Lynn Swann on the Pittsburgh Power and Hines Ward:
How did you learn the skills to be an owner – did you use NFL post-career services or other means to learn?
It’s a business number one. I think years of playing sports and being around sports – working in broadcasting, talking to owners, GMs – you learn a good deal. You learn what your role has to be and what you want it to be.
And what did you decide your role with the Power organization would be?
Some owners like Jerry Jones in Dallas want to be hands on on a weekly basis. They want that appearance – who knows what they are really doing behind closed doors. Al Davis was like that as well – intimately involved in every decision.
Other owners hire sports people to handle the business so they can look at it from 40,000 feet. You have to decide how you want to do it.
You can’t argue with the success of the Rooneys. They hired the right people and let them do their job. They may have offered guidance behind closed doors…. I’m not the coach. I don’t want to tell the coach what to do. I hired him to be the head coach.
What are the biggest changes to team this season from your perspective?
I think the number one thing is that this is our second year. In the first year everything takes longer. Several people learned to do things differently this year. We’re better organized. We were rushing for personnel, coverage, a stadium lease and a practice field last year. We’re all set now – we have long-term commitments. That gives us a stronger comfort level and that translates to better, more productive practices.
Now, the players from last year’s team can execute better. They have a system they are used to and a routine they can rely on.
How about from a personnel perspective – what are the biggest changes there?
We tried to improve the personnel. On paper we improved the team – we’ll have to wait until March 9th to see.
Kyle Rowley at quarterback has won championships. The coach knows him and that was a big part in him coming here. We looked at several quarterbacks – talked to different guys and made offers to certain guys and Kyle was one of those guys. He’s a proven leader – not a first year quarterback. I hope that he brings out the best in the players – that he makes the other guys better.
PJ Berry is another one of those kinds of guys. He’ll bring excitement here that he brought when he was in New Orleans.
Who is competition for the Power in terms of the Pittsburgh market?
We’re not really trying to pull people away from other teams – we’re not the same season as the NFL. I know a number of Steelers come to our games – Hines Ward, Harrison, Timmons, Woodley, Batch…..They bring their kids and have a great time.
We pride ourselves in being a great value for families. We draw people who weren’t able to see the Penguins. The price is affordable for the whole family. We play during the hockey and baseball season and fans can see those games – there are many a week. We have just one game a week – nine home games a year.
So, we’re not trying t take fans away – just trying to build a strong base of our own.
What’s surprised you most about owning the Power so far and what would surprise fans most?
For fans, how fast and entertaining the fame is. In Arena Football – you can’t get out of your seat or you’ll miss something. Sitting close to the action, you need to pay attention or the ball may come your way. In baseball, a long home run, you have time to react and be warned it’s coming. In the AFL there’s no warning! And you can keep the ball too!
For me, it was more behind the scenes. The work it requires.
It continues to be a learning experience. You can have a plan for the normal situations. But success is how you handle what’s not expected and making the tough decisions. Like personnel decisions where someone might be a nice guy and you like him, but you have to release them…
A lot of former steelers own Pittsburgh sports franchises now. Dawson with wild things, Franco and the Passion and you. Do you three ever talk about working together to co-promote or just share experiences? if so, what have been some if your common experiences?
No – we feel like we have a good product. We can build this as a stand-alone operation.
What about your time with the Steelers – coaching lessons, playing experiences and dealings wither front office her helped you prepare for your job with Power?
Most was through observation. The Rooney family – it was not part of their operating practice to bring players in on personnel decisions. You see things occur – decisions and patterns. You look to see how they’ve been successful and how it works.
I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel. You maybe change a spoke or add new material, but it’s still the wheel. You find models of success to emulate and if circumstances change, you adjust.
Do you interact much with the players? What advice do you find yourself giving to them and the coaching staff and how much of that comes from your Steelers influences?
I talk to the coaches – see what they are doing and looking at the team from the short and long-term. I’ll give advice and assistance – I want to be sure the staff is focused. I’ve worked hard to give the players and coaches good housing and good facilities so they can be.
When I do talk to the players, I’ll talk football, or they’ll ask me about life after football – how I got into broadcasting and other things outside of football.
Is it hard for you to stay on the sidelines?
I watch practices and tryouts. The coaches will have the receivers running different routes. I’ll see if I can jump in and ask the coach what they are trying to accomplish on the routes. Then, you understand what they are trying to accomplish. What the aim of the drill is. Then I can lend a hand on things like body control – help out in those ways. But it’s not to be a coach.
It’s not tough to watch. The only time since retiring that I have had the urge to play is when it’s a playoff or championship game. Something inside clicks when there’s no backing out. When you have to win now. All the other stuff goes out the window then. That’s when I get fired up.
Have you had any funny experiences so far – any of the players big characters?
I see guys that come into practice late or who make mistakes working with Coach Stingley. He’ll have extra things for them to do to “add” to their workout routines. They’re not enjoying the extra workout (laughing). I’m sure they have their own stories, but it’s the coaches who interact with them more on that stuff, not me.
What are your thoughts on Hines Ward and difficulty in retiring – both for the player and the organization?
It’s not a great position for anyone – for the coaches or the players. These are hard decisions -Ward is a Hall of Fame caliber player and person. I wish him nothing but the best.
You look at the past. Pittsburgh has released starters – Hall of Fame players who may have been injured or who they decided were done. Bradshaw and Lambert for example. Some decide on their own to go on to another career – myself included.
Those that still wanted to play usually wanted to do so for a competitive team – Porter and Harris were examples. Bill Cowher may have released more starters than both Chuck Noll and Tomlin. It took him ten years to get the right mix of players to win the Super Bowl.
At the end of the day, you can’t argue with the consistent success of the Rooneys. It’s an emotional decision for fans watching their favorite players and then seeing them gone.
But the teams move one and don’t waste any time doing so (laughing). Noll once said “I can’t coach players that aren’t here.”
Montana – I think it was him – once said to me “If playing in professional football is like a scholarship, stay on scholarship as long as you can.” Once you leave the sport – because of injury or age – you can’t come back. It’s gone. Someone once told me that “It’s better to play two years longer than you should have than one year less than you could.”
In the end, it doesn’t matter what Ward does after this. He’ll always be a Steeler.
Even if he plays in Baltimore?
(Laughing) Hey – Woodson played for Baltimore! It was hard to take, but he’s still a Steeler at the end of the day.
Any last thoughts for readers?
I told the team when training camp began – the goal is to win a championship. They could be the first team to being a championship to the Power. The Steelers won six Super Bowls and went to eight. But no matter how many more they win, those guys in ’74 can say they laid the foundation. That’s a great feeling.
Read more by former Steelers via the book Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades. To order, just click on the book: