(Another in a series about the Steelers’ 1974 draft class.)
The Steelers went about the business of drafting in 1974 in their established manner, by following the organization’s chain of command.
“‘The Chief’ always said the coach had last word,” scouting Guru Bill Nunn recalled of Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr.
But there was an asterisk.
Nunn, the assistant director of player personnel in 1974 and a senior assistant, player personnel today, remembers less of a dictatorship and more of a collaborative effort as it related to player evaluation and acquisition.
That, too, was Art Rooney Sr.’s preference.
“It was a matter of whether you worked together,” Nunn said.
Chuck Noll headed a coaching staff that included assistants Bud Carson, Dick Hoak, George Perles, Dan Radakovich, Lou Riecke, Lionel Taylor, Paul Uram, and Woody Widenhofer.
There were also scouts on the payroll but “we didn’t have that many,” Hoak said. “There are a lot more today than there were then.”
Through give and take and an already-established collective trust, the Steelers were able to pluck four future Hall-of-Fame players from the 1974 draft.
The first-round selection was relatively obvious.
If the Steelers wanted wide receiver and known-commodity Lynn Swann from national-powerhouse USC, they were going to have to take him with the 21st overall selection. It got complicated from there.
The Steelers coveted Alabama A&M’s John Stallworth (pictured above, far left) as much as Swann, but they had needs at positions other than wide receiver. And they had no third-round selection (that had been shipped to Oakland in 1973 for former All-Pro defensive tackle Tom Keating).
Noll asked Nunn if Stallworth would still be available in the fourth round.
Nunn’s reply was emphatic. “He’s going to be there. He doesn’t have great speed, he comes from a small school and nobody’s going to be ready to take him.”
Nunn actually liked Stallworth more than 6-foot-4, 218-pound linebacker Jack Lambert of Kent State.
“I didn’t have him that high,” Nunn said.
But this time Noll would not be moved.
“You knew then this guy was special.”
Stallworth was still on the board when the Steelers’ turn came around on the fourth round, but it wasn’t just because he was from a small school.
“He worked out down there and I guess it was a bad day, a bad field and he ran a bad time,” Hoak explained. “All of the other scouts left, but Bill Nunn hung around and took Stallworth out the next day, and he ran a better time.”
Legend also has it Nunn feigned illness to avoid raising suspicion among other NFL scouts by spending an extra day at Alabama A&M. According to historic lore it turned out to be time well spent for Nunn and the Steelers.
“Someone said Bill Nunn got a film of John, and we were supposed to send it to the other teams, but it got lost, or it kind of got delayed going to the other places,” Hoak said.
On the fifth round the Steelers came up with Wisconsin center Mike Webster.
“We were scouting a defensive lineman from Wisconsin,” Hoak said. “It just so happened the defensive lineman went against Mike (in practice). George (Perles) said ‘the center’s better than the defensive lineman.’”
Coming Next Monday: The impact of the 1974 draft class in 1974.