On Thursday, it was Coach Mike Tomlin. Today, it's General Manager Kevin Colbert. And so it is that all questions about the direction of the Pittsburgh Steelers are answered. Contract extensions have a way of doing that definitively.
Photographs of Coach Mike Tomlin
Some 48 hours after announcing a two-year extension for Tomlin that runs through the 2018 season, the Steelers revealed they had done the same for Colbert, with his deal now running through the 2018 draft. Steelers President Art Rooney II obviously likes the way the team has transitioned to a much younger roster while remaining competitive throughout the process, and he made a couple of moves to keep big pieces of that ongoing process in place.
Kevin Colbert carries the title of General Manager, but his job is not what has come to be associated with that title. Back in the 1980s, Dan Rooney always bristled when asked by the media why the Steelers didn't have a general manager, a job, Rooney firmly believed, was a baseball job and not a football job.
The Steelers' general manager – or director of football operations as the job was known once upon a time – doesn't hire or fire the head coach. He doesn't control the draft room during the three days of picking. He doesn't negotiate contracts, or decide which players get extensions. The Steelers' general manager has input in all of those decisions – Colbert believed Mike Tomlin was the best candidate when Bill Cowher resigned, for example – but this franchise's organizational chart isn't constructed in a way where the man with Colbert's job title has free reign to make the final call.
It's more of a collaborative atmosphere, and it's not that easy to find someone who is as good at what he does while being as egoless as Kevin Colbert. And Colbert is good at his job.
He was hired in 2000, and during his tenure the Steelers have had only one losing season, won two Super Bowls and played in a third. The group of talent evaluators who have their name engraved on multiple Lombardis is a very small one. Colbert is one of them, and he works for a team that has had to spend a lot of time picking at the bottom of every round in the draft.
The top photos of Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert.
In 16 drafts as the head of the Steelers personnel department, Kevin Colbert has been a part of only one that contained a top 10 pick, only five contained picks in the top halves of rounds, and five times the Steelers picked 30th or later. In the forming of a draft board, there is far less margin for error if the team is picking late in rounds, and yet the Steelers have had a lot of success during Colbert's tenure.
Fifteen different players who were drafted or signed as rookie free agents during Colbert's employ have played in at least one Pro Bowl. Before being hired by the Steelers Colbert worked for the Detroit Lions, and his history there helped him lure unrestricted free agent Jeff Hartings to Pittsburgh in 2001, and Hartings became the All-Pro offensive lineman in Pittsburgh that he never was in Detroit.
Sure, it's possible to cherry-pick through the Steelers' drafts since 2000 and come up with names such as Limas Sweed and Alonzo Jackson and Ricardo Colclough, but everyone who has been in the talent evaluation business long enough is going to have those names on their resume. Colbert has been successful trading up in the first round for Troy Polamalu and Santonio Holmes, as well as trading back in the round and still getting Casey Hampton.
There's always a lot of attention paid to first-round picks, but the way the draft is staged today, anyone picked from the fourth-through-seventh rounds is a last-day pick. On the last day, the Steelers have gotten Larry Foote, Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor, Willie Colon, William Gay, Ryan Mundy, Antonio Brown, Kelvin Beachum, Vince Williams, Shamarko Thomas, Martavis Bryant, and Dan McCullers. Further, the team has signed Chris Hoke, James Harrison, Willie Parker, Shaun Suisham, Nate Washington, Doug Legursky, and Anthony Madison, to name several, as undrafted rookies, and there are a bunch of guys on both of those lists who started on Steelers teams that won the Super Bowl.
And that's what it's about with Colbert, anyway. The winning, and it's not lip service with him. Mike Tomlin has said it's not about him or what he does that's important, but that it's what the Steelers accomplish as a team. Colbert is of the same mind-set, and he was that way when he worked with Bill Cowher, too.
With the Steelers in training camp as of today, Colbert is just about finished talking into microphones until the 2015 season ends because we're into the portion of the calendar where Tomlin's message takes center stage. It's all about the team, and Steelers teams have had a lot of success since 2000.
There have been seven division championships and nine playoff berths, three AFC Championships and two Super Bowl parades. What there hasn't been is a lot of money spent on veteran free agents in an effort to cover up for mistakes made in the evaluating and drafting of college players. What there also hasn't been is a lot of ego getting in the way.
Training camp is about to open, and the Steelers will begin working on a roster they have been re-making over the past few years. It's a group that's going to depend heavily on young, largely unproven defensive players such as Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier and Shamarko Thomas and Cortez Allen, but it's also a group that's going to be able to lean on established offensive stars such as Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey and Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell.
All of them are draft picks, all of them are products of the personnel evaluating process headed by Kevin Colbert and they're now to be turned over to Mike Tomlin and his staff. This is how the Steelers have won more games and more division championships and more Super Bowls than any other NFL team since the 1970 merger – by finding their own players and teaching how they want them to play.
If there were any lingering questions about what management thought of the men currently handling those assignments, well, there shouldn't be. Not anymore.