Inducted in Hall of Fame, 2000; most successful franchise in the modern era of the NFL.
Position: Team President, Chairman of the Board, Owner
Years with Steelers: 1962-the present
Signature Moment/Achievement: Dan Rooney is simply the greatest owner in NFL history and the leader of the franchise that has been the league’s most successful for over 40 years.
Legacy: Although it was his father that founded the Steelers and was beloved by the city, it was under Dan Rooney that the Steelers transformed not only into the dynasty team, but to the elite franchise in the NFL.
Dan was not “officially” the President of the Steelers until 1975. His “promotion” came in the form of Art walking into his office and telling him he was giving him the title as Art acknowledged Dan had been running the team for more than a decade anyway—resulting in the Steelers being the most successful team of the “modern NFL” (since the merger):
- Won the most regular-season games (396) and postseason games (33)
- Won the most Division Championships (20)
- Won the most Conference Championships (8)—tied with Dallas
- Have the most winning seasons (31)
- Fielded the most All-Pros (67)
- Have the most Hall of Famers: 14
This has all been accomplished amidst a constantly changing cast of players and evolving rules. Other franchises that have been elite—the 49ers, Raiders, Redskins and Cowboys—have all fallen to mediocrity while the Steelers have at least played in a Super Bowl in every decade since the 1970s.
Dan Rooney hired head coaches Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher, as well as personnel men Bill Nunn, Tom Donahoe and Kevin Colbert. Dan had to make a difficult and controversial decision between keeping Director of Football Operations Donahoe or Cowher after their relationship deteriorated beyond repair.
The decision to keep Cowher and hire Colbert turn out to be extremely successful—although initially many thought it was the wrong move. In 2002, Dan transitioned the role of team President to his son Art Rooney II and assumed the role of Chairman of the Board—the same structure that existed in the 1970s with his father. They jointly made the decision to hire Mike Tomlin in 2007, and Art has handled the majority of day-to-day decisions since.
The Steelers have won two of three Super Bowls since, and the current players look to Dan Rooney with the affection that the Steelers of the 1970s did with Art. This is evidenced by the way he worked out the Hines Ward holdout in 2005 and how even after their careers have ended, Farrior, Bettis, Ward and Smith all have praised Dan Rooney.
Not every decision that Dan has made has worked out well; he has made mistakes but has owned up to them. Dan Rooney has regretted the fashion that Franco Harris and Rod Woodson’s tenures with the team ended, resulting in a change in how the Steelers have tried to see through player’s careers.
Another major mistake was in passing on Dan Marino in 1983. When the opportunity came that the Steelers were in position to land another franchise QB, Rooney stepped in and overruled Cowher and Colbert to take Big Ben, which he did not do with Noll in 1983.
While it was his father that brought the Steelers to Pittsburgh, the likelihood is that at some point, even if it was not an original NFL team, Pittsburgh would have found its way into the NFL. Not to diminish the significance of that, but it was under Dan Rooney that the Steelers became more than just another NFL franchise
They became the model which all NFL franchises aspire to be.