The newest Steelers assistant coach is tall and lanky, with a strong right arm. He can be seen whistling spirals to All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown and others in practice.
In his previous jobs in the NFL, he worked as a scout and learned first-hand about the league’s media strategy at the NFL offices in New York when he was straight out of college.
It’s not the typical path to an NFL coaching job. Then again, this assistant coach is being groomed for a much loftier position within the organization.
Danny Rooney, a 27-year-old graduate of Dartmouth, is the heir apparent to his father, team president Art Rooney II.
The Rooney Roster
Art Rooney II
Dan Rooney Jr.
Player personel coordinator
There is no formal succession plan, Art II notes. He turns 64 next month, but has no plans to step aside from the role of team president that he’s held since 2003.
“If he decides to stay in the business I think it will serve him well,” Art Rooney II said of his son’s different jobs in the NFL. “I don’t think there’s any script for how this might unfold. He’s still a young guy and hopefully has a bright future in whatever he decides to do.”
There is always the chance Danny Rooney could choose another career path, but from the day he received his Ivy League diploma he has been on the fast track to a prominent role within the Steelers organization. Last fall, none one other than Steelers minority owner Thomas Tull, CEO of Legendary Pictures, tabbed him as the heir apparent to his father in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Hans Schroeder is the senior vice president for NFL media strategy and development and worked closely with the younger Rooney during Rooney’s two-year internship at the NFL office.
Schroeder and Rooney share similar backgrounds. As the son of a coach, Schroeder grew up around football and also played in the Ivy League, at Princeton. Schroeder also shared Rooney’s ambition to mesh his two loves — sports and business — into a career.
As part of the NFL’s internship, Rooney was expected to rotate around the league’s different departments. But he proved to be so valuable to Schroeder and the NFL’s media and development team that he spent an entire year with them.
When Rooney’s time at the NFL was winding down and he was set to return to the Steelers, he and Schroeder spoke about his desire to experience the football side of the organization upon his return.
“We talked about that and the options he had,” Schroeder said. “We talked about down the road about what his portfolio of skills was going to be. I was impressed with his maturity as he thought about his opportunities. He wanted to have a balance within his portfolio. Within that it was recognition that he learned a lot on the business and media side, but he wanted to learn about the football side.
“When he was thinking about going back to the Steelers there was a real drive to be involved in different parts of the team. He wanted to see the footsteps in how the club operates and being able to understand how it’s different and unique at the club level. That was something he was very mindful of. He wanted a broad base.”
Like his father and grandfather, chairman Dan Rooney, Danny was a quarterback. Danny, however, was the first to be recruited to play in college.
Danny Rooney’s experiences — on and off the field — have been different from his father and grandfather, the only other two team presidents in franchise history.
While it’s not uncommon for members of the Rooney family to work on the football side of the building — Art Rooney, Jr. ran the scouting department in the 1970s and Dan Rooney Jr., another of Dan’s sons, is currently the team’s player personnel coordinator — it is a different course for the men who have presided over the team since 1975.
Chairman Rooney held a variety of jobs, all on the business side of the operation before his father, team founder Art Rooney, elevated him to team president. And Art Rooney II practiced law for more than two decades before coming on board to succeed his father.
Danny Rooney’s experience as a college player is the reason he was afforded the opportunity to be a member of Mike Tomlin’s staff.
“I think he had a great experience at Dartmouth,” his father said. “Being on their football team I think gave him a view of what it’s like to make the transition from being a college player and how those players have to evolve into NFL players. If he didn’t have that experience he probably wouldn’t be doing what he’s doing today in terms of being on the coaching side now.”
Even though Danny Rooney served mostly as a backup during his four years at Dartmouth, he was among the team’s quiet leaders. Leading from a reserve role is difficult, but it’s a role in which he excelled.
“Sometimes a young guy from a well-known family will take advantage of the family’s reputation,” said Dartmouth football coach Buddy Teevens, who recruited and coached Danny from 2008-11. “He was the complete opposite. He was a worker. He was a grinder. That always resonated with me.
“He was injured a couple of times and only got a couple of game opportunities. From a quarterback standpoint, we put a lot on our guys. And he would mentor younger guys even if they were competing with him for playing time. He was a great team guy. He was always trying to improve. He’d say, ‘Coach, what do I need to do?’ And it was always about making the team better.”
Now Rooney’s focus is on how he can help the Steelers be better. For now, it’s as a member of the coaching staff on a team with Super Bowl aspirations. In the future, perhaps as early as next decade, it’s likely as the team’s top decision-maker, where he’ll have to meld football and business.
“It’s fun to see the maturation, going back to when I first met him when he was in the eighth grade, and now he’s in the NFL,” Teevens said. “He’ll go a long way, and it’s because of his attitude, his personality and his work ethic. He’s very good with people. That’s why he’s going to be successful.”
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