Western Pennsylvania is recognized as the cradle of professional football, and the list of players the region has produced for the National Football League is a long and prestigious one. The region also has produced more than its share of outstanding scouts and personnel people, and Dick Haley was one of the first and best in that category.
Haley, whose NFL resume included 6 seasons as a player for three teams before transitioning to the personnel side of the business and turning in 32 more for two teams, died on March 10. He was 85.
"We lost an amazing football mind and a better man with the passing of Dick Haley," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "He was a valuable part of this franchise for 23 years, the first 4 of those as a player and the final 19 as a member of the Player Personnel Department.
"Dick played an instrumental role in our unprecedented success in the 1970s during the second part of his career," added Rooney. "He developed a unique eye for talent, and he ultimately helped identify and draft many of the players that allowed us to win four Super Bowls during that decade. My condolences go out to the entire Haley family during this difficult time."
Born in Midway, Pa., a borough of Washington County, Haley grew up less than 40 miles away from the University of Pittsburgh, where he played for Coach John Michelosen from 1956-58 on teams that finished a combined 16-13-2 and earned a spot in the Gator Bowl following the 1956 season. At Pitt, Haley played both offense and defense, and as an offensive back he finished his career with 741 yards rushing, 377 yards receiving, and 8 touchdowns. Haley was Pitt's leading rusher in 1957 with 349 yards on 103 carries.
He entered the NFL as a ninth-round pick (100th overall) of the Washington Redskins and spent the bulk of his time on defense. After two seasons in Washington, Minnesota picked him up via the expansion draft when the Vikings joined the NFL for the 1961 season. He was waived by the Vikings four games into that season and was claimed by the Steelers, who had some initial interest in drafting Haley back in 1959 before Washington beat them to it.
Coach Buddy Parker kept Haley on defense, and in 49 games with the Steelers, 39 of which were starts, Haley had 13 interceptions that he returned for 102 yards and a touchdown. In 1963, Haley was tied-for-ninth in the NFL with 6 interceptions for a Steelers team that finished 7-4-3.
Once his playing days ended, Haley began as a part-time scout for the Steelers, which was a common practice utilized by many NFL teams during the era when some franchises treated the draft almost as an inconvenience.
"People didn't have scouting departments and player information then," Haley once recalled. "The Rooneys started by having a guy go to every college in the country and (each scout would) 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."
At that time, BLESTO Scouting was blossoming under the leadership of former Steelers Hall of Fame cornerback Jack Butler. Recognizing talent, Butler enlisted Haley, who then hooked on with the Steelers in 1971.
"After the wilder players I played with in the 1960s, the Rooneys wanted reliable players," said Haley of the scouts' marching orders. "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. It was always, 'Don't tell me about stats.'
That approach bore historical fruit in 1974, when the Steelers authored the greatest draft in the history of American sports when they picked four Hall of Famers and signed a fourth immediately after those 17 rounds were over.
"The 1974 draft made history," wrote Dan Rooney in his book, "My 75 Years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL."
"Since the draft was first instituted in 1936, never had one team drafted so many Hall of Famers … My brother Art (Jr.), Bill Nunn, and Dick Haley, along with Chuck Noll, had done their homework. They knew which players they wanted and had developed a strategy to get them."
And that list of future greatness included an undersized linebacker (Jack Lambert), a wide receiver with questionable stopwatch speed (John Stallworth), and a center (Mike Webster) who weighed less than a standard NFL middle linebacker.
"Coming up with the Steelers (as a scout), I was always looking to learn from Art and Dan," said Haley. "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?"
Haley proved himself to be right way more often than not, and his career in the field of NFL personnel flourished. By 1987, the Steelers had promoted him to Director of Player Personnel, a position he held through the 1990 season. He retired from football after the 2002 season.