The Pittsburgh Steelers’ GM search should wrap up soon, especially after they completed their second interview with their current pro scouting coordinator Brandon Hunt Thursday.
Hunt has been thought to be a frontrunner after beginning his career in NFL scouting with the Steelers in 2005, working for the Texans from 2007-2009, and returning to the Steelers in 2010 to take over as the pro scouting director. But beyond his experience with the Steelers and working so closely with Kevin Colbert is a factor that ties into the fabric of Steelers history.
Hunt, along with many other people who worked for the Steelers over the years, got a chance to work closely with Bill Nunn, whose work as a scout and scouting director helped build the 70s Steelers dynasty and earned him the legacy of being the first Black contributor ever inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Hunt’s relationship with Nunn built him into the executive he’s been for the Steelers for more than a decade, and ties into how he operates day-to-day.
A huge part of Nunn’s legacy came from his directing the Steelers to seek more prospects from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), leading to them adding players like Mel Blount, L.C. Greenwood, Ernie Holmes, John Stallworth, and Donnie Shell, among others.
Stallworth and Shell were part of the Steelers’ 1974 rookie class, the only such class in NFL history to produce five inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for a single team.
Hunt took time during an event the Steelers held over Zoom in April of 2021 called “Preserving Bill Nunn’s Legacy” to talk about what Nunn meant to him as a professional and as a mentor.
“We hold everything up to the 1974 draft,” Hunt said. “That was the best draft in Steelers history and NFL history. The benchmark is always set super high to walk away with that many hall of fame guys. But it always reminded how much work goes into scouting and how hard they worked to get that done was extraordinary. The climate Mr. Nunn had to go through goes beyond the Xs and Os and the football tape.”
Not only did Hunt admire Nunn’s success with the Steelers, but also the trials and tribulations Nunn overcame in his career to achieve that success.
“The travel, was a challenge,” Hunt continued. “He had to go places where (African-Americans) weren’t allowed to be in that time. He wouldn’t be allowed to stay in five-star Marriott hotels. He would tell me stories about when he went to Grambling State and getting to stay at Eddie Robinson’s house. The coolest part of that is how savvy Nunn was about that. There was more to the visit than just getting a hot meal and a safe place to stay, but he used that as a chance to learn about the prospects there while developing relationships with legendary coaches.”
Nunn began working for the Steelers in 1970, when segregation was more prevalent. But Nunn not only found a way to overcome those obstacles, but thrive in it while paving the way for future scouts to have it easier than he did.
“From a technology standpoint, they used to have to travel with the film machines themselves,” Hunt shared about challenges during Nunn’s times. “These would be big heavy machines they would have to put under their seats. To do that, travel and move around cities where sometimes you weren’t welcome, I can’t imagine that. For me, I’m able to move around freely, stay at Marriot hotels, watch film on my plane on a laptop or an iPad. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to work in the trail Bill Nunn blazed for people like me and my colleagues to do what we do today for our organization.”
MENTORSHIP AND FAMILY
Hunt didn’t just benefit from Nunn’s actions during the 70s, he also benefited from Nunn taking the time to be his mentor when he joined the organization in 2005. Hunt explained that after Colbert took over as general manager for the team, Nunn became more of an executive who took time to mentor and train the Steelers’ scouting staff.
For Hunt, the most important lessons Nunn taught him weren’t about football.
“One of the lessons I definitely picked up from him was to live humbly in a life of gratitude and never take a day for granted,” Hunt said. “He never took for granted the Steelers logo or the NFL shield. He would always tell me that however long it took you to get here, it could be taken from you in an instant. So we had to be our best selves every day.”
“He always reminded us of that,” Hunt continued. “He would tell us, ‘look around you and the people you’re with. Mr. Rooney, Joe Greene, Donnie Shell and all these hall of famers. This is a special place and a special job. Don’t take it for granted and do anything silly that would take that away.'”
When it came to how Nunn pushed Hunt and other Steelers front office personnel, he would often allow them to argue over different prospects and compare their arguing points with his own notes.
“That’s the cool thing about him,” Hunt said of Nunn. “Bill loved contradiction. Anytime there was an argument or a disagreement he would sit up from his normal relaxed posture in his chair. As soon as he would hear two people argue if a player was a second round grade or a fifth round grade, you could tell he got excited. He wanted to see us and how we shook things out in our process.”
For Hunt, Nunn was the mentor who challenged the way he thought from his early days as an intern to his working days as scout coordinator. Not only had Nunn walked the walk, but the way he talked the talk made it clear how he felt about Hunt and his colleagues.
“Football with the Steelers and scouting was the platform that connected us,” Hunt said of Nunn. “But that was just an opportunity to connect our lives. He used every opportunity to talk with us, not just about scouting and players, but helping us learn about how to be a man, raise kids and give back to our communities. From a mentor standpoint, he had so much he wanted us to do that he would plant seeds for us to learn and grow. Each one of our scouts were his kids. When we had success, you could see the smile on his face tell how he knew we were all part of that together.”
In addition to lessons, Hunt had plenty of the memories of the charming moments Nunn left behind in his time with the Steelers, including his traditional yearly retirement speech he would try to give that didn’t bear any fruit.
“Let Bill Nunn tell it, he retired in 1987,” Hunt said. “And as I just told you, I met the man in 2005. We would have a draft dinner every year two days before the draft. He would try to retire on us every single year at those dinners. He would stand up and initiate his toast, then Mr. Rooney would tell him to sit back down and they would talk about it. Then those talks wouldn’t happen, and the next thing you know we’re driving back to Latrobe.”
The Steelers have always held tradition as a close value. Whether it was honoring their past success or sticking to being the only NFL team with their logo on one side of their helmets, tradition permeates throughout the organization.
Nunn will always be tied to that tradition, as will Colbert for his 23 years working in the team’s front office. While Nunn was part of the Steelers organization for all six Super Bowl championships, his efforts could be seen as more directly tied to the first four championships just how Colbert’s efforts are directly tied to the final two championships.
But Hunt, has ties to both men and their legacies. Whether it was working beside them or learning from them, Hunt possesses the experiences that helped build the front office into what it is today. The Steelers’ process and style of action has been built over decades of work and lessons learned through trial, error, and wisdom.
While the Steelers will follow through on their due diligence of interviewing other candidates, it’s hard to imagine them ignoring those ties to their history and tradition that are obvious in Hunt’s resume and background. He has a strong track record with the organization, and built experiences with lessons imbued onto him from two of the most important men to ever work in the Steelers’ front office in Nunn and Colbert.
As Art Rooney II makes the next decision for who runs that front office, it’s easy to see how those ties would only embolden Hunt’s candidacy that’s already bolstered with a strong resume.