West Virginia State University already has a former athlete in the Basketball Hall of Fame. There’s a good chance the Yellow Jackets soon will have one in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well.
Word came out of Pittsburgh this week that Bill Nunn Jr., the Steelers’ late longtime scouting genius, was picked as the Hall of Fame’s Contributor Finalist. That’s a separate selection process from the other finalists that get picked each year. Past contributor inductees include former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, late NFL Films president and co-founder Steve Sabol and late Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen.
Nunn will need 80 percent of the selection committee to endorse his induction, but his chances are very good. Since the Hall of Fame added contributor inductees in 2015, at least one has made it to Canton, Ohio. Nunn is the only contributor finalist in the 2021 class.
Before he became an architect of some of the Steelers’ greatest teams, Nunn shared a locker room with WVSU’s other pro Hall of Famer. Nunn was a teammate of Basketball Hall of Fame member Earl Lloyd. Nunn and Lloyd helped lead the Yellow Jackets to an undefeated season and Nunn was a three-year captain.
Nunn then joined his father Bill Sr. at the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the most influential Black publications in America, as a sports writer and editor and later succeeded his father as managing editor. Working in sports, the Steel City native gained immeasurable knowledge about athletes throughout the country’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
The Steelers noticed that, brought him on part time and then full time when Chuck Noll became coach. From there, Nunn’s expertise helped the Steelers draft some of the most important pieces to their dynasty.
John Stallworth came from Alabama A&M. Donnie Shell came from South Carolina State. Mel Blount came from Southern. Nunn’s acumen also stretched into other small schools. He also found Jack Lambert at Kent State.
His influence on the NFL goes past the Steelers franchise. When he worked for the Courier, his 1952 Black College All-America Team included Roosevelt Brown, who was drafted by the New York Giants and became a Hall of Fame offensive lineman. In 1961, he spotlighted Deacon Jones, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams.
How many people in NFL history can say they’ve uncovered that level of football excellence in one career, mostly for just one team?
“You cannot write the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers without Bill Nunn,” Blount told SI.com in May. “When you look at the Steelers in the 1970s, none of that would have happened without Bill Nunn.”
That’s a legendary eye for talent, and an important one. Nunn provided a window into HBCU football when pro franchises still didn’t look there closely enough. After a while, no franchise would be crazy enough to ignore HBCU talent.
And so the NFL was gifted with Mississippi Valley State’s Jerry Rice, Alcorn State’s Steve McNair, Savannah State’s Shannon Sharpe, Texas Southern’s Michael Strahan and countless others.
In this year, such a football mind should be celebrated accordingly. After 17 years as the Steelers’ assistant personnel director, Nunn spent the next 17, up until his death in 2014, in semi-retirement as a scout.
You don’t spend 34 years at one place without doing a lot of things right. According to the Steelers, Nunn did plenty right in those more than three decades.
“Not only a great personnel guy, but a great person and great mentor for all of us in our careers,” Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert told reporters this week. “Every person that Bill Nunn touched was a better person for that contact.”
From Pittsburgh to Institute and back, Nunn carved out a legacy that deserves to be enshrined with all the other legends in Canton.