(Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert was on the WDVE Morning Show on Monday and talked about Bill Nunn and Alan Faneca getting nominated to the Pro Football Class of 2021. Colbert first shared his interactions with Nunn, who had a profound impact on his career.
"I first knew of Bill growing up in Pittsburgh and knowing some of their personnel folks just through different connections that we had at North Catholic High School through the Rooney family,” Colbert said. "We got to visit training camps when we were younger and growing in the business. And Bill was obviously noticeable at that point.
"Before I got to Pittsburgh, I often spent time with Bill on the road. And you know, just his knowledge about what this business was about and how he went about it. Not so much just in a talking phase to people like myself but just watching him work.”
The Steelers hired Colbert in 2000, and that's when he first started to work with Nunn, as he was a part-time scout with the Steelers from 1987-2014.
“And then of course, when he was with us on a day-to-day basis, when we were in the same office, it was just a lesson again," Colbert said. "Just to be around him and hear the so many different stories. But then the actual contributions that he made to our evaluation process were just priceless.”
Nunn was a sportswriter and editor for the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the largest Black newspapers in the United States, and he selected the Black College All-American Team every year since 1950. The Steelers were aware of Nunn's coverage of players who went to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and at the time, HBCU players were traditionally underrepresented in the league. The Steelers were known as perennial losers in the 1960s and were looking for a winning edge, so they asked Nunn to join the team's scouting department. Nunn accepted a part-time position with the Steelers in 1967 and two years later he was hired full-time when Chuck Noll became the team's head coach.
Nunn would travel all over the South every fall to compile information on players for his All-American team, along with that he built close relationships with coaches and athletic directors at HBCUs. The Steelers had a huge advantage over other teams with having Nunn.
Without Nunn, the Steelers don’t find players like John Stallworth (Alabama A&M), Mel Blount (Southern), L.C. Greenwood (Arkansas-Pine Bluff), Ernie Holmes (Texas Southern), Dwight White (East Texas State) and Donnie Shell (South Carolina State), all of whom played at HBCUs. Stallworth, Blount and Shell are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"He didn't really talk about it as an obstacle, of course when he did his work for The Courier, he had ties to the HBCUs schools that were unique," Colbert said when asked about the obstacles Nunn faced being a trailblazer for HBCU players. "And I think the Rooney family recognized that because that wasn't an easy access for non-minorities quite honestly. And Bill could break down a lot of barriers and get the information and find out some things about players that maybe others couldn't, and that was huge.
"But Bill was so much more than just the HBCU guy, that was his specialty no doubt, but Bill could go into any college -- USC, Michigan, Ohio State and sit in and evaluate players and talk to coaches as if he was sitting in his living room or in his office. He was unique in that manner. The first day that I actually spent with Bill on the road was at Boston College. We spent a day together evaluating players. I always emphasize that Bill was so much more than just the HBCU guy, again that was his specialty, but he could thrive in any environment."
Colbert was asked by Mike Prisuta of WDVE if how much Nunn did was to win championships and how much was it to blaze trails.
"I think he knew and understood that he might be blazing trails for those that followed him no matter what their race was," Colbert said. "Again, people like myself he helped. He helped us become better evaluators. The minority world, I'm sure he opened a ton of doors. But it was never a subject with Bill, it really wasn't. He'd just go about his business and you recognized him for who he was. And again, he could tell the stories about the (Roberto) Clementes, Joe Lewis, Jackie Robinson, and the entertainers like Lena Horne and everybody that passed through this city, it seemed that Bill knew. But he never was on a path other than to simply be who he was, respect him for who he was and how he did his job, and that's really how he went about his business. It wasn't an endeavor to try to gain respect, he just gained that respect through his everyday actions."
Colbert also touched on Faneca getting into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Colbert wasn't with the Steelers when Faneca was drafted at 26th overall in the 1998 NFL Draft, but he knew all about Faneca when he was coming out of college.
“I was in Detroit when Alan was at LSU and we knew he was a unique player,” Colbert said. “We had high grades on him there. Alan just had a unique sense of balance and tenacity for his size. You know, a lot of times offensive linemen they have a mean streak to them. They have the size most more often than not, but to coordinate that and be able to stay on your feet and finish and sustain blocks in the run game on the interior part of the line, or getting to linebackers and of course in pass protection and pulling and different things like that. I think Alan’s unique contact balance was really what separated him. And again, for offensive linemen to be able to get in the Hall of Fame, they have to do it over a sustained amount of time, which Alan did.”
With the 2020 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Steelers will have five members inducted into the Hall of Fame in August with Bill Cowher, Troy Polamalu and Donnie Shell a part of the 2020 Class and Nunn and Faneca a part of the 2021 Class.
"The standard was set long, long ago," Colbert said. "And it is remarkable. I mean, this summer you'll have five. You know you mentioned Bill Cowher, Troy Polamalu, Donnie Shell, and of course Bill and Alan that we just talked about. That's a unique class because it talks about the personnel folks, of course, great players and a great coach. All who were Super Bowl champions. That standard was set a long time ago. It's our obligation to try to uphold that. And trust me, every day we recognize that when we walk into this building. We walk past six trophies and you understand that it's your job to get number seven and nothing else."