Charles Bailey, Steelers Scout and Pro-Personnel Coordinator, 1989-1999
First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing with yourself since your time in Pittsburgh as their Pro Personnel Coordinator?
I was with the Steelers for ten years before I was offered the opportunity to become the Vice President of Football Operations and Assistant General Manager for the Saints. I spoke to Mr. Rooney and he gave me his blessing and told me it was a good opportunity for me, so I accepted the job.
Now, I’m living in Atlanta. I’ve been out of the NFL since 2009. I’ve been busy with my family – I;m helping my daughter now set up a law practice have an investment in a computer repair company as well. But I miss the game – I want to return in some capacity.
Have you been reaching out to teams?
I plan to make some contacts after the draft and see who may need someone. I’d definitely consider going back. Football has been my life.
You also sit on the selection committee of the Black College Football Hall of Fame. How did this get started and can you describe your role and the selection process?
The Hall of Fame was founded in 2010 by former NFL quarterbacks James Harris ands Doug Williams. They felt the stars from the Black colleges should not go unrecognized. We hold the awards in Atlanta and it’s grown every year. One of the first inductees was Bill Nunn actually – his work with the Pittsburgh Courier All-America football team and with the Steelers was incredible.
We have ten members on the selection committee – including Ty Miller – Director of Sports for the Sheridan Broadcasting Network in Pittsburgh, Ernie Accorsi, Gil Brandt and numerous other sportswriters. We boil it down to twenty-five players, five coaches and five contributors and select nine players, one coach and one contributor.
You joined the Steelers in 1989 as a college scout. What prompted the changes to the scouting department and what do you think caused the Steelers to identify you and bring you on board?
I was a college scout in ’89. In 1992 Tom Donohoe was named Director of Football Operations and I was offered the Pro Personnel Director Coordinator position and I gladly accepted it and moved to Pittsburgh with my family.
What was your experience prior to this that helped you prepare for the role?
I worked before I was in Pittsburgh at the National Football Scouting Combine for eight years. I was an area scout and worked in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia….eventually when you are in the combine that long you’re scouting most of the country.
What made the Steelers approach unique in terms of their college and pro scouting, from your perspective. What mattered most to them in terms of what they looked for in player talent?
The Steelers were unique. They had proven Super Bowl success. We were all on the same page with one vision and philosophy. All were set on that.
The draft was more important to us. We developed players through the draft. We were the model teams followed in the 90’s. Everyone did a good job evaluating players. We had good battles and discussions on players and once they were drafted they were Steelers and we treated them that way.
What did you look for most in players that made your approach more succesful?
We cared if he fit in the locker room more. His character and competitiveness. They had to be the top competitors – not just guys who played hard. Guys like Lloyd, Greene, Woodson, Lake, Chad Brown….They had to be the top competitors…
How were you able to evaluate if they were top competitors?
You watch the tape and see them perform. You don’t worry as much about numbers. You see them on tape and see how hard they play. And you look into their backgrounds – talk to the people they know and interact with. It’s not always the best player – he has to be the right player for the team.
We really emphasized character more. To me, the Steelers were a privilege and an honor to play for. We needed players who understood the team and wanted to be a Steeler. Character was important – and fans know when the players are not good kids.
How did the draft process work?
Everyone in the personnel department had a lot of input on the selections. On draft day it was me, Tom Modrak, Tom Donohoe and Bill Cowher at the draft table.
The college scouts would come in and stay a couple of weeks before the draft. We aligned our board with the players they liked – from the highest graded to the lowest graded. We all gave opinions on the players. Then we set the board up on draft day. We put up the best two-to-three players we liked at every position and on draft day we tried to choose the best from those.
After those top two-to-three players were gone, we used our bigger list of all the remaining players, ranked from highest to lowest grade. As our picks came up in the mid to lower rounds, we’d call the scouts and ask them if they liked the top guys left at that pick again, just to be sure, and to check for any post-workout injuries or issues.
So it was best player available, not need.
Some teams have to draft for need. But we were prepared to draft players that were highest graded players. We wouldn’t pass up a higher-graded player for lower one at a need position. It’s a mistake to bypass a better player.
So, it was always the best player available. Free agency always takes care of the need – that’s why we sign players shortly before the draft. Just like when we signed Kevin Greene – that allowed us to draft Jason Gildon later and develop him.
What happens if you have a hole you have to fill that you can’t fill through free agency?
You have to make free agency work for you. You get in trouble once you start drafting for need and bypassing better players. Because of our draft policy of best player available, we always had players ready to step in when players left. So we didn’t need to rely on free agency a lot. We made it work for us. You have to.
In your time in Pittsburgh, what do you feel have been some of your biggest accomplishment/successes, and what makes them so?
My biggest accomplishment was just being part of a winning and consistent playoff team. We really set the tone in the 90’s. I’d talk to others and they’d tell us we were the model for what the other teams wanted to do.
We brought in guys like Bettis, McAfee, Washington, Greene and John L. Willaims….those players worked out for us. That feels good.
Yancey Thigpen was one guy I brought in. We brought him in from San Diego – I knew him from back when he played in a small school in North Carolina. He impressed the staff as a special teams player then made it as an All-Pro wide receiver.
For the readers, what are your fondest memories of your time in Pittsburgh?
I was part of a great organization and business structure. Being a consistent winner in the 90’s and playing in Super Bowl XXX. The Steelers fans are incredible.
And getting to know the Rooney family. They were one of the first of the family owned NFL teams and they were football knowledgeable people. Because of the philosophy and vision they had the structure was outstanding.
My children grew up in Pittsburgh. My whole time was just a great experience.