Rooney has best rep among coaches, but it's a close call
By Bill Williamson

Updated: July 1, 2008

George Gojkovich/Joe Robbins/Getty Images/Kirby Lee/US Presswire

From left, Pittsburgh's Dan Rooney, Dallas' Jerry Jones and Denver's Pat Bowlen are well-respected by NFL coaches.
The ownership styles of Jerry Jones and Pat Bowlen could not be more different.

Jones is not only the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, he is the general manager. He is always at the forefront of what the Cowboys do. Almost nothing happens with the Cowboys without Jones being an integral part.

Bowlen, however, is almost always in the shadows. Even though Bowlen works every day at the Broncos' facility, it's no sure thing that he attends practice.

While the chatty, high-spirited Jones is omnipresent, the shy, reserved Bowlen is more comfortable in the background. Yet both styles clearly work, as each man is nearing the end of his third decade as a multiple Super Bowl-winning owner in the NFL.

Both men's styles have been noticed and appreciated around the league. In a survey of NFL head coaches to determine which owner has the best reputation around the league, both Jones and Bowlen scored very high. Coaches, granted anonymity for their candor, were instructed not to vote for their team owners.

Bowlen received 4.5 votes and Jones received four votes, trailing only the five votes received by the Dan Rooney family, which founded the Steelers. Dan Rooney, the chairman of the team, declined to comment for this story. Rooney was at the top of a very crowded list, which lends credence to the notion that the NFL is enjoying a zenith of quality ownership. Eleven of the 32 owners in the league received votes.

"It's a nice compliment to hear your peers feel that way," Jones said. "I think I've been a guy who always had had my share of criticism along with compliments, but I have always tried to make my organization work. That is the key. You always have to strive for success."

Quality ownership also means you have to be the type of person for whom people want to work. Coaches said the primary prerequisite of good ownership is simple: support. Coaches want owners who are willing to use resources to make their team competitive, but also owners who are aware of what is going on.

After one season as a head coach in the NFL, Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin clearly relishes working for the Rooney family. Tomlin said there is a reason why his ownership received the most votes.

"Everything permeates from the top down," Tomlin said. "I don't care what you talk about, whether it's a football team or a business. Our owners' reputation is well-deserved. They're awesome people. They're football people. It's one of the things that's better than you even anticipate."

Gary Kubiak, going into his third season as the head coach in Houston, said he has been lucky to work with good ownership. He was the offensive coordinator in Denver under Bowlen for a decade and now works for Texans owner Bob McNair, who received a vote for best owner. Kubiak said he feels fortunate to have worked under such quality ownership. He said his job would be much more difficult if he didn't work for quality people.

"It's the only chance you have as a football coach, I can tell you that," Kubiak said. "You have to work for a good man who is willing to do whatever it takes to give your team a chance to be competitive. There is nothing better than that support system they give you. Bob McNair is just tremendous. I was fortunate enough to be around Pat as an assistant coach."

Mike Shanahan has worked for Bowlen since 1995 as head coach and previously had a stint under Bowlen as an assistant coach. The only other owner Shanahan has worked under as a head coach is Raiders owner Al Davis, who didn't receive a vote in this survey. Shanahan worked for Davis for 20 games in 1988-89 and his distaste for Davis is well-known. Shanahan said he credits Bowlen's leadership for his success in Denver.

"You can't get better than Pat Bowlen," Shanahan said. "He gives you everything you need as a coach. People around the league recognize how good he is as an owner. He's steady, he's calm. He gives total support."

Like Rooney, Bowlen stays in the background. Still, Bowlen said it is imperative for him to work at the Broncos' facility. Some owners have offices and other businesses elsewhere. The Broncos are Bowlen's business.

"The Broncos are my job and I love my job," Bowlen said. "It's very easy to go to work."

But don't expect Bowlen ever to make football decisions. He fully trusts Shanahan.

"In my 24 years as an owner, I always thought it was my job to find the right people," Bowlen said. "Once you find the right people, you trust the team with those people. If I ever thought I don't have the right people, I'd make a change."

Jones' approach is surely different, but the goal is the same.

