"Some teams change quarterbacks like underwear," the Steelers' Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham said. "Then you have this organization. Stability is the key and they let people do their jobs."
That lacks the glamour of splashy hires accompanied by well-attended news conferences that other owners seem to crave. But it is a path to success that the Packers share. Ted Thompson, the Packers' general manager, is friends with Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations, and they have a common background steeped in the intense film study and constant travel of scouts.
Ernie Accorsi tells a story about Colbert, whom he calls the best general manager nobody knows about. Since Accorsi retired as the New York Giants' general manager, he has consulted with other teams looking to rebuild. One team was looking for a general manager. Accorsi called Colbert, who has been with the Steelers since 2000, a run that has included appearances in five conference championship games and three Super Bowls.
"I didn't even tell him the money," Accorsi said. "I said this is a good job. He said: 'I could never do that to the Rooneys. I don't care what they would pay.' Where you going to find that?"
If the strategy engenders unusual loyalty, it also requires patience and imperviousness to outside pressure that even Irsay acknowledges is rare in ownership circles.
"They've been successful doing it this way and they know there is going to be a year we're 6-10," Colbert said. "They don't want that year after year. They understand there will be a dip somewhere along the way."
Two weeks ago, when Dan Rooney, now the U.S. ambassador to Ireland, returned to Pittsburgh for the American Football Conference championship game, he spoke briefly to a handful of reporters about the NFL's labor strife. During that conversation he offered a bombshell of a quotation that summed up the Steelers' ability to take the long view of success.
"I'd rather not have the money," Rooney said about the proposed 18-game regular season.
That comment snapped a few heads around the league, particularly among owners who would very much rather have the money. But Rooney wonders why it is necessary to change something — 16 games for 32 teams — that has worked successfully for years. It is a mindset the Steelers have leaned on in the past — do not make sea change decisions in haste — when fans agitated for Cowher to be fired, or wondered why the Steelers were hiring Tomlin instead of someone they had heard of.
But it also resonated deeply in the Steelers' locker room. There, stories about the Rooneys' unusual affinity for the people who work for them are limitless.
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