Hidden talent at the NFL draft

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Photo credit: Pittsburgh Steelers.

Everyone focuses on the drama of the NFL’s first round but the real magic happens in the late rounds. The Steelers have been better than almost anyone at finding talented players in the late rounds. I penned this blog post for my publisher Blue River Press…

Championships are made in the late rounds.

Everyone knows about the first-round picks, the guys sitting in the green room waiting for their name to be called. The only suspense centers on what team exactly will choose them — not whether anyone will.

Many NFL insiders knew about “Mean” Joe Greene… Read the rest here.

A plaque honoring scout Bill Nunn Jr. hangs outside the Steelers' draft room on Pittsburgh's South Side. Photo credit: Andrew Conte.

A plaque honoring scout Bill Nunn Jr. hangs outside the Steelers’ draft room on Pittsburgh’s South Side. Photo credit: Andrew Conte.

New adventures

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I’m pleased to announce that Point Park University has hired me to run its new Center for Media Innovation. This unique facility in the heart of Downtown will train the next generations of journalists, while helping today’s professionals keep up with a rapidly changing industry. I hope too that we will engage with the public in a way that reminds people about the important role of a robust, independent media.

Here I am talking about the Center for Media Innovation at our ground-breaking event in October 2015.

Here I am talking about the Center for Media Innovation at our ground-breaking event in October 2015.

I first came to Point Park in 2005 to create its Point Park News Service, a program that helps students find professional outlets for their best work. Since then, the University and I have grown tremendously. This new Center will help us both to keep moving forward.

For 15 years, the Tribune-Review has been my home and work family. My friend Rob Rossi wrote this moving tribute about my time at the paper. Fortunately, I will continue to have a presence there as well. I will be writing a regular column on media innovation and my byline will continue to appear on stories related to cybersecurity and other enterprise topics.

The Center will officially open in September 2016. Point Park has posted a story on my new position, and the Globe offered its take. The Trib has a nice story too. The Pittsburgh Business Times covered it. And so did WESA-FM, which conducted an interview with me:

“There is a lot of disruption going on, but there’s also a need to remind people of the strong value of what journalists do: holding people accountable, speaking up for those without a voice,” Conte said.

From Flint to Your Faucet

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I always drink water straight from the tap. But lately I’ve been wondering whether that’s such a good idea. A recent event at Point Park University confirmed that I have good reason to be concerned.

We hosted a discussion on March 15 to mark the university’s new partnership with the Heinz Endowments on an environmental journalism program. This is an initiative I brought to Point Park after Heinz expressed an interest in helping us prepare students to cover environmental topics.

1690533_568538539976416_5963896699452129604_nFor the kickoff, we invited Curt Guyette, an investigative reporter for the ACLU in Michigan. I know, right? He’s the only one in that position, under a Ford Foundation grant to examine Michigan’s emergency manager law. He has been the lead reporter on uncovering the water crisis in Flint, Mich. Based on his reporting, you really can’t tell who to trust when it comes to the quality of water flowing out of your faucet.

After I led Curt through a Q&A on stage, we convened a panel that included Kathy Knauer from The Allegheny Front, Myron Arnowitt, state director of Clean Water Action, and Brentin Mock, reporter for The Atlantic’s CityLab.com.

Many thanks to our co-sponsors at the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania, the Black Media Federation of Pittsburgh and Women’s Press Club of Pittsburgh.

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No confetti falls at NFL combine

Steelers scout Mark Gorscak at the NFL combine.

Steelers scout Mark Gorscak at the NFL combine.

This was Bill Nunn Jr.’s time of year. He sat in the stands to watch the Super Bowl, but he sat at the center of the Steelers’ operations in the weeks leading up to the NFL draft. The NFL combine taking place in Indianapolis this week remains a highlight of the scouting year. I wrote this blog post below for my publisher Blue River Press.

BTW, be sure to watch for Steelers scout Mark Gorscak on the NFL Network. He runs the 40-yard-dash and plays a starring role each year. For all of my Red Devils friends, Mark graduated from Dickinson in 1979.

 

 

Everyone sees the confetti falling on the Super Bowl winner – but few notice where championship teams begin.

