Wednesday, May 07, 2014
Nunn's loss leaves a void
The Steelers’ draft room will be a somber place today. For the better part of the past 50 years, there was a spot in the room held by a former sports writer, the only sports writer permitted into the inner sanctum.
Bill Nunn Jr., who died Tuesday night at 89, was that respected within the organization.
Of course, Nunn wasn’t just a sports writer. He had given up that profession when the Steelers hired him to scout the predominantly black colleges that had often been overlooked by NFL teams to that point.
Nunn, as a sports writer, sports editor and later managing editor of the influential Pittsburgh Courier, arguably the nation’s preeminent newspaper for African Americans, had been selecting the Black College All-American Team for a number of years. And as a former standout college basketball player at West Virginia State College – he was good enough to garner attention from both the NBA and Harlem Globetrotters – he knew an athlete when he saw one.
And Nunn saw many playing at the black colleges in a time when the nation was split in half by race.
Nunn started working for the Steelers as a part-time scout for the Steelers in 1967. By 1969, the same year Chuck Noll was hired to coach the team, he was brought on in a full-time basis, playing a huge part in the team’s acquisition of the greatest dynasty in NFL history.
It was through Nunn’s work that the Steelers found players such as Mel Blount, John Stallworth, L.C. Greenwood, Donnie Shell, Ernie Holmes, Joe Gilliam, Glen Edwards and Frank Lewis, all players from predominantly black colleges that Nunn had identified as having NFL futures.
Forty years ago, he had a huge part in helping the Steelers obtain the greatest draft class in NFL history.
In 1974, the Steelers selected Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster in the first five rounds of the draft. There were five future Pro Football Hall of Fame players selected in that draft. The Steelers selected four of them.
“It is, by far, the greatest draft in NFL history,” said Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert. “Our hats are off to Art Rooney, Jr., Dick Haley and Bill Nunn as well. Obviously, Coach Noll and his staff have to be applauded, and we will certainly be thinking about that group as we go into this draft.”
Nunn “retired” from scouting in 1987. But he continued to help the Steelers with their scouting efforts. Listed as the Senior Assistant of Player Personnel in the team’s media guide, Nunn would help the Steelers evaluate talent prior to the draft. Every year at training camp, he would sit at a picnic table high above the practice fields, watching and evaluating.
That seat, along with the one he held in the Steelers’ draft room every year, will sit empty now. But Nunn’s legacy with the team is quite the opposite. He was a juggernaut in all walks of life.