Rooney’s Rule: 1932-2017

Yesterday, we lost one of the good ones. 

Dan Rooney’s death was a loss for more than just the NFL or the city of Pittsburgh, It was a loss for us all. The world is a little less bright today. Instead of mourning his passing, we should celebrate his life and legacy. Dan Rooney was more than just the owner of an NFL team, he was a humanitarian, philanthropist, and an advocate for social change. Through six Super Bowl victories, political appointments, charitable ventures, the “Rooney Rule” cast a wide net of impact.

The Rooney Rule

(Pool/Getty Images North America)

Our country today is a powder-keg of racial tension that hasn’t been seen since the civil rights movement. In an ocean of darkness, Dan Rooney was at least able to flicker a sliver of light. In 2003, Mr. Rooney was instrumental in the NFL passing new guidelines on hiring practices. The new rules made it mandatory for all teams to interview a minority applicant for all head coaching positions. In 2009 this legislation expanded to encompass General Manager positions as well. He was so instrumental in its inception that the new guidelines became known as the Rooney Rule.

The Rooney Rule isn’t perfect, but it has certainly been an improvement. In the 12 years before its inception there where only 6 minority head coaches in the NFL. In the 12 seasons since, there have been an additional 14 coaches hired. The leagues implement of the rule has also had a ripple effect as companies such as Amazon, Intel, & Facebook have instituted similar hiring guidelines. Dan Rooney was known as a man who didn’t see the color of your skin, but the talent and character underneath it. While the Rooney Rule doesn’t completely even the playing field for minority coaches, it’s at the least a step in the right direction.

Charity, Politics, & a Pot Of Gold

If Dan Rooney loved anything as much as his beloved Steelers, it was his ancestral home of Ireland. Over the course of his life he dedicated a vast amount of time, energy, and resources to many Irish-related causes. He was instrumental in such charitable ventures as The American Ireland Fund and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. He was also a key figure in brokering peace talks between norther and southern Ireland.

His great affection and reverence for the nation eventually led POTUS Barack Obama to make him the US Ambassador to Ireland in 2009. He held that post until 2012. A man of great political fervor, Rooney campaigned for Obama in both 2008 and 2012.

Raising A Steel Curtain

Dan Rooney took over control of the Steelers day-to-day operations from his father Art in 1969. One of his first moves was to bring in Chuck Knoll as head coach. Despite a rocky start, this proved to be a master stroke. Pittsburgh went on to win four Super Bowl titles in the 1970’s under Knoll and Rooney’s guidance, cementing themselves as one of the NFL’s greatest dynasties.

If there was one word to categorize Dan Rooney’s tenure in charge of the Steelers, it would be stability. Since he took over in 1969, the organization has had only 3 head coaches in 48 years. In a league where some teams fire a coach after year one, this has been a pleasantly stable aberration. Rewarded with 6 Super Bowl titles for their patience, the Steelers Organization and Dan Rooney are the benchmark all other organizations strive to be.


Dan Rooney was a great football man. He was innovative, he was fair, and he was inclusive. He was a man of great charity, a true man of the people. He always seemed accessible to his teams fans and not aloof. He mingled with them, talked and shook hands with them. Both the fans and players all believed that they where in it together, the Steelers felt more like a family then a team.

But despite all of the accolades and accomplishments, Dan Rooney’s greatest achievement exists far from the gridiron. If we can all learn just one lesson from Dan Rooney’s life it’s this: If you leave this world just a little bit better than how you found it, It was a life worth living. RIP Mr. Rooney you will be missed….

(Photo Courtesy: Andy Starnes/Post-Gazette)

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