On the eve of training camp, the Pittsburgh Steelers announced on Thursday that they reached a two-year contract extension with head coach Mike Tomlin. Yesterday, with training camp just beginning, they also announced that they had come to an agreement with general manager Kevin Colbert that will add two years to his contract, prolonging his tenure with the team to at least through the 2018 draft season.
Having spent 15 seasons with the Steelers, Colbert is in his fifth year in the capacity of general manager, nominally, although that is essentially the role that he has served for the majority of his tenure in Pittsburgh.
Colbert and Tomlin have been a team for the past nine years now, through nine drafts, and now entering the ninth training camp. In that span, the Steelers have won four AFC North division titles, two AFC Championships, and one Super Bowl.
During their tenure as a duo, Colbert and Tomlin have drafted seven players that have gone on to reach the Pro Bowl at least one time, including six that have done so with the Steelers. That list also includes three players who have been named to the first-team All-Pro team, all three of whom represented in that capacity last year.
And the team is not wanting for other potential Pro Bowlers amongst their draft picks, in my estimation, with players such as David DeCastro, Cameron Heyward, Ryan Shazier, and Martavis Bryant all possessing the potential to reach that plateau as early as the 2015 season.
While it is true that the Steelers organization places a premium on stability, it would be a falsehood to say that they are tolerant of inferior performances, as a few coaches of recent vintage have found that their stay in Pittsburgh lasted but a season or two, most recently former offensive line coach Jack Bicknell, Jr.
So it’s not just because it’s convenient that Colbert has been with the Steelers for 16 seasons now, through two head coaching regimes—which, for many other teams, may be four or five or more—it’s because he has the track record of successful drafting and managing to back up his work.
Coming over from a Lions organization where he was inspired by a man who was already a disciple of the Rooney way, Colbert came to Pittsburgh in 2001 and essentially reestablished many of the precepts that had helped the Steelers find success during the modern era of the game.
Certainly, he has had some draft busts, as everyone has had. It’s certainly unusual, for example, that the entirety of the team’s 2008 and 2009 draft classes are no longer with the team, while three still remain from 2007.
But for every Limas Sweed or Thaddeus Gibson, there’s an Antonio Brown, a Kelvin Beachum, or a Vince Williams. While the team has had difficulties drafting cornerbacks, predominantly in the fourth and fifth rounds, they have been exceptional picking out wide receivers in the third and fourth rounds.
The retention of the Tomlin-Colbert duo is indeed a vote for stability, but it is not a vote for stagnation. The two are attempting to put the finishing touches on a rebuilding project that took the Steelers through two down seasons that never culminated in a losing record, emerging last year with a division title and a potentially elite offense. And Colbert deserves a lot of the credit for putting that team in place, which is why his extension should be celebrated.