Patience pays off for Rooneys

By Judy Battista

New York Times News Service

Published: Sunday, Feb. 6 2011 1:31 a.m. MST

Steelers head coach Bill Cowher celebrates his team's 21-10 victory in Super Bowl XL on Sunday in Detroit. The title is Cowher's first and Pittsburgh's fifth.

Jeff Haynes, Getty Images

ARLINGTON, Texas — Art Rooney II was glancing up at the enormous video screen and at the plush seats, taking in Jerry Jones' monument to revenue with a bemused smile. The Pittsburgh Steelers will probably never have a stadium 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 kept

returning to the Super Bowl every few years, with the consistency of a metronome.

Rooney's explanations in the middle of Jones' lavish drama dome were in stark contrast to Jones' news conference later, when he had to explain how he so badly misjudged his own 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. Keeping it simple and keeping the right people in place."

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.

In the win-now world of professional sports, the Steelers have managed a twin bill that only a few other organizations, including the Green Bay Packers, can claim: They win now, and they set themselves up for the future, too. Of the 22 players who are expected to start for the Steelers on Sunday night, 18 were either drafted by the Steelers or signed as undrafted or rookie free agents. For some of those players, it will be their third Super Bowl appearance in six years.

It is a blueprint that has put six Lombardi Trophies behind glass in Pittsburgh, given the Steelers a chance to win a seventh, generated a devoted, nationwide fan base and left even other owners agog, although Rooney laughs a little when asked if the Steelers way has been codified. It has not, he said.

"I'm envious," the Indianapolis Colts' owner, Jim Irsay, said. "I've spent more than $100 million more than those guys in the last 10 years. You scratch your head and say wow. That's what makes it a bit stunning — how can you accomplish so much with such a disciplined business model? That's when you look at the whole thing and see a third generation. It's truly something special."

Art Rooney II's grandfather Art — the beloved Chief — founded the franchise. His father, Dan, steered it to the stunning success of the 1970s and became one of the NFL's most influential owners. And in recent years Art II has moved into the role of primary decision-maker. That seamlessness is at the root of the Steelers' philosophy.

The Steelers have hired only three coaches since 1969 — Chuck Noll was the first — and each has won a Super Bowl. With Noll, Dan Rooney and his brother Art Jr. formed a threesome that recognized the draft as the building block of a team. That philosophy remains. Offensive and defensive systems are not adopted and ripped up every few years, necessitating cyclical remakings of the roster.

When Mike Tomlin, an under-the-radar young coordinator, replaced Bill Cowher in 2007, his most critical decision was to keep the defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and the 3-4 defense that is the cornerstone of the Steelers, even though Tomlin ran a 4-3 as a coordinator.

The continuity means everybody from the owners to the entry-level scout knows what Steelers players should look like. The team is able to draft prospects who will fit its system for years — because the system is not going to change — giving them time to develop without shoving them into service as the team is made over.

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