the football field and we will all continue to be inspired by his example and memory. Our prayers and sympathies are with the Rooney family and all of Steelers Nation.”
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