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Dick Haley, Steelers Cornerback, 1961-1964, Steelers Director of Player Personnel, 1971-1990

April 3, 2012
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Dick Haley:

You were drafted by Redskins in 1959 – how did you end up in Pittsburgh in 1961 and were you happy about move?

When I was nine or ten I got rheumatic fever – that can cause scar tissue on the heart and valves sometimes. I was in the Army reserves in DC after I was drafted but they turned me down due to the scar tissue I had that caused a heart murmur.

I was ok in high school and at Pitt – I had no issues there and played both ways in college. I always wanted to play offense in the NFL but the Redskins had me play defense at the time until their doctors said I should stop playing and they put me on the expansion list. Minnesota picked me up and I talked to Coach Van Brocklin about playing offense. I got to play some early, but then they put me on waivers. I guess I wasn’t doing was well as I thought.

The Steelers claimed me. Supposedly they were going to draft me –  they called me during the draft actually – so when I was waived they decided to claim me then. There, I went back to playing safety.

You played for Buddy Parker – how was he to play for and why do you think team struggled under him?

He was a good coach – he was just different. The Steelers organization was very different than it is today  -the culture, the conditons….

Buddy was a bright coach, but he didn’t have enough discipline. He had better players in Detroit than he did in Pittsburgh too, but we had some good guys….Lipscomb, Bobby Layne…..it just wasn’t working.

Big Daddy, Ernie Stautner….we had guys that were in the league a while. Guys that had been around. Buddy didn’t want many first and second year players – Parker was known to want experienced guys. Not like the 7o’s – those 70’s teams didn’t have many guys that played on other teams.

Who were some of the biggest characters on those Steelers teams you played for and what made them so? Any examples?

I wasn’t a real jokester. We had no curfew then – there were two to three guys that wouldn’t keep a curfew anyway! There were guys just coming in early in the morning – around breakfast time right before the games. Bobby was the leader of that group.

What are some of your best memories as a player?

In ’62 we played the second place game – they didn’t have playoffs then. In ’63, if we won our last game we would have won the division. But, we lost to New York. We beat New York earlier that year soundly, but the field was frozen and the conditions were difficult the second game. Teams weren’t prepared for those conditions then like they are today, with sideline heaters…

How did you move from Steelers player to Director of Player Personnel in 1971?

My last season I was hurt, so the team had me work part-time as a scout. The Steelers took the lead getting into scouting well before most other teams did. Before then teams drafted off of newspapers and magazine articles.

I coached a minor league team in Washington, PA as I did part-time scouting. Blesto had started – Jack Butler had just taken it over. I moved to Atlanta for four years and scouted the Southeast there before they brought me back to Pittsburgh as the Director of Player Personnel.

What changed about how the Steelers approached the draft in early 70’s that made them so successful and what role did you have in that?

Art Rooney Jr. was the leader in their scouting advancements. He pushed it further with Dan – they pushed hard on spending time and money to develop their scouting organization. That was the main reason we were able to develop those 70’s teams.

People didn’t have scouting departments and player information then. The Rooneys started by having a guy go to every college in the country and have their own territory. All the scouts went to schools in their area. We started seeing all the players and got accurate measurements for the first time of their height, weight and speed. None of that was available before – it was a big factor in the early years.

Describe the scouting and draft process then. How was the scouting department set up, how involved were the Rooneys and Noll and who ultimately decided on who to draft and how?

After the wilder players I played with in the 60’s, the Rooneys wanted reliable players. One thing kept coming through. They didn’t care how big or fast the players were – they wanted to know how good the players were. Don’t tell me about stats.

Lambert was a good example. He was only 202 pounds in training camp. He was 6’5″. Ham was 209 pounds. Webster was only 250 pounds – tell Webster he wasn’t big enough.

Chuck was an undersized offensive guard in Cleveland. I think that influenced how he approached things. He never worried about size – he just looked for how good the player was.

Much of the success of those Steelers teams revolved around drafting talented kids from the smaller Black Southern schools. How did that begin and how did you approach that?

Bill Nunn was a major factor. He had the All American team he picked with the Pittsburgh newspapers and had good connections in the Southern Black schools. He was a major factor in spotting talent. He and Art Rooney Jr expanded the scouting in those areas and that gave us a big jump.

Bill had inroads into those schools. I had the smaller Southeastern schools – forty or so schools – some smaller and some bigger. I knew a lot of those coaches. If I could have taken you to Tennessee State, you would have had the greatest time. The coaches loved seeing the NFL scouts. Bill knew them for years – laid the groundwork there. Tennessee State practiced like Ohio State- you couldn’t tell the difference.

How secretive was the process so those “hidden gems” weren’t found by others and how did you keep things a secret?

We didn’t share the information – we spent a lot of time gathering it. We didn’t lie, but we didn’t share. When you evaluate a player, that information didn’t go anywhere. Some shared some like in any business, but the information was for us only.

Team culture changed in 70’s – players helped each other more than in 60’s – how did you manage to turn culture around?

I didn’t want someone to take my job, but I didn’t want to see guys that weren’t good make the team over better players. We probably worried about our jobs more then – rosters only had thirty-six to thirty-eight players then. Money was always a factor. I don’t remember it being that different in the 60’s over the 70’s. We just wanted to make the team and ourselves better.

What made you a good evaluator of talent, do you think?

That’s a good question. Coming up with the Steelers, I was always looking to learn from Art and Dan. I saw the things that made sense to me. It wasn’t hard – but I saw a lot of people who weren’t good at it. I’d sit and watch tape with others who said things about the players, and I’d ask myself if they were watching the same tape I was?

Do you think many overcomplicated the process – and your focus on “is he a good player?” helped you simplify it?

Yeah…I say it often I know – “Don’t tell me how fast or big a player is, just tell me how good he is.” Just big and fast won’t work. Big, fast and good….we’ll take that player!’

Many missed character and work ethic issues too.

How did you avoid poor character players?

Getting to know the coaches. We got to know the coaches at every school. When they would talk to a group of scouts and coaches, sometimes an assistant coach would pull me aside and tell me things no one else would be told about a player. We got the straight information because of our relationships with the coaches.

What do you think  about the way the game has changed since you were involved – rules and players?

It’s tougher. I’m not close enough to know everything, but the money makes it hard. You make guys rich right away – they better be good character guys right away. Give bad character guys money they’ve never seen in their lifetime – he won’t be successful. They have to really like the game.

Any advice for your son and his new job as offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh?

He is so excited about being there. He was there when he was nine years old. He couldn’t be happier. He has been a Steelers fan for forever. We both had to leave Pittsburgh – it was good for me and Todd. Todd worked under Parcells and he was a major influence in his coaching career.

He knows all about the Steelers organization. I couldn’t be happier for him. Todd lost five of his best seven or eight players to injury in Kansas City. You can’t write all the rules for what happens and let’s hope Pittsburgh stays healthy.

But, he’s happier now than he’s ever been.

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