Ben Roethlisberger made it official when he announced his retirement on Thursday. Some 24 hours later, Steelers President Art Rooney II then made it official that Kevin Colbert will be stepping down as the team's general manager after the 2022 NFL Draft.
"Kevin Colbert is stepping down as our GM after the draft this year," said Rooney. "We have left the door open, Kevin and I, to possibly have him fill an ongoing role after the draft, but we will be conducting a search for a new GM starting immediately and probably won't make a hire until after the draft. We will be interviewing people, and we've already interviewed two of our in-house candidates, Omar Khan and Brandon hunt.
While Rooney later said he would have no qualms about filling the job with someone from outside the organization, he also made it clear the responsibilities of the new GM will be the same as the responsibilities of the old GM.
"A GM has a lot of responsibilities these days," said Rooney, "and we'll be hiring somebody who can fulfill all those responsibilities, which No. 1 includes being a talent evaluator and putting our draft together and everything else that goes with working as a GM in the NFL today. Having said that, we're looking for somebody who fits with the way we're structured and our culture. We're not really planning to change our own structure here."
What Rooney was referring to is that some teams have a general manager who is responsible for the hiring and firing of the head coach, who has complete control of the roster, who makes the final decision on every draft pick. That's not how the Steelers operate. While Colbert was involved in the process that replaced Bill Cowher following the 2006 season, it wasn't his decision alone. Colbert definitely is very influential as a talent evaluator, but decisions made during the draft are not his alone to make. The 2019 trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick that sent the Dolphins the Steelers' No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft had to be approved by Rooney. That's the way the Steelers always have operated, even back in the day when the head of the player personnel department was a son of the owner.
"I would say Mike (Tomlin's) role in all this will most likely stay the same," said Rooney, "and the new GM will step into Kevin's role and fill that role in a similar way, with a similar set of responsibilities as Kevin has had. I don't expect to make dramatic changes in terms of those responsibilities, coach vs. GM. I think it's worked well, and we're not really trying to make a big change there. Kevin is interested in potentially having a role, obviously a reduced role, and if that's something that we can all figure out how it would work, we can probably figure something out if it makes sense for everybody."
As for the timetable, Rooney said, "Kevin will fill his normal role through this year's draft. I don't see it as something critical that we have somebody on board before the draft, even though we'll be doing some interviews prior to the draft. But more than likely we'll fill the position after the draft."
Rooney indicated the Steelers will take a similar thorough, all-inclusive approach toward replacing Roethlisberger.
"We certainly won't close any doors at this point," said Rooney. "It's still early in the process, and there will be a lot of doors to open and look through. We have Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins on the roster, and those two will be able to compete for the position, but we'll be looking at other options, like any position, to put the best roster on the field and the best person at quarterback for us next year."
One of the qualifications that already has been mentioned for the next quarterback is mobility, but don't expect the Steelers to become an offense that utilizes the read-option.
"Somebody who can buy some time is very desirable, but in terms of having a quarterback who's consistently a threat to be part of your rushing attack, I'm not sure that's something I want to rely on, or that you can rely on game in, game out, season in, season out. Having some mobility is important, but the days of having quarterbacks whose biggest threat is running is probably not exactly what we're looking for."
As for personal involvement in the process of finding a quarterback, Rooney said, "I'm not a scout, and I don't pretend to be. Certainly, I'll pay attention, like I do every year, to the draft and free agency and be involved in all of our discussions with the coaches and the scouts and Kevin and Coach (Tomlin). I think it'll be interesting to see what the opportunities are. I think in terms of my role, it'll be pretty much business as usual."
Some of the other topics touched upon by Rooney:
His evaluation of the offense, based on all of the changes to personnel and the inexperience of that personnel:
"That's the way it goes. There are going to be years where you're going to have different combinations of players moving in, and so I thought the good news was that our younger guys continued to improve as the season went on, and I think that's something that hopefully we can build on and build around as we go forward here."
On declining attendance at Heinz Field and a drop in the local television ratings:
"From an attendance point of view, we don't like having that many no-shows, and we've done some research on it, and I do think the pandemic played a role in that. It was an unusual season in that our highest attended games were actually the night games. There are some different things going on that we've got to study and understand. I think the bottom line is from what we've seen across the board, there's still strong demand for our tickets. If we can get back closer to normal, I think we'll see that attendance go back up. All in all, our fan enthusiasm is strong, and I think people are looking forward to seeing what's next."
On whether he saw the kind of improvement in the running game he wanted to see:
"I would say I feel better about our ability to run the football today than I did at this time last year. We have some pieces in place, obviously Najee (Harris) and some young offensive linemen we hope are going to come in next year and take another step. But we didn't perform the way we'd like to, so there's definitely room for improvement. We'll be trying to figure out how to get that improvement in this offseason."
His evaluation of the offense and coordinator Matt Canada:
"We had a number of young players, rookies playing on offense this year. Look, we didn't achieve the kind of offense that we would like to have, but we had some good moments. They kept us in a lot of games. More than anything, we needed to be more consistent. We had a lot of games where we were good for a quarter, or for a half, but not really for four quarters. That's something Matt is going to want to address this offseason. Having so many young players, different pieces coming together, including a new coordinator, there were some challenges there that I think we tried to make the best of it, but again, we didn't meet all of our goals for sure."
On how close he believes the Steelers are to being a Super Bowl contender:
"I would never sit here and say we're going to change our goal of trying to win a Super Bowl. Every season that's got to be the goal, as far as I'm concerned. We certainly have work to do with an opening at our quarterback position. You could say it's a new chapter, so we'll be doing everything we can to make sure we have the best person we can probably have in that position. As we all know, quarterback is a key position, so it's going to be a transition getting there and having a new quarterback. I'm excited about the challenge, and I know Coach Tomlin and everybody else here is excited by that challenge."