Ron Hughes is a name that is not going to be on the tip of the tongue for many fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers, at least not before his passing yesterday. But he had an understatedly immense impact on the fate of the franchise in this millennium, and on General Manager Kevin Colbert.
A Pennsylvania native, he himself played football through the college level, at California State College, playing both offense and defense at center and linebacker during the 1970s. He would soon after dabble in the coaching ranks at the high school level in the Pittsburgh area.
That is when he first encountered Colbert. Colbert played for Hughes at North Catholic High School, where he spent 10 years coaching before he joined BLESTO, which as you surely know is a jointly-owned scouting organization managed by, among others, the Steelers and the Detoit Lions.
Hughes became a college scout for the Lions in the early 80s, but it didn’t take long for them to identify his abilities, and he was promoted to Director of Pro Personnel in 1984, a position that he held until he moved to Director of Player Personnel in 1990, more a shift of title than anything else.
It was in 1990 that the Lions brought in Colbert, who had previously spent five seasons working as a college scout for the Miami Dolphins as well as one year as a BLESTO scout. That is where his tutelage under Hughes began over the course of the next decade, and where he gained much of his influence about draft and team-building philosophy.
He carried that with him to Pittsburgh when the Steelers hired him in 2000 to become the Director of Football Operations, a promotion from his title of Pro Scouting Director that he held in Detroit for a decade between 1990 and 1999.
Not by coincidence, Pittsburgh brought over Hughes a year later in 2001, first as a draft consultant and then as their College Scouting Director until he retired a few years ago. During that time, he not only helped to scout and draft players, he helped shape the organizational philosophy.
Alex Kozora already provided the quote in his news article about Hughes’ passing yesterday, but it bears repeating. Soon after the Steelers claimed their second Super Bowl title of the 2000s, Colbert was quick to credit his mentor.
“Ronnie taught us a system they had developed in Detroit of evaluation, of organization, of draft development”, he said. “I was working with him for 10 years, and when I came to Pittsburgh, we followed the same system that we used there. We added a few things here and there, but basically it’s Ron’s system that we continue to work under today”.
I don’t think there is a better story in all of this, however, than the simple fact that two local area football lifers found their way into the front office of the Steelers organization in the early 2000s and helped rebuild the Steelers into a champion. Hughes was responsible for a great deal of what went right during what might be considered the organization’s second dynasty.