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Richardson's Panthers patterned after Steelers' Rooney Way

| Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, 10:12 p.m.
Panthers owner Jerry Richardson hits a drum before the NFC championship game against the Cardinals on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Often imitated, never duplicated.

For years, Arizona snagged up former Steelers players and coaches in hopes of something rubbing off on them.

Tennessee has taken the same road the past couple of years by signing former Steelers players and hiring former Steelers.

They are going about it the wrong way.

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson did it the right way — imitated and possibly duplicated Sunday with a world championship Sunday against the Broncos — when he was awarded an expansion franchise 22 years ago.

The right way is the Rooney Way if you value stability and championships.

Richardson and Steelers owner Dan Rooney are good friends. When Richardson was awarded the expansion franchise in 1993, he leaned on the Rooneys for advice.

So, it is not surprising that there are many similarities on how the Steelers run their organization and how Richardson runs his.

“The owners are really close,” former Steelers wide receiver and current Panther Jerricho Cotchery said. “Carolina has modeled itself after Pittsburgh and what a wonderful model. It is the same atmosphere as in a real family-type atmosphere where everybody loves playing with one another.”

Panthers backup center Fernando Velasco played only one year for the Steelers in 2013, but noticed the similarities instantly when he joined the Panthers. Velasco said he had a conversation with Ramon Foster about that just days ago.

“You can just tell that the Rooneys and Mr. Richardson are friends because of the positive vibe you get,” Velasco said. “Both teams make it like a family environment. Even to the GMs from Kevin Colbert to (Dave) Gettleman, you see them around the players and having conversations. From Mike Tomlin and Ron Rivera, you see them in the locker rooms all the time.”

The similarities between the two organization are eerie.

The Rooneys are Pittsburgh born and bred. Richardson is a native Carolinian.

Gettleman and Rivera make joint decisions just like Tomlin and Colbert.

Richardson stays in the background. He seldom, if ever, talks to reporters, letting his coaches and players take the credit. He makes sure he is around in the locker room following games just like the Rooneys.

“He is unbelievable,” said Panthers wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl, who also played three seasons for Carolina. “For six different organizations that I've played for, you rarely have a relationship with the owner. He goes out of his way to form a relationship with his players. Most of the teams that I was with that if you ran into him down the hallway or in the elevator, he wouldn't even know your name.”

The family atmosphere around the Panthers is what players talk about the most. It is what drew some there as free agents and attracted others who dread ever leaving.

“He is a person who doesn't want to interfere and wants those he put in leadership roles to lead,” center Ryan Kalil said. “Most of the people who are in sort of executive roles and larger positions within the organization started there when they were younger and get promoted from within. A lot of people who have been there have been there from the beginning.”

Maybe the biggest attributed Richardson has borrowed from the Steelers is patience.

In 20 years, the Panthers have had only four coaches. That might seem like a lot when you compare it to the Steelers, who have had three coaches in 46 years. But in this day and age of instant gratification, that's not many at all.

Richardson doesn't make rash decision, and if he did, it is possible that the Panthers wouldn't be playing in Sunday's Super Bowl.

Carolina's success would've seemed far-fetched early in the 2013 season. The Panthers, who were 13-19 in Rivera's first two years, were off to a 1-3 start. But Richardson told Rivera no changes would be made, so the coach and his staff could work without fear of being fired.

“Jerry is very loyal,” veteran defensive lineman Charles Johnson said. “I don't think people really know that. He is a down-to-earth guy who doesn't say a lot.”

Two years later, the Panthers are 17-1 are a win away from a title.

“Just knowing that Mr. Richardson was willing to have the patience and bet on me and have enough faith that I was going to get it done,” Rivera said. “He also worked at it, too. As much as I worked at it, he worked at it with me. We meet once a week. We sit down and talk about anything. There is no limit in terms of what he wants to talk about or the advice he gives me.”

Just like the Rooneys.

Mark Kaboly is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. He can be reached at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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