Buddy Parker was the Steelers head coach from 1957-64 before being replaced by Bill Austin. No longer coaching, Parker put forward the idea of a scouting cooperative that would collate the data on college players to make draft selection more effective.

BLESTO took its name from the teams involved. Bears, Lions, Eagles, Steelers Talent Organisation. In the sixties, before the days of instant information, this was an innovative concept and with the four teams sharing the expenses, cost effective.

“We have eight full time scouts in the field and they report on promising prospects to insure us of a good crop of rookies,” is how Russ Thomas, director of the Lions player personnel, described the organisation.

“We get better information for less money,” observed Joe Kuharich, the Eagles head coach on BLESTO’s budget of $250,000.

The scouts were allocated a specific area and would watch players in games, practice and if possible, films. The players’ attitudes and backgrounds would be scrutinised before they were evaluated on many counts, physical and mental and given a rating, zero to four.

Zero meant certain to make it in the NFL. One indicated could make it. Two, has a chance to make it. Three, very remote chance.  Four, no chance.

With the draft now taking place later in the year, Steelers Director of Player Personnel Dick Haley believed that it levelled the playing field for teams that were not as well organised in scouting the colleges.


  1.  Ron Johnson (DB) Eastern Michigan 22
  2.  Willie Fry (DE) Notre Dame 49
  3.  Craig Colquitt (P) Tennessee 76
  4.  Larry Anderson (DB) Louisiana Tech 101
  5.  Choice to Green Bay
  6.  Randy Reutershan (WR) Pittsburgh 160
  7.  Mike Dufresne (TE) Nebraska 187
8a.  Rick Moser, (RB) Rhode Island 208 (Choice from St. Louis)
8b.  Andre Keys (WR) Cal Poly 214
   9.  Lance Reynolds (T) Brigham Young 241
10a. Doug Becker (LB) Notre Dame 268
10b. Tom Jurich (K) Northern Arizona 276 (Choice from Oakland)
11a. Nat Terry (DB) Florida State 279 (Choice from Tampa Bay)
11b. Tom Brzoza (C) Pittsburgh 300
12.   Brad Carr (LB) Maryland 327


Ron Johnson of Eastern Michigan became the Steelers first pick in the draft. Coach Noll confirmed that Johnson would be played at cornerback. Selecting 22nd of 28, Noll said, “We were just hoping Ron would be there and we’re happy it turned out the way it did.”

Coach Noll, who scouted Johnson at the Senior Bowl and spent hours watching his college films added, “He runs a 4 or 4.5, he’s a tough hitter and tackler and just an outstanding individual. He hit, he covers and he’s a leader… all the good things.”

Ron Johnson admitted he was “quite surprised” to be taken by the Steelers with their first round pick in the 1978 draft before saying, “I’m pleased that I’m going to Pittsburgh, I’m happy to be with a contending team.”

“I pattern myself after (Oakland’s) Jack Tatum and I really admire Mel Blount,” Johnson revealed. “Tatum gets mad and he plays the game hard and tough,” Johnson said. “I don’t think he ever takes cheap shots. And Blount, he plays all receivers the same – tough. I’m the same way. And the best thing I do is stay consistent.”

Second round pick Willie Fry was just as upbeat as his fellow teammate. “I’m a darn good defensive end,” Fry boasted. “My forte is the pass rush. That’s stems from my quickness. My technique comes from what I know about the rush, but there’s a lot more to learn. I’m just looking forward to getting in there and learning as much as I can.”

Fry was known in Pittsburgh for delivering the tackle that broke the arm of Pitt University quarterback Matt Cavanaugh that cost the Panthers a shot at an undefeated season and a national title in 1977. Fry was impressed with the Steelers defense and said he couldn’t wait to be part of it and learn from the best men in the business.

Defensive back Larry Anderson of Louisiana Tech was selected in the second round, before the Steelers priority need of a punter was resolved with the pick of Craig Colquitt in the third.

Coach Noll confirmed he had no personal aversion to drafting a punter in a high round, but was pleased to plug some defensive gaps before taking a punter. When someone joked that Noll was locked in a closet when the Steelers made the selection, Dick Haley quipped, “We got him in the shower room.”

In effect, Johnson and Fry will replace Dave Brown and Bob Barber, the defensive back and defensive lineman who were the first two players selected in the 1975 draft. Neither made it with the Steelers. George Perles, the Steelers new defensive coordinator said Johnson and Fry are better prospects then Brown or Barber. “We’re very happy with these prospects compare to the other two,” he volunteered.