"I am hands-on, but I think I treat my people as equals," Jones said. "I put myself in their shoes and I have the same goals. Sure, I make a lot of decisions, but I trust and respect my people as if they were my equal because they are my equal."

Both Bowlen and Jones said the fact that 11 different owners were nominated by the coaches speaks to how well the league is currently being run.

"This is the most informed group of owners that I've ever been involved with," Jones said. "We're really in good shape. Information is king and our owners are all very aware of what's going on. This isn't an easy business to be involved in, but we have a good, united group."

Bill Williamson covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

Well-schooled Ward earned advanced football degree in college
By Bill Williamson

Updated: July 1, 2008

Steelers receiver Hines Ward learned the intricacies of several positions in college at Georgia.
Hines Ward figures he had no choice but to be a bright football player.

At Georgia, Ward played quarterback, tailback, wide receiver and returned punts, so he had to know the intricacies of almost every aspect of the offense.

Ward entered the NFL with a mind full of offensive information as a third-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ward, who has four Pro Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl MVP under his belt, hates to say the transition to the NFL was easy, but well, with a college pedigree like his, it kind of was.

"I had to know what was going on with the offense because I did everything in college," the 32-year-old receiver said. "So being a smart player was sort of necessary. I had no choice. When I came to the NFL, I think I knew the basics of everything and the transition was fast. Sure, the NFL is much more complicated, but I was able to adjust pretty well."

Over the past 10 years, Ward has widely been considered one of the brainiest offensive players in the league. In a survey of NFL head coaches in the spring, Ward received the most votes when coaches were asked to name the smartest nonquarterback offensive player in the league. Several coaches said they would have voted for Indianapolis' Peyton Manning or New England's Tom Brady if quarterbacks were eligible. But among the nonquarterbacks, Ward was the clear choice. Coaches were granted anonymity for their candor.

"You wonder once in a while what the coaches think of you, and this is really a nice honor," Ward said of the results.

Said one AFC coach: "Hines has been one of the smartest players in the league for a long time. He just has a knack for the game."

Sixteen different players received a vote from one of the 30 coaches who answered this specific survey question about smart players. Coaches were encouraged not to vote for a player on their team. Tennessee center Kevin Mawae, Indianapolis center Jeff Saturday and New England receiver Randy Moss tied for second with three votes apiece. Two players, Philadelphia left tackle Jon Runyan and St. Louis receiver Torry Holt, received two votes. But Ward was the winner with four votes.

"That's a good call," said Denver safety John Lynch, widely considered one of the league's brighter defenders since entering the league in 1993.

Lynch said a game against Ward is always a date in precision.

"Hines reminds me a lot for playing against Cris Carter when I was in Tampa Bay," Lynch said. "You can never figure those guys out. They didn't have the most blinding speed or were the quickest guys, but guys like Cris and Hines were always at the right place when they needed to be there."

Ward's intelligence paid off in a big way for Pittsburgh during the 2005 season in which second-year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led the team to a Super Bowl title. Roethlisberger has credited Ward with helping accelerate his learning curve.

"I think I can help young players because I know where to be at every play," Ward said. "I hope I helped Ben come along. We were always talking."

That's why players like Ward will always have a place in the game. Ward may have not been a first-round choice because of his lack of measurables, but he'll long be remembered as one for the better receivers to play in this decade.

"Everybody is looking for guys that are smart," Denver coach Mike Shanahan said. "Usually those guys last in the National Football League. Guys that are students of the game, they study the game, they know what is going to happen before it happens. Nobody is a good enough athlete to just go out there and play. Guys that are usually Pro Bowl players not only have athletic ability, but they know how to prepare."

Lynch, a Stanford graduate, said there is no way a player can ascend to the Pro Football Hall for Fame without being incredibly intelligent.

"It's just not talent," Lynch said. "There are talented guys all over the league. But the special guys, the guys you remember and the guys you really look forward to facing, they are the smart ones. You always have to worry about the intelligent players."

Ward knows intelligence has helped his career.

"I think it has given me an edge," Ward said. "But it all goes back to college. I had to know every bit for the offense and I'm glad I did. It has helped me for the rest for my career."

And it has been noticed.

Bill Williamson covers the NFL for ESPN.com.