The process takes place in quiet, distant moments when NFL scouts start looking for talented athletes. Most use timers, measuring sticks and notepads to evaluate college players across the country. But the best scouts also have an eye for talent, an ability to detect qualities that cannot be measured.

Bill Nunn Jr., with stopwatch in hand, evaluates players for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1972. Courtesy of the Steelers.

Bill Nunn Jr., with stopwatch in hand, evaluates players for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1972. Courtesy of the Steelers.

The Steelers’ Bill Nunn Jr. worried about today’s scouts. They’re all too connected, he said. They travel in packs. They look at the collegiate rankings. They have a better sense than ever before what other scouts are seeing and thinking. By comparing notes and looking at online evaluations, these scouts can fall into the trap of looking only at the same players as other scouts. In a effort to avoid the embarrassment of missing a player that others are following, they overlook the player no one else sees.

Nunn boasted that he often spent a week or longer on the road without checking in. No calls to the office. No calls home. No email, Internet or social media either, of course.

Instead, he traveled the country using his own eye – and his unparalleled contacts – to find undiscovered talent. Alone, he had to determine which men had the potential to play in the NFL. Even if a college player could run, jump and tackle, Nunn had to figure out whether he had the hunger and desire for the game. Or whether he had distractions that could keep him from reaching his full potential. For sure there were many failures, but history shows that Nunn ranks among the greatest ever in this ability.

To me, Nunn’s greatest discoveries were not the L.C. Greenwoods or the John Stallworths. Those were players that others had noticed too; Nunn was just better at evaluating their true worth.

Instead, his greatest finds were Sam Davis from Allen University, Glen Edwards from Florida A&M and Donnie Shell from South Carolina State University. All three were undrafted free agents from historically black colleges and universities. If Nunn had not discovered them – and the Steelers given them a chance – they likely would have stopped playing football. Instead, they combined to win 10 Super Bowl rings.

And everyone saw the confetti falling on their shoulders.

Red Devil review & alumni event

0205160813aJust in time for Super Bowl weekend, the latest edition of the Dickinson Magazine has a nice review of The Color of Sundays below.

And for all of my Pittsburgh Red Devil peeps, I’ll be speaking at an alumni club function later this month: Sunday, Feb. 21, at the Clemente Museum in Lawrenceville/Bloomfield. Register here.

0205160813Andrew Conte ’93’s second book delves into the moments that shaped Pittsburgh Steelers’ history, both on the field and in the back room, and led the Steel City to four Super Bowl victories. The Color of Sundays tells the story of how Bill Nunn Jr., Art Rooney and the Steelers’ front office reshaped the franchise. Nunn’s strategy was simple: Scout talent where many other teams had failed, and bring in players from historically black colleges and universities. This period in Steelers history was instrumental in the building of the Steel Curtain defense, as well as the integration of important offensive picks, including the future Hall of Famer John Stallworth. Today the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of pro football’s most successful and prestigious franchises, thanks to the Steelers’ front office having its sights squarely focused on the future.

Cam Newton, black quarterback

Cam Newton is black.

Normally, these days, one wouldn’t make that distinction about the Carolina Panthers’ quarterback. But he brought up the issue himself recently, questioning whether football fans are ready: “I’m an African-American quarterback. That may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to.”

Of course, he’s not the first. Charles Follis became the first black professional football player in 1904. Fritz Pollard in the 1920s played on the league’s first championship team and then served as the league’s first black coach. Willie Thrower became the league’s first black quarterback with the Chicago Bears in 1953. And, of course, Doug Williams, of Grambling fame, became the Super Bowl XXII MVP in 1988 with the Washington Redskins.

But Newton has a point. As much as we want Continue reading

“a well-researched and welcome addition” — Pittsburgh Magazine

The latest copy of Pittsburgh Magazine has a nice review of “The Color of Sundays”

Pittsburgh Magazine“Andrew Conte’s “The Color of Sundays” is a well-researched and welcome [addition] to Steelers scholarship. A book about Bill Nunn Jr. certainly was overdue…”

Reviewer Kristofer Collins didn’t love that I took several side trips — to boxing, Civil Rights, Jackie Robinson, etc. But to me, they were critical to the overall story. Not just of Nunn’s life and contribution to the Steelers, but to the larger story of integrating American life.

Check out the full review here. And decide for yourself by checking out the book here.