Pitt alumni impacting NFL football beyond the gridiron

Mike Ditka played as tight end for the Pitt Panthers from 1958 to 1960.

Chuck Kennedy | MCT, TNS

Mike Ditka played as tight end for the Pitt Panthers from 1958 to 1960.

By Jermaine Sykes, For The Pitt News

Pitt has an extensive list of alumni active in professional sports. As a prominent Division I school, former Panthers often make headlines due to their successful careers on the field, court and pitch. Players such as Steven Adams, Larry Fitzgerald and Dan Marino enjoyed long careers in pro sports.

Pitt is also the alma mater for numerous successful coaches, front office executives and media personalities in the sports industry.

Louis Riddick

Louis Riddick had a standout career, not only as a student but also as an athlete at Pitt. As a defensive back on the football team, Riddick was a team captain during his senior campaign and finished his time in Oakland as a two-time academic All-American and a four-year letterman. He graduated in 1991 with a degree in economics.

After San Francisco picked him in the ninth round of the 1991 draft, he had a relatively successful career in the NFL — playing 10 years for various teams. Riddick stuck around football even after his playing career. He began as a scout for Washington’s football team, where he evaluated other professional players and gave intel to the team’s head scout.

After a few years of scouting, Washington promoted him to director of professional personnel. After his tenure with Washington, the Philadelphia Eagles offered him a position in the same role. In the four seasons Riddick was on the staff, the Eagles made playoff runs twice.

Riddick has since switched career paths again and is currently a TV analyst. Working with ESPN, he was a recurring guest on NFL pregame shows such as Sunday NFL Countdown and Monday Night Countdown. Because of his knowledge and analysis, teams interviewed him for vacant general manager positions in the NFL. Riddick is currently a full-time color commentator on ESPN’s Monday Night Football.

Art Rooney II

As the owners and founders of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Rooney family are almost synonymous with western Pennsylvania’s NFL team. Under the guidance of the Rooneys, the Steelers have been one of the most successful teams in the NFL — winning six Super Bowl championships, tied for the most of any NFL franchise.

After graduating from Pitt in 1978 with a degree in political science, future Steelers president and owner Art Rooney II continued his education at Duquesne University’s law school — graduating in 1982.

Rooney II became Steelers team president in 2003 and made an immediate impact. The Steelers won two of their six Super Bowls in his first seven years as president. Their first championship during his reign came in 2006, and it was their first since Rooney II’s grandfather Art had sole control of the franchise.

During Rooney II’s reign, the Steelers drafted some of the NFL’s greatest players, such as Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and Antonio Brown. Rooney II is also responsible for hiring current head coach Mike Tomlin, a pioneer in the NFL for his success as a Black head coach. Tomlin is one of just two Black head coaches to ever win a Super Bowl, and he has the eighth most wins among NFL coaches who have won at least 100 games.

Rooney II is also a member of the NFL’s workplace diversity committee, a program created in part by his father Dan Rooney. Dan Rooney is the creator of the “Rooney Rule,” which requires every NFL franchise with front office and coach openings to interview at least one minority candidate for each open position. The “Rooney Rule” has increased opportunities for minorities in the NFL, and Rooney II helped expand the range of the policy.

Rooney II also chairs the NFL’s stadium committee and often announces plans for teams to renovate or rebuild their stadiums.

Mike Ditka

Former Panthers tight end Mike Ditka is a man of many talents. Ditka was a three sport athlete during his time at Pitt — playing on the football, baseball and basketball teams. On the football field, Ditka was a unanimous All-American during his senior season — part of a career that led to him becoming a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

After graduating from Pitt, Ditka went on to the NFL and joined the Pro Football Hall of Fame — where he could have been enshrined as both a player and coach. His coaching career is arguably one of the best in football history. He began coaching under legendary coach Tom Landry in 1973 for the Dallas Cowboys. Ditka was an assistant with Dallas for eight years, helping the team capture its second Super Bowl championship in 1978.

The Chicago Bears — the team that drafted him during his playing career — then hired Ditka in 1981. Ditka saw instant success during his stint with the Bears, leading them to the NFC Championship in 1984. During his next season, he was at the helm of one of the best teams in NFL history. The 1985 Bears went 15-1 and defeated the New England Patriots 46-10 in the Super Bowl.

Ditka won that season’s Coach of the Year award. During his time in Chicago, Ditka won two Coach of the Year awards, one Super Bowl championship and the NFC Central Division title for five consecutive years. You can see Ditka today analyzing NFL games on various ESPN programs.