Not that it’s breaking news, but the NFL community recently lost one of its greats with the passing of Don Shula, the all-time winningest head coach in the history of the game. A multiple-time Super Bowl champion, author of the only undefeated season—it’s not difficult to come up with accolades about what he meant to football, and to the NFL.
And Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert to this day counts himself to be very fortunate to have had the opportunity to break into the league as a scout under Shula with the Miami Dolphins. Fresh out of the BLESTO scouting network, Shula brought him on board in 1985 as a college scout, and he would stay there until 1990 when the Detroit Lions hired him to be their Pro Scouting Director.
Colbert was recently interviewed by Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk to discuss a variety of topics. Given his history with Shula, and the recency of his passing, this was among the first topics that they covered, and he gave a thoughtful answer.
“It was kind of a surreal moment as a young scout just coming off of a BLESTO position to join the Dolphins and be in the same room with Coach Shula was truly intriguing, surreal, intimidating to a certain extent”, he said.
“But it was real, and I learned so much from Coach”, he added. “Coach was always very demanding, but he wasn’t always demanding on a young scout like myself. He was hard on a 20-year assistant coach that he’s known forever, and when he wanted answers, you had to provide them”.
“He made all of us better, and sometimes you just think back and you have to pinch yourself and realize how fortunate you were to work for a man like that caliber, especially at a young age, like I was”.
He time under Shula provided him a good deal of lessons, which he carried over to his time with the Lions, and his decade spent there prepared him for the ascent he has seen in Pittsburgh over the course of the past two decades.
Originally hired with the title of Director of Football Operations, he was the first individual in franchise history to actually be given the formal title of General Manager in 2010, a role in which he has served since. In 2016, Vice President was added to his title.
While Colbert has done some great things during his time in the NFL, particularly with the Steelers, which includes a couple of Super Bowl teams and Hall of Famers, he’s always been modest about his accomplishments, quick to defer to the lessons of his teachers. Shula was one of his first teachers as a young scout in the NFL 35 years ago, and he’s never forgotten that.