Dan Rooney Named Ambassador to Ireland – What Effect Will It Have on the Steelers?

President Barack Obama has nominated Pittsburgh Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney to be the US ambassador to Ireland. The nomination was made today as the Patriarch of Steelers Nation and Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen joined the President at the White House for a St. Patrick’s day ceremony.

The move had been anticipated by the Irish Times as early as March the 5th, but the nomination took much of Steelers Nation by surprise as Pittsburgh newspapers made no mention of the possibility until today.

The grandson of an Irish immigrant, Rooney has been active in Irish affairs for decades, founding the America for Ireland fund in the 1970’s. The America for Ireland fund has promoted peaceful resolution of Ireland’s sectarian troubles, and has supported education throughout the Emerald Island.

The Effect on the Steelers

While most of the news has focused on the nomination itself, little has been said about its effect on the Steelers. It’s too early to reach many conclusions, but there is a lot of interesting food for thought.

Rooney Had Better Have His Finances in Order

Nominations for ambassadorships require US Senate approval. Rarely does the Senate reject ambassador nominations (although Bill Wield’s was in 1997) but all nominees do need to go though some sort of scrutiny and vetting to gain.

Normally this would not be more or less a formality, but Rooney is in the middle of trying to conclude the transaction that will see him buy out his brothers Pat and Tim and half of the shares in the Steelers controlled by his brothers John and Art Jr. It’s been reported that Dan Rooney and his son Art II had to take out a loan from PNC Bank topping 300 million dollars. He is also bringing in a number of minority investors.

One needs no degree in finance to know that any deal of this magnitude is going to be complicated. Rooney had make sure his lawyers and accountants have all of the details of the deal in order as Senate scrutiny will bring to light any irregularities that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

How Much of a Role will Dan Rooney Continue to Play in the Management of the Steelers?

Dan Rooney turned over the title of President to his son Art II in 2003. Dan passed the torch just as his father had, no public announcement, just a change in the Steelers annual Media Guide.
At the time it seemed like Dan was planning to phase out his day to day role with the Steelers. And for a while that seemed to be just what was happening. Major announcements, such as the retirement of Myron Cope (if memory serves, if not please correct me) were made by Art II while Dan was off on vacation (apocryphally in Ireland.)

And it was Art II who, in the spring of 2005, declared that it was “time for a Super Bowl.” A little less than two years later, it Art II acted as the team’s point man during the process that saw Bill Cowher begin his coaching hiatus and Mike Tomlin’s selection as his replacement.

Whether by plan, necessity or circumstance, over the past year or so Art II seems to have stepped back in the shadows and Dan has been back in the spotlight.

  • It was Dan Rooney who stood with Pittsburgh Mayor Mark Ravenstall at Mryon Cope’s mid-day memorial Terrible Towel wave
  • Ben Roethlisberger stood with Dan Rooney on the day he signed his new contract
  • Dan Rooney announced the departure of Cedric Wilson and the subsequent decision to keep James Harrison – a move that that got the Steelers Chairman in to trouble as he seemingly excused Harrion’s transgression (he later clarified that he did not condone James Harrison’s actions)
  • Throughout the negotiations to restructure the Steelers ownership, Dan Rooney was in the forefront, Art’s name was seldom if ever mentioned

Likewise, at Super Bowl XLIII, it was Dan Rooney who spoke, whereas Art II simply stood off to the side.

Indeed, press reports abounded with descriptions of how Dan is at the Steeler complex everyday, how Dan makes it a point to talk with players in the locker room, take his place behind others in the lunch line, etc…. Those articles made no mention of Art II.

With technology what it is, Rooney is certainly not going to abdicate his role as Chairman of the Steelers. But clearly his day-to-day absence from the Steelers offices in the South Side is clearly this is going to have an effect on the team.

Effect on the League

When news of the Steelers restructuring broke, the NFL made no bones about the fact that they wanted Dan Rooney to retain control of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Part of the reason Dan Rooney’s stabilizing influence on the league.

The NFL is headed for some very complicated negotiations with the players union. Dan Rooney was one of the first owners to realize the importance and recoganize the legitimacy of the players union. Rooney has been a clear and consistent voice admonishing both the owners and the union to work as partners, pushing for fairness in negotiations, and brokering compromises when situations became intractable. The result has been unfettered labor peace for over 20 years, a claim that none of the other major sports can make.

The explosion in the NFL’s revenues and its popularity is directly related to that labor peace.

The league barely avoided a crisis with the union the last time the Collective Bargaining Agreement was renegotiated. While it’s true the Art II played an important role in brokering the deal that ultimately kept the peace, Dan’s influence should not be underestimated.

Even with Rooney on board many pundits were predicting a strike and/or lockout for 2010 or 2011. Does Dan Rooney stepping out of the picture make a work stoppage inevitable?

Steel Curtain Rising will be analyzing the impact that Dan Rooney’s ambassadorship will have on the Pittsburgh Steelers in depth in the coming days. 

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