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Mike Tomlin Reflects on Late Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney: ‘So Thankful for His Bold Outlook’



Pittsburgh Steelers HC Mike Tomlin

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin recently reflected on the late Dan Rooney and what he meant to him in his career. Rooney hired Tomlin as the Steelers head coach on Jan. 22, 2007.

Tomlin, who was 34 at the time, was rather unknown in league circles, but Rooney was blown away by him during their interview. One report said the Steelers management team was “dazzled” by Tomlin’s poise, ideas, enthusiasm and coaching philosophies.

“2007, man, I met an elderly dude named Dan Rooney that owned the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s known for the Rooney Rule and things of that nature. Among other things, obviously. But more than that, man, that dude was a friend of mine. We had zero in common, obviously … personally. But man I loved that dude, man,” Tomlin said at the “The Next Up” conference in late May, via DeeLovesSports on X.

Steelers Dan Rooney

Pittsburgh Steelers’ chairman Dan Rooney speaks on stage flanked by his son the team president Art Rooney II, right, and players tight end Heath Miller, left, and wide receiver Antonio Brown during an NFL fan rally event in Regent Street, London, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013. The Minnesota Vikings are to play the Pittsburgh Steelers at Wembley stadium in London on Sunday, Sept. 29 in a regular season NFL game. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

The Next Up conference aims to identify Black and minority coaches who could benefit from relationships with decision-makers and executives across the collegiate landscape. Tomlin and his close friend LeVelle Moton, the head men’s basketball coach at NC Central, partnered to launch the initiative.

“He was a mentor and a guide for me,” Tomlin said of Rooney. “I think the thing that I learned the most about him, man, he made no assumptions about men. As a leader, he realized that decisions need to be made and really need to be made as quickly as possible. There’s an expiration date on good decision-making, but he wasn’t ruled by that expiration date component.”

Rooney, who was the chairman of the NFL’s committee on workplace diversity, led the charge for the NFL to mandate that teams must interview minority candidates for head coaching positions. That’s why the rule was named after him in December of 2002. The Rooney Rule has since been expanded to include other positions and more provisions.

“When that job came open in 2007, he interviewed a lot of people. And to be honest with you, man. He satisfied the quote-unquote Rooney Rule before he even interviewed me. He interviewed Ron Rivera before he interviewed me,” Tomlin said. “This is a dude that just lived what he preached. He was interested in getting to know people, capable people that he didn’t know. He had a job open, man. He wanted to hire the best dude for the job, so he turned the stones over.

“We met, we connected, and the rest is history. And I am so thankful for that. I’m so thankful for his bold outlook. The things that he was willing to do that might run counter-culture. The fact that he’s not ruled by the sand through the hourglass component of decision-making that often times limit the opportunities of capable minority people.”

Rooney had great intuition when it came to hiring coaches, as he hit home runs with Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin. Noll and Cowher are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Tomlin will join them in Canton someday, as well.

Tomlin, who has no losing seasons in his 17 years as the Steelers head coach, was signed to a three-year contract extension on June 10. Tomlin (173 career wins) is currently 20 wins behind Noll (193) for the franchise all-time record. 

Seventeen years later, Steelers management is still thrilled by Tomlin’s poise, ideas, enthusiasm and coaching philosophies.

“The players still respond to Mike and that’s No. 1,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said in January. “He still has the key characteristics that we saw when we hired him. He can keep the attention of a group of 20-year-olds for a whole season and keep them in the fight the whole way. Still feel good about Mike. Obviously, if I didn’t, we’d make change. If we didn’t think Mike was able to lead us to a championship, he wouldn’t be here. That’s why he’s here.”