St. Louis drafted a punter in the first round and Cleveland took one in the second.


“We’re trying to rid ourselves of distractions,” stated Coach Noll before adding, “We can’t have another season like last year. We’ve got to work like hell to get the distractions settled.”

Ernie Holmes was the first part of the peace process put in motion by Coach Noll when he was traded to Tampa Bay for a 10th and 11th draft picks. “He didn’t fit into our plans,” explained Noll. After drafting Willie Fry and trading for Dave Pureifory to add strength to the defensive line, Noll observed, “We have a lengthy list of defensive linemen and we have to thin it out a bit.”

Noll made it obvious that Holmes wouldn’t be missed. “We’ve been trying to trade him for a long time. I don’t think his season last year was up to what it had been in the past.”

Time magazine 1975 Pittsburgh's Front Four
In 1975 Holmes was on the cover of Time magazine along with the other members of the front four.

Holmes fall from grace began when he arrived at the 1977 training camp over weight which led to him losing his starting job, sulking and eventually walking out.


“I seemed to come across a lot of people who said, ‘you’ll never play again,’” Mike Wagner revealed when visiting the Steelers offices. Wagner cracked one vertebra and chipped two others during the Steelers game in Cleveland in 1977 and admitted, “People said, ‘you might as well forget about it; your career is over.’ But I never believed that and I have no reason to believe it now.”

Six weeks later, team physician Paul Steele told Wagner he was completely healed and Wagner had confidence in the diagnosis. Wagner and his wife Cathy made Colorado their new off-season home and he joked, “I confirmed my belief and the doctor’s belief that I was okay by spending all winter falling down mountains.

One reason we went to Colorado was to get away from all the questions. It’s not nice to hear people say, ‘You’re done.’ People don’t really understand what it is to be a football player.”


“I have been drug free for over a year,” announced former Steelers quarterback Joe Gilliam before adding why he was in the Dallas Cowboys free agent tryout camp. “I want to play football. I know I have a contribution to make to the game.”

The head of the Cowboys scouting operation Gil Brandt admitted, “I thought I was seeing things when he walked in.” Brandt conceded it would be hard for Gilliam to succeed because Dallas already had three quarterbacks.


Terry Bradshaw joined 29 rookies and 19 veterans at the end of May for the Steelers rookie camp that would prepare the players for the summer camp.

“It still hurts,” explained Terry Bradshaw talking about his left wrist he broke in Houston during last season. “I just never get over joint injuries. The doctors may say I’m crazy, but the joints never seem to be the same.”

Bradshaw was still wearing a cast and said it wouldn’t affect his play. “It’s the story of my life. You just grin and bear it. It won’t bother me at all. I’m used to it now.” Bradshaw admitted he still has lingering pain from past neck, shoulder and ankle injuries, but just shrugs it off. Twisting his neck, he said, “It feels like there’s a golf ball back there.”

The wrist injury was supposed to take nine months to heal and he feels there’s a chance it will still improve although he believes a bone chip pressing on a nerve that may be causing the pain.
The wrist isn’t as sore as it was at the end of the year. “I couldn’t even dribble a basketball with my left hand last December,” he confessed. On the positive side, Bradshaw confirmed, “My legs are strong and my arm is strong. I still love it like a kid.”

Looking forward to the new season, Bradshaw suggested the Steelers needed to make the running game work better. “We’ll try to get it balanced,” he said. “We never really got the running game going last year.”

Reflecting on the 1977 season that fell short, he was hoping the club could put all the problems of last year behind it. “I’m hoping the team will pull together and play consistent, solid football. We just never played together last year. We played helter-skelter.”


John Banaszak in padsThe Pittsburgh Press revealed the Steelers were holding contact workouts in pads. Behind closed doors with the media excluded the workouts were a violation of the league’s rules that prohibited contact work or the use of pads as part of an off-season training camp.

Much of the work focused on the defensive line where strong competition is expected in the team’s training camp in the summer. Four regulars (Joe Greene, Dwight White, Steve Furness and L.C. Greenwood), newly acquired Dave Pureifory, three injured reserve linemen (Gary Dunn, John Banaszak and Tom Beasley) and rookie Willie Fry (2nd round draft pick) and free agent Fred Anderson will fight for a roster spot.

“Last year we went with six (linemen) and injuries put us in bad shape by the end of the season,” said Banaszak, “So I think they might go with seven this year.”

Confirming pads had been worn, Fry confessed after the workout,, “Well, I’m not sore all over for nothing,”. Having not yet signed a contract, Fry didn’t have to take the hits. “The thought of not coming to rookie camp entered my mind, but I knew it would be best to be here. I’m just trying to make the team now. So far, nobody’s ahead. Everybody’s equal, whether you’re a second round draft choice or not.”

The picture taken by Robert Pavuchak of John Banaszak wearing shoulder pads was also a bit of a give away to the rules violation. The pittsburgh Press published it to run with their story.


Two years ago, the Steelers number one draft choice was Bennie Cunningham, a mammoth and modest tight end from Clemson. When he signed with the Steelers, Cunningham said softly that he realised there were veterans in front of him and thought patience might be trait to emphasise.

Two years later he is the Steelers starting tight end.

Ron Johnson and Art RooneyLast year, linebacker Robin Cole was the team’s number one pick and in contrast was resolute in that he would be starting immediately and would make All-Pro within a few seasons. This season Robin Cole is the favourite to be the Steelers right outside linebacker.

This year’s first round selection Ron Johnson is certain he will be playing frequently in the Steelers’ secondary this season. “I’ve watched J.T. Thomas and Mel Blount on film and I think I have the talent to play with them,” Johnson told the Pittsburgh Press.

“I can’t make too many rookie mistakes,” Johnson acknowledged before addressing the weakness in the Steelers secondary last year. Assistant Coach Woody Widenhofer had described a season in which the Steelers were more vulnerable than usual against the deep pass.

“The films I’ve watched have been mostly highlight films so I haven’t seen many people getting beat deep,” Johnson offered, “but Woody mentioned it to me.”

Johnson added, “Frankly, a secondary is only as good as its defensive line. If that quarterbackhas enough time, it’s always going to be hard on the defensive backs. But I think the line here is tough and it will be better than it was last year. I don’t think it will be a problem.”

Photo of Ron Johnson and Art Rooney by Albert Herrmann Jr.


NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle issued a statement that took away the Steelers third-round selection in the 1979 draft for using shoulder pads in the team’s rookie camp.
Previous violations by other teams had been punished with fines, but an NFL spokesman suggested the commissioner no longer feels fines are an effective deterrent. “Everyone stands up and takes notice when you take away a draft choice,” he acknowledged.

With Dan Rooney and Coach Noll away on vacation, it was left to the Steelers public relations director Ed Kiely to say, “Rozelle’s action speaks rather eloquently for itself. The case is now closed.

A story circulating around the NFL has legendary Paul Brown warning Dan Rooney that, “You guys are getting a rep as cheats.” On his return to Pittsburgh, Mr. Rooney said, “I don’t think we’re getting that sort of reputation. I sure don’t want us to have that reputation and I don’t think we deserve it.”

Mr. Rooney confirmed they were not flaunting authority or acting to break the rules. “We just don’t operate that way,” he told reporters. “I feel we broke the rule by not thinking.”

“Losing a third-round choice is difficult,” he admitted. “There’s a tendency to try to put a dollar value on it, but you can’t. What team would sell a draft choice? For how much?”


In contrast to his last NFL appearance against the Los Angeles Rams in Memorial Coliseum, Joe Gilliam will make his debut for the semi-pro Pittsburgh Wolf-Pak in tiny Valley High Stadium.

Joe Gilliam joined the Wolf Pak of the new minor league Atlantic Football Conference in an attempt to showcase his ability again. Assistant coach and friend of Gilliam, Hubie Bryant, said, “I told Joe, it’s going to be rougher than the NFL. People are going to be trying to test him because he’s Joe Gilliam.”

Gilliam said in reply, “It doesn’t have me worried, but I am very aware of it. I know they’re going to want to get me, but as long as they play the game fair, what can you say?”

Steelers pro scouting director Tim Rooney admitted, “I’m not building my hopes up too high. I just hope that the pressure of football isn’t his poison, as opposed to being his cure. Then the poor guy’s gonna be worse off than ever.”


Rooney insists the Steelers were unfairly criticised when New Orleans coach Hank Stram claimed they were told nothing about the possibility of a drug problem when Gilliam was picked up from waivers. Stram insists the Steelers lied.

Media photo of Wolf PakRooney is adamant that in reply to a questions whether Gilliam had a drug problem or anything else, Stram was told two things, “One is he was either physically sick or that there could have been a drug thing.”

Gilliam was claimed on the Monday and within days he was arrested for the first time. On the Thursday, Stram said the Steelers never told him of a potential problem. Rooney said he notified the league so he was on record.


With the start of the NFL season still weeks away, Gilliam appearance in the blue and scarlet of the Wolf Pak, created a lot of media interest with over 100 media passes being handed out for the game.

Wolf Pak head coach Terry Henne was philosophical about Gilliam’s appearance against the Scranton Stars. “I’m predicting Joe won’t finish the year with us. He’s throwing the ball real well. Just like he used to.”

Admitting that at first he wasn’t completed sold on the idea of Gilliam playing for the team, Henne said, “I had my doubts. I wanted total commitment because I knew he had some personal problems and I didn’t want them to interfere with the team.”

Gilliam confirmed, “I know people will be watching, but all I can do is go out there and try to do my best.”


Joe Gilliam (picture left as a Wolf Pak) completed 17 of 33 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns. One review stated the quarterback gave a poised performance that included a crisp passing game, but several wobbly long bombs. He scrambled well and did a good job picking out secondary receivers.

“It’s good to be back,” acknowledged Gilliam and then revealed he was prepared to play semi-pro for a long as it take. I know I can play in the NFL.”

Gilliam faced pressure both on and off the field. The day before the game, a grand jury in Tennessee returned an indictment that alleged he was in possession of heroin in connection with his arrest in 1976. “It’s in the hands of the gods,” Gilliam granted. “His will will be done.”


The 1978 Steelers season started with 34 rookies and 22 veterans arriving in Latrobe for the beginning of training camp on July 14. The rest of the veterans would arrive a week later. With the regular season increased to 16 games and the exhibition games reduced from six to four, the new format brought more questions than answers.

The Steelers had been against the change. “The 14-game season was a helluva long season physically, mentally and emotionally,” said Coach Noll. The shorter preparation time also concerned Noll, “We won’t have the luxury of working with a lot of people,” he added.

“And the rookies will have to earn the right to play in the pre-season games. It’s a dilemma. But everybody else will have the same problem,” Coach Noll added.

The players’ association reminded veterans they were not obliged to report to camp until 15 days before the first exhibition game, but Coach Noll always suggested those who had been injured the previous season or lacked experience entered camp early with the rookies.

John Banaszak media photoJohn Banaszak observed, “When the man asks me to come to camp, I better be there. If I say no, the players’ association isn’t going to pay me.” Banaszak was a veteran who always appeared to be a rookie and once again was fighting to find a place on the roster.

As a free agent defensive end in 1976, he had to beat out second round draft choice Bob Barber. “It’s the same situation,” revealed Banaszak. “But I didn’t really worry about Bob Barber. I was only in my second year. I don’t worry about anybody else. I’m just gonna worry about making it through training camp.”

Banaszak suffered damage to his knee ligaments and spent the last few weeks of the 1977 season on injured reserve. With the Steelers selected Willie Fry in the draft and Banaszak would once again be up against a second round draft selection.

“There’s always a battle,” Banaszak observed. “Nobody said it was going to be easy. You’re never guaranteed a job, but I accept all challenges from everybody.”

With a touch of realism Banaszak added, “If Willie Fry is better than I am, then that’s it. It’s not like I have to beat out Willie Fry. I want to be the fifth man on the front four and if I go out and play like I can, I should be good enough to be the fifth man.

Everything being equal, L.C. Greenwood and Dwight White have to start because they’re experienced.”


After he was cut by Montreal, the Steelers picked up quarterback Larry Lawrence. “I was going to go through the rest of the league for a job until the Steelers called,” Lawrence revealed. “So I thought I would try the NFL.”

If the Steelers keep three quarterbacks, Lawrence must beat out Cliff Stoudt, a second year man who spent part of last season on the injured reserves.


1978 media guide image Woody Widenhofer“I like a couple of our defensive backs,” noted Woody Widenhofer (picture left) the Steelers defensive backs and linebacker coach, before adding, “Those kids from Notre Dame have shown me something too.”

The Steelers number one draft choice Ron Johnson was one player who had caught Woody’s eye along with two lesser-known prospects, Nate Terry and Larry Anderson. “All three of them are doing well, “revealed Widenhofer although he added nobody had done any hitting yet.

They all have the qualities all coaches desire in a defensive back, Widenhofer told the Pittsburgh Press, size, speed, quickness, balance, body control as well as intelligence and football sense. “We’ve only been working on two coverages so far,” said Widenhofer, “and they seem to have caught onto them pretty quick.”

Reviewing his linebackers, Widenhofer acknowledged, “So far, Doug Becker is doing better than the other linebackers. He’s not as tall as you like your linebackers to be, but he has a lot of other things that you like in a linebacker.

He’s got good straight-ahead speed and he’s strong. His size though might be a problem,” added Widenhofer. “We’re going to have a 15-minute scrimmage today and we’ll get a better idea of what these people can do.”

Becker’s former Notre Dame teammate Willie Fry has been impressive as anyone in camp. “I’m really pleased with Fry’s toughness,” said Widenhofer. “Willie’s a lot tougher than I thought he’d be. On top of that, he’s a very bright guy.


The defensive coach has focused on the new rule change that restricts the blocking of receivers to within five yards of the line of scrimmage. “We have to change everything we’ve been doing,” explained the coach. “We studied our game films during the off-season and most of our jamming was done beyond five yards downfield. We won’t be able to do that anymore.

It’s going to be a real problem for middle linebackers like ours who play three-and-a-half yards off the line of scrimmage. The middle backer is going to have his problems, particularly when the tight end releases inside and breaks downfield.

Last year, Jack Lambert could drop off and jam the receiver as he broke downfield. He could disorient him. No more.”

The answer? “A quicker jam,” noted the coach. “And make sure we come off him. Come off him and run with him. The linebacker’s going to have to run more than he ever did before.”
Widenhofer was enthusiastic about some of the things they were doing, admitting they were a lot better than the things they had done before. “As soon as these fellows learn to do the things we want them to do, we’ll be all right. I have no doubts about that.


Some fans believed Mel Blount’s hold out last season was part of the disruptive behaviour that Coach Noll believed caused the Steelers to lose their focus and create an atmosphere of turmoil.
Blount appeared on time and stated, “I expect good things from this secondary. I don’t think the secondary has any more work to do than the whole team. I don’t think you can pin-point it to one phase. Maybe last year management was weak. Maybe the kicking game was weak. It’s like Chuck Noll always says, ‘You never arrive.’”

Blount acknowledged, “Being out last year was like missing a season. Your mental outlook. It begins right here in training camp.”

Cornerback J.T. Thomas was lost for the season with a disease that prohibits physical exertion while Jimmy Allen has been traded. “It’s gonna be tough,” accepted Blount. “Nobody’s gonna replace J.T. from a mental standpoint. By that I mean not only what he knew about the game, but what he meant to all the players. He’s such a likeable guy.”


Defensive end Jimmy Allen, who played out his option year with the Steelers in 1977, failed to find another team prepared to acquire his rights from the Steelers.

In accordance with the collective bargaining agreement, Allen was sent a contract by the Steelers with a ‘qualifying offer’ he could accept or sign instead to play for 110% of his 1977 salary. The Steelers received nothing back.

Just after he told the media he was reporting to camp, the Steelers traded him to the Detroit Lions for an undisclosed draft choice. Disturbed by the way Allen had walked out on his team, Coach Noll told the Pittsburgh Pres, “We learned from history last year. We had to depend on him and he walked out.

At the time, Allen had told the team he was ‘retiring’ and left the team for two days complaining he should be compensated for his talents.

“We don’t want people looking for retirement funds. We want active players,” acknowledged Coach Noll while Dan Rooney suggested, “I think our people felt it was best that he go elsewhere. I don’t like this, having to trade players, but it’s part of the game.”


The Steelers had relied on Bobby Walden for a decade to do their punting, but with after his retirement with a knee injury, the Steelers picked up Craig Colquitt in the third round of the draft as his replacement.

Coming into camp, Colquitt’s concern was whether he would be able to get Adidas volleyball shoes in Pittsburgh as the one on his right foot is almost a year old? “No problem,” offers Dick Haley, the Steelers’ chief scout.

On a clipboard, Haley writes down the hang time of each punt and how close it was to the goal line at the point it went out of bounds. Colquitt, with his long muscular legs is doing well.

To escape the drudgery of the endless football drills, Colquitt became a punter. “Punting was the easiest part of the game,” he concedes, “and prestigious too; you’ve got pressure on you.”

Unusually, Colquitt is a two-step punter and so far he has not had a punt blocked. “Nothing can demoralise you more than having a punt blocked or returned,” admitted Haley. Colquitt’s hang time which is “excellent” should mean few long returns.

Despite the enthusiasm of Haley, Colquitt doesn’t believe he has it made. “I’m not thinking that way,” he admitted.

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