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Art II key Rooney in Steelers' era of change

Steelers/NFL Videos

By Scott Brown and Carl Prine,
Sunday, July 5, 2009
 

Friends and colleagues describe Arthur J. Rooney II as a mild-mannered, modest man who won't change much about the Steelers as he takes over a helm previously held by his father and grandfather, both NFL Hall of Famers.

"I don't think that we plan on making any changes, you know• We think that the business philosophy and the business model we've set up are working," Rooney II, 56, of Squirrel Hill, told the Trib recently. "So we'll try not to make too many changes. The key is to bring in good people at every level, and that's what we'll try to do."

The departure of his father, Dan, 76, whom the Senate confirmed last week as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, marks a transition for the fabled franchise.

If a $750 million deal goes through, Art II will become only the third principal owner of the Steelers in their 76-year history, following his father and his grandfather, Art "The Chief" Rooney. Art II has put the team up as collateral on a PNC Financial loan and will soon have to contend with a board composed mostly of people not named Rooney.

Those who know Art II describe him as an efficient behind-the-scenes deal maker who thinks as a businessman, fights like a lawyer and has honed himself over the past decade to run the family's most famous business.

NFL executives voted Art II their "Executive of the Year" in 2005 following the Steelers' Super Bowl run. He already had been serving as president of the club for the previous two years and had long been the team's general counsel — positions he plans to retain.

"You can't find one man or woman in the room that doesn't respect Art Rooney," said Colts' owner Jim Irsay, 50. "He's a lot like Dan. Football is a huge part of it all. God, family and football. That's what he's about."

But some consider Art II a bad replacement.

"Art is very different from his father," said John DeSantis, former Allegheny West Civic Council leader and a Steelers' season-ticket holder. "People use the phrase, 'The Rooneys' as a comprehensive term. But Art is very different from his uncles, father and grandfather. He's calculating and Machiavellian."

DeSantis, 54, tussled with Art II when the latter directed the Steelers' push to build the publicly-funded Heinz Field, which is located a few blocks away from the Allegheny West neighborhood on the North Side.

"Art Sr. and Dan Rooney are beloved in Western Pennsylvania," DeSantis said. "They earned the reputation of being honest and upstanding. Art II is not going to inherit that mantle. And he's already starting to lose it.

"In the long-term, that's not good for the Steelers' organization. I predict the Steelers will eventually go to anyone who pays the highest amount of money."

Art II declined to respond to DeSantis.

Although Art II's name graces the title of Pittsburgh third-largest law firm, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, he's not a shareholding partner. He's been enmeshed mostly in Steelers legal work for a decade, so not much will change at the law firm, according to the law group's chief executive officer Jack Barbour.

"Dan is a living legend — he can't be replaced," Barbour said. "But the team will be in the best hands to run it."

Barbour said that Art II will continue to balance long hours toiling for the team with his role as a doting husband to Greta, 48, their three daughters and a son who is Dartmouth's sophomore quarterback. Friends say that Art II goes to every Big Green game. Dartmouth alum and Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown, 71, knows that talk of the Big Green will perk up the Steelers' president.

"We talk about it and laugh about the experiences his son is having, and Art lights up when you get into that subject," Brown said.

Art II often appears detached, even aloof. He is never described, even by friends and family, as outgoing. Some see that as his natural poker-faced temperament. Others, such as his uncle Art Rooney Jr, believe that he's following the same path a young Dan Rooney blazed as he emerged from his father's long shadow.

"Dan was the hard-nosed accountant from Duquesne," Art Jr. said. "Over the past seven years, Artie really took over that role. So that's why Artie is the best guy for the job right now. He might not be a Hall of Famer like his dad and his granddad, but he's certainly prepared to do this."

Time will tell whether Art II becomes the public face of the franchise, a role both his father and grandfather grabbed with gusto. Before he left for Dublin, Dan often ate with Steelers' workers in the cafeteria of the team's practice facility. Art II usually munches lunch — often a light salad — at his desk.

Dan famously slapped the backs of players and shook their hands in the locker room, even after losses. Art II is often seen riding a stationary bike, watching the Steelers practice. To cornerback Ike Taylor, 29, Dan has been "like a father to me," but Art II is taking a little longer to get to know.

"People don't tend to go up and talk to him because he's laid back, and he kind of stays to himself," said Taylor, who is entering his seventh season. "If you just actually talk to him, Mr. Art's a cool cat."

Barbour and Art Jr. think the fact that Art II is a "cool cat" under pressure actually will help him bridge a divide in the NFL. They see him as a transitional figure who will unite the 21st century business moguls who now buy football teams with the dynastic families who founded the NFL. In microcosm, they say that also will be his job as an owner who plans to hold jointly with his father only 30 percent of the club's shares.

"The big thing is that there's never been an outside owner," said Art Jr., who also hopes to remain a minority owner. "Now, you're going to have to be accountable to people who aren't in the family. Art will bring in his background in the law. He's used to dealing with people like that, in that kind of environment."

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