Bill Nunn’s Scouting Opened an N.F.L. Pipeline
This includes on the sidelines of the league and in its executive offices. Almost two decades ago, the NFL introduced the Rooney Rule, which required teams to interview people of color for head coaching positions. The rule continues to fall short of expectations and was extended in 2020 to prevent teams from preventing assistant coaches and contracted executives from interviewing for vacancies elsewhere.
Six head coaches have been hired this offseason, but only one – Robert Saleh, who was hired by the Jets – is a minority. Five of the league’s 32 teams have black general managers.
Nunn’s path to the NFL is unlikely to be repeated. Her father, Bill Sr., was editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the nation’s leading black newspapers. Nunn played college basketball at West Virginia State, an HBCU, and was drafted by the Harlem Globetrotters. He went to work at the Courier instead.
As a sports journalist, Nunn rubbed shoulders with Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis and other stars. He also helped build the Courier’s Black College All-America squad. Every year he hosted a banquet in Pittsburgh for top HBCUs players and coaches Art Rooney Sr., the Steelers owner, saw Nunn had close contact and told his son, Art Rooney Jr., to hire. Nunn as a member. -time scout.
“We covered the black schools, but when Bill came in it was very, very different,” Rooney Jr. said. “Bill had a big dinner every year and we would take the players to the stadium and they would meet Chuck Noll, the head coach. It was a big pitch for the Steelers.
In 1969, the Steelers hired Nunn full time. He would rate players by position and create a second list of top players regardless of their position. “This phase paid off for us,” Rooney Jr. said. By the time the Steelers won their second Super Bowl, their roster was almost entirely homemade.
For most of any given year, Nunn would be on the road watching college players and getting to know their coaches, long-standing relationships that paid off when he worked for the Steelers. The rumor spread too. When Nunn’s daughter Lynell dated Morgan State in the early 1970s, she realized that some football players were trying to get to know her because of her father.
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