They made it to top with stability

By Greg A. Bedard
February 7, 2011

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ARLINGTON, Texas — There was one winner in Super Bowl XLV last night in Cowboys Stadium, and it wasn’t the Packers or the Steelers.

It was both of them.

For fans around the country, the true winner was stability.

Art Rooney founded the Steelers in 1933 and the team continues to be a family-run business. The Packers opened for business in 1919 and are owned by shareholders who will see no dividend from their stake in the team.

There have certainly been some shaky moments in Packers history — most notably before and after Vince Lombardi — but since Bob Harlan was named team president in 1989 and through the transition to Mark Murphy in 2008, there has been remarkable stability in the front office and in the coaching staffs.

That is the basis of both franchises and it has allowed them to consistently compete at a high level. In the past 18 years, the Packers and Steelers are No. 1 and No. 2 in playoff winning percentage.

And it’s what Robert Kraft has sought to establish since buying the Patriots in 1994.

“There’s no doubt that I have a great deal of respect and admiration for these two franchises,’’ Kraft said recently. “They are two of the most historic and successful organizations in our league. You would obviously like to have your organization be viewed like them.’’

The Patriots are getting there, and it’s because of stability. It was hard not to think of the Krafts when Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau praised the Rooneys last week.

“I think that anybody that knows anything about the Steelers knows their history and its stability. The record speaks for itself,’’ Murphy said. “They had in their formative years really some lean years, but I think once they got it they’ve been at the top ever since. I think that speaks certainly to the management and the structure of the franchise.’’

The key is putting the right people in place and giving them the space to do their jobs.

The Steelers hired Chuck Noll as coach in 1969, and only have had two coaches since — Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin — and both won Super Bowls.

Harlan hired Ron Wolf as general manager and then Ted Thompson, and other than the one-year tenure of Ray Rhodes, the Packers have had great stability with Mike Holmgren, Mike Sherman, and Mike McCarthy as coaches.

And as far as the roster, both teams almost solely rely on the draft and then developing their players.

“We’ve had a lot of draft choices over the last few years, and within our strength and conditioning program and within our coaching staff, I think we’ve gotten some development out of that,’’ Thompson said. “The experience that all these players have had, being forced to play this year, should bode well for increased depth and things like that going forward.’’

While other teams have tried and failed to augment their teams with big-money free agents — such as the Redskins, Raiders, and even the Patriots with Adalius Thomas — and win titles, the Packers and Steelers sit out free agency almost entirely.

The Packers have brought in two unrestricted free agents: cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive end Ryan Pickett. Neither had a huge price tag.

The Steelers have linebacker James Farrior and safety Ryan Clark. Again, the bank wasn’t broke for either.

“There seems to be a lot of similarities,’’ said Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert. “I’ve known Ted for a long time. It seems like we fall into the same pattern: We like to draft players, we like to sign our own, and sign the occasional free agent when there’s a need for that.’’

The Patriots, who have known tremendous success under coach Bill Belichick with three Super Bowl titles, are getting to that point of drafting and developing.

The drafts the last two years have been strong, there is now a young personnel base, and they should be able to build upon that with several high picks this April.

That’s the way to go. Just look at the Packers and Steelers. Stability is the true champion in today’s NFL.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard.

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