No matter the sport or whether it’s at the professional or collegiate ranks, all teams want stability. Having a solid foundation from the owner to the head coach is one of the building blocks to winning for any team in the NFL. Make changes too often and you lose an identity. Wait too late to make a change and your franchise can suffer a setback that takes years to recover.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are a model of stability and success – arguably the best in the NFL or any sport – with three coaches over the last 42 years. While some teams may go through three coaches in 10 years, the Steelers have found the right answers – even if they may not be the most popular choice at the time.
Art Rooney founded Pittsburgh’s NFL team in 1933 and the franchise hasn’t left the family since. Art Rooney II largely runs the day-to-day operations now, with his father Dan spending most of his time in Ireland as an ambassador for the United States. With the team staying in the family for nearly 80 years, there has been no doubts about who is in control.
Although the Steelers are the NFL’s most stable and one of the more successful teams, it wasn’t always this easy. Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll’s first three seasons produced only 12 wins, and the Steelers posted a 156-240 record from 1933 to 1968.
Noll was named Pittsburgh’s head coach in 1969, which has undoubtedly changed the course of the franchise. Noll actually wasn’t Pittsburgh’s top choice when selecting a new coach. Penn State’s Joe Paterno was the top pick by the Rooney family, but turned down the Steelers to remain a collegiate head coach. Noll’s teams were built by the defense - something the Steelers still pride themselves on today.
During Noll’s tenure, the Steelers’ Steel Curtain defense boasted current Pro Football Hall of Fame members Mel Blount, Joe Greene, Jack Ham and Jack Lambert. The offense wasn’t short on talent, thanks to quarterback Terry Bradshaw, running back Franco Harris and receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.
Noll decided to retire after the 1991 season, which led Dan Rooney to pick a young defensive coordinator from Kansas City as the next head coach. Bill Cowher had no previous head coaching experience before being plucked to run the Steelers, but the move paid off. The Steelers won eight division titles under Cowher, made two trips to the Super Bowl, with one victory over Seattle in 2006.