First, after playing for North Catholic as an offensive lineman, how special was it for you to return as the school’s head coach and lead it to so many successful seasons?
As a young boy, I followed North Catholic and when I was able to compete on their football team, it was special and an honor and then to return as the head coach, I was again honored and extremely happy and humbled…
What are some of your greatest memories both as a player and as a coach at North Catholic?
Winning the Catholic Championship all of the years that I played and then to coach the only undefeated and untied team in the history of the school because of some outstanding football players. I was blessed to have some great teams.
Tell us how you went from North Catholic to becoming a scout for the Steelers, and why you decided to become a scout and work for Jack Butler?
I worked part-time as an evaluator for the Steelers because Art Rooney hired me with the recommendation from Tim Rooney, their cousin. Then Art, Jr recommended me to Jack Butler at the time North Catholic was going coeducational and it just seemed the right thing to do .
How did Jack Butler affect and influence you in your role as a scout – what did he teach you about the scouting process that most affected the way you looked at players?
Jack gave me my area, gave me a run down of the reports to be filled out and what to look for. He has a formula of things that were to be observed and graded and then he let you along to do your job. Jack never bothered the scouts if he felt that they were doing what was expected of them. He would offer advice if you asked for it and he was always positive about our approach to scouting and how to dress and act when visiting a school.
First and foremost, we were guests at the school and should act accordingly. He always asked if the young men were FOOTBALL PLAYERS, but they usually had to fit into the height, weight, speed category or we would have to list the players as exceptions. Most teams were not enthusiastic about exceptions…
What were some of the characteristics in players that were most important to the Steelers organization then that you looked for most in prospects?
Height, weight, speed, intelligence, character and then specific factors that were expected by each position. A critical factor for a receiver would be soft hands and hand-eye coordination. Etc…
What methods did you use to evaluate players – what metrics were you able to rely on to determine player ability?
I worked for a combine ( Blesto). If you mean working for Pittsburgh, again each position has factors that weighed into his final grade. Always taking into consideration that he had the height, weight, and speed. Each position varied as far as critical and non critical factors.
Blocking at that time was not a critical factor for a wide receiver but it helped to grade him higher. I used charts that were given to me by my high school coach, Rip Scherer,( he also did some work for the Steelers) to grade each factor with , lets say, 4 being the best and 0 being poor). And each factor was graded and a final mark was given by taking the total points and dividing the number of factors into the final total.
For example if he graded 3 on every factor , he would end up getting a three (3) as a final grade and the 3 could mean that he could make a team, but may never be a starter….
How different was the Steelers’ approach from that of other teams?
Almost all of the teams used a similar approach because of the combines but the Steelers, the Giants and the Dallas cowboys had their own approaches. The Steelers lived by the drafts for years and with great success because they took into account the best players regardless of position.
Many teams would elevate a position player if the head coach or the general manager thought that the team need took precedence over the better players. Sometimes they took players way too high to fill a need and this was called reaching for a player. Then they are stuck with a player that they may have gotten in the second or third round. This could ruin some drafts.
The Steelers , because of Art Jr. stayed with the best player regardless of position. If a position need happened to be the player that they had rated high, that make the coach and the general managers happy.
What were some of your best “finds” and accomplishments as a scout – and what made them so?
John Stallworth the wide receiver for the Steelers. He was not graded high by the combine but when I visited, I gave him a fairly good grade but it was my first year and I was just getting acclimated to the Blesto grading system.
As a scout at Detroit, I had four or five free agents make the team and play for years along with Keith Dorney, Barry Sanders and Chris Speilman. Two free agents were Jeff Chadwick and a tight end from Grand Valley State. I was personnel director of the Detroit Lions for five years….
What are some of the biggest misperceptions you think fans have about the scouting process?
They apparently think that scouts go to a game and evaluate and decide who can play or who cannot play from just that game. But in reality, a school visit is a must and studying every game film or tape that a player may have played in and then viewing each prospect of the practice field.
When viewing film, a scout must watch every play of every prospect….Then write reports at night once he has arrived at his next school which may be far away from his previous school.
How involved were the Rooneys and coaches in the scouting process – and how so?
Art Jr was on the road when he first started and after he was named Director of Scouting, he always came to the all-star games (Senior Bowl , etc.) and he and Jack Butler also were present at many games of top prospects.
Tim Rooney, the cousin, spent many hours evaluating the pro players and also studying films of college prospects. The Steelers sent their coaches to work out and evaluate some top prospects at their respective positions if the team scouts had graded the player to make their team…They also studied film, talked with the position coach and checked on injuries, character, etc….
What trends have you noticed in today’s scouting processes and in today’s college players versus when you were a scout?
The players are bigger, faster and may be more explosive but football is still a game of blocking and tackling and that has never changed.
How hard was it for you to leave Pittsburgh and take on a larger role as director of player personnel for Detroit?
I began moving my family when I worked for Blesto and Jack Butler. I moved to North Carolina when the area scout at the time was hired to work for another pro team. I played my college ball at North Carolina State so the move was easy for me but not for my family.
After being hired by Detroit, I was the scout for the Eastern part of the United States. We only had two team scouts at the time. When I became Player Personnel Director, I had to fly the country to every school that had top rated players and traveling and being away from the family is not an easy thing to do. My wife was left with the raising of our children for a big part of the season and I regret sticking her with all the responsibilities. But if a person has an opportunity to move up in an organization, some sacrifices have to be made.
We will celebrate our 50th year of marriage, so I guess we got thru the tough parts of our lives ok….
What are your greatest memories working with the Steelers organization?
How family orientated the Chief was, and all of his sons and family members who worked for the Steelers.
I was given a pass to the Oakland-Steelers playoff game and I was at the railing when Franco caught the Immaculate Reception and took it to the house (touchdown). That is a moment that I will always remember. Just being associated with the Rooney family and having Mister Rooney come into the locker room when I was coaching North Catholic, and wish the players and the coaching staff the best of luck. None of our players or coaches will ever forget that day…
Any last thoughts for readers?
The Steelers are a great organization and the Steeler Nation all rally around the success of the Steelers. Art Rooney jr and Jack Butler played a big part in the Steelers success and although Art, jr never talks about his accomplishments, he is responsible for many of the good players that the Steelers drafted because he had the guts to stand up and fight for the players that the scouting department felt could help the team.
Just knowing Art and Jack Butler is a privilege and an honor…
Read more by former Steelers via the book Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades. To order, just click on the book: