Tagliabue appoints commissioner search committee

Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney and Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, two men who were instrumental in reviving the flagging labor negotiations last month, on Wednesday were named by commissioner Paul Tagliabue as co-chairmen of the committee that will spearhead efforts to choose his successor.

Tagliabue announced March 20 that he will retire at the end of July but reiterated at the annual NFL meetings last week in Orlando that he will remain onboard if a new commissioner is not chosen by then.

The rest of the eight-member committee is comprised of owners Al Davis (Oakland), Lamar Hunt (Kansas City), Woody Johnson (New York Jets), Jerry Jones (Dallas), Robert Kraft (New England) and Michael McCaskey (Chicago).

It is not yet known when, or where, the committee will convene for the first time. The next scheduled meeting of the full league membership is set for May 23-24 in Denver.

The makeup of the committee appears to be fairly balanced among various ownership factions. Notable, however, is the exclusion of some of the more vocal owners from low-revenue franchises, including Mike Brown of Cincinnati and Buffalo's Ralph Wilson, the lone dissenters in the recent extension to the league's collective bargaining agreement with players.

The role of Rooney, the NFL's most senior member and a close Tagliabue confidant, is not surprising. Rooney was the first owner Tagliabue informed of his decision to retire and the Steelers president then disseminated the information to his peers. It had been assumed that Rooney would play a prominent role on the search committee.

It was originally believed that Tagliabue would announce the composition of the committee last Monday, at the outset of the NFL meetings. But that announcement was delayed and, in a wrap-up news conference last Wednesday afternoon, the commissioner suggested the committee would be named this week.

The league has also retained an independent search firm to help seek out candidates. That firm is to meet individually with owners to identify the qualities they view as most important for the commissioner.

Tagliabue expressed confidence last week that a new commissioner will be in place by July, but that is hardly the feeling around the league, with most owners believing the process will be a long one. It takes a two-thirds vote of the membership, or 22 of 32 votes, to elect a new commissioner.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.