Bill Nunn, 89, was key for Steelers

PITTSBURGH -- Bill Nunn, a key figure in the Pittsburgh Steelers' transformation from perennial also-rans to world champions, died Tuesday night of complications from a stroke.

Nunn, 89, worked almost 50 years for the Steelers as a scout, and he had been preparing for the 2014 draft before suffering a stroke recently.

Nunn, a renowned journalist at The Pittsburgh Courier before joining the Steelers as a part-time scout, played a significant role in the drafts that spawned the dynastic teams of the 1970s.

Nunn, who became a full-time scout for the Steelers in 1969, is credited with opening and nurturing a pipeline to historically black colleges in the South, one that yielded the likes of cornerback Mel Blount, wide receiver John Stallworth, defensive end L.C. Greenwood and safety Donnie Shell, among others.

The Steelers will make their picks in the upcoming draft from The Bill Nunn Draft Room at team headquarters.

"We have lost a great friend and a great person who did so much for the Steelers organization with the passing of Bill Nunn," Steelers chairman Dan Rooney said in a statement. "Bill had extraordinary talents in identifying talent throughout his career, including the legendary 1974 NFL draft for us. He put us ahead of so many others teams in the NFL by leading the efforts of drafting African-American players at traditional black colleges. Very few people had a bigger impact in the history of our franchise and his positive attitude and contributions will truly be missed."

Nunn caught the Steelers' eye in the 1960s with his work at The Courier, which enjoyed a national circulation, and specifically his annual selection of the Black College All-America football team.

Nunn's promotion of players who were widely overlooked led to a job with the Steelers, and the organization established a scouting base with black colleges in the South largely because of the trust Nunn fostered with coaches at those schools.

The Steelers proved to be ahead of their time in scouring those schools for talent and Nunn proved to have a keen scouting eye, particularly in the years when Pittsburgh built the teams that won four Super Bowls from 1974 to 1979.

He loomed large in the 1974 draft, one in which the Steelers drafted four future Pro Football Hall of Famers.

Coach Chuck Noll had preferred drafting Stallworth in the first round over Lynn Swann. But Nunn helped persuade Noll that the Steelers could take Swann with their first pick and get Stallworth later in the draft.

He proved to be right and Swann and Stallworth, a fourth-round pick, developed into one of the top wideout tandems in NFL history.

"His contributions and dedication to the Pittsburgh Steelers are legendary," general manager Kevin Colbert said in a statement. "His insight and guidance were always cherished. Bill's strong devotion to the city of Pittsburgh and its people was second to none."

So was his standing in the Steelers' organization.

"We lost a legendary man of many talents," coach Mike Tomlin said in a statement. "His legacy will live on in the stories told, lessons taught and wisdom shared with those of us who remain."