Art Rooney II at a press conference in April 2012 announcing the new Minnesota Vikings stadium.
Art Rooney II at a press conference in April 2012 announcing the new Minnesota Vikings stadium. (Photo: Mark Dayton via Wikimedia Commons)

When news broke Thursday of the death of Dan Rooney, the longtime owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the National Football League community mourned the loss of one of its great icons.

Rooney might be best known for creating the Rooney Rule, a requirement that at least one minority candidate be considered for NFL head coach and general manager positions. For Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, the loss of the Steelers’ chairman at 84 also marked the passing of a longtime client and friend.

“[Dan] was a wonderful person,” said John “Jack” Barbour, executive chairman of the Pittsburgh-based Am Law 200 firm and legal counsel to the Steelers and Rooney family. “He was extraordinarily modest, but also extraordinarily effective. Frankly, it was an honor and a pleasure to be his attorney.”

Dan Rooney, a former U.S. ambassador to Ireland during the Obama administration, took control of the Steelers in the 1960s from his father, Arthur Rooney Sr., who founded the Steelers franchise in 1933, a year after Dan Rooney was born. (Art Rooney died in 1988.) Dan Rooney grew up with the Steelers, doing his homework on railroad trips to games in the team’s early days. He became a water boy at 12. After college, Dan Rooney took a job in the Steelers’ front office, eventually rising to the role of general manager.

Barbour began working with Dan Rooney in the 1980s, but his firm’s relationship with the Steelers began a decade prior at the height of the team’s dominance with four Super Bowl victories in the days of the Steel Curtain. Barbour’s former firm, Klett Rooney Lieber & Schorling, merged with Buchanan Ingersoll in 2006 to form one of the largest legal services outfits in Pennsylvania.

Barbour and the combined firm have since handled numerous matters over the years for the Steelers, including a key consolidation of the team’s ownership structure in 2008 that kept the storied franchise in the hands of the Rooney family. Arthur Rooney II, one of Dan Rooney’s four sons, is of counsel at Buchanan Ingersoll. (A daughter, attorney Rita Rooney, died in 2012.) Since 2002, Art Rooney II has served as president and CEO of the Steelers. He will now replace his father as team chairman.

“It is a sad day for my family and me,” said a statement by Art Rooney II (pictured right), who will remain with Buchanan Ingersoll as of counsel. “My father meant so much to all of us, and so much to so many past and present members of the Steelers organization. He gave his heart and soul to the Steelers, the National Football League and the City of Pittsburgh. We will celebrate his life and the many ways he left us in a better place.”

As noted Friday by sibling publication The National Law Journal, in addition to the six Super Bowl victories during Dan Rooney’s reign, his Rooney Rule has been cited as a potential template for improving diversity in the legal profession. The rule has recently been expanded to include women in front-office positions.

“Dan really viewed everyone in terms of what kind of person they were [and] he was sensitive to the fact that something needed to be done to change the dynamic in the NFL, and perhaps more broadly, that minorities had to be given a chance at high level positions,” said Buchanan Ingersoll’s Barbour, whose firm has won accolades for its workplace diversity initiatives.

Raymond Williams, a national diversity and inclusion partner at DLA Piper in Philadelphia who played for the Steelers during their strike-shortened 1987 season, praised Dan Rooney for his efforts in passing his namesake NFL rule.

“I think the Rooney Rule was innovative and we continue to hold it out as a method to use in the legal industry both within law firms and corporations for appointment of management positions,” said Williams, now co-chair of DLA Piper’s product liability and mass torts practice.

Williams only met Dan Rooney once. But that meeting left an impression.

“You can only imagine the respect as a person and leader I had, as did all the players,” Williams said.

Buchanan Ingersoll echoed that sentiment in a statement.

“[Dan’s] life and legacy lives on through his many contributions to sports and to our city,” the firm said. “He was a friend and a mentor to many of us and he will be deeply missed. We extend our deepest condolences to Art Rooney II, a member of the Buchanan family, and to the entire Rooney family.”

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