Colbert on top of his game
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So what's next for Kevin Colbert after a wonderful offseason in which he signed Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Willie Colon and Ike Taylor to new long-term contracts and brought in veteran wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery for valuable depth?
Making the Earth move?
Sorry, I couldn't help myself.
But, seriously, I wouldn't put anything past Colbert, the Steelers director of football operations. There might not be a less recognizable front-office executive in the NFL. I mean, the man could walk into the Giant Eagle in his North Hills neighborhood and not be known by anyone but his friends. But I'm thinking he is as good as anyone in the league at what he does. For proof, I offer the Steelers' two Super Bowl titles and a third Super Bowl appearance, their six division championships and their seven playoff appearances in his 11 seasons on the job.
It's not all Colbert, of course. It's never just one man. The Rooneys are the best, most stable owners in all of sports. The head coaches -- first Bill Cowher, now Mike Tomlin -- have been terrific. The capologist -- Omar Khan -- is Isaac Newton-like when it comes to crunching numbers.
But Colbert has been brilliant, not just building a team but keeping it together. It was big news Aug. 17 when the Steelers cut wide receiver Limas Sweed -- their No. 2 pick in 2008 -- because it represented one of the few major draft busts of the Colbert era. Much more typical of his work was the team's top two picks in 2007: Timmons and Woodley.
Colbert is not afraid to bring in players from outside the organization. Cotchery is one. A year ago, offensive tackles Flozell Adams and Jonathan Scott started in the Super Bowl. Jeff Hartings made a couple of Pro Bowls. James Farrior -- arguably the franchise's greatest free-agent signing -- still is going strong at 36 and remains the unquestioned team leader.
But Colbert's way -- OK, the Steelers way -- is to draft players, develop them and reward them with big contracts when the time comes. Timmons, Woodley, Colon and Taylor are the latest examples. The four signed for a combined $168.5 million.
"I think it builds loyalty between players and management," Colbert said. "I think they trust how it works here. They know we're going to do our best to keep their team together."
It's not just the stars. William Gay, Tony Hills, Chris Hoke, Doug Legursky, Mewelde Moore and Shaun Suisham are just a few of the veterans Colbert brought back with new contracts from the Super Bowl team last season. Trai Essex was re-signed Monday for depth on the offensive line.
"Continuity," Colbert said. "If you have a philosophy and you believe in it, it's easier to keep and develop your own players. You learn behind another guy and, when it's your time to step up, hopefully you're ready."
It has worked pretty well for the Steelers, wouldn't you agree?
Colbert might not be done tinkering with this team. He said there will be more player movement than ever late in the exhibition season because of the NFL lockout. But if he has to send his bunch to Baltimore for the opener Sept. 11 against the hated Ravens as is, he will take his chances. He doesn't fret about the offensive line or the secondary the way so many on the outside do. Maybe that's because he knows there is no perfect team in the salary-cap era.
"The trouble is you don't have enough No. 1s to go around," Colbert said of No. 1 draft picks. "Look at our line. The best guy is a No. 1 [Maurkice Pouncey]. He's supposed to be good ...
"We have young backups at both spots. They have to be given a chance to grow. You just have to hope they make steps to improve more so than your older guys regress."
"Does that make sense?"
Most things Colbert says or does make sense. That's why it should have been a much bigger story a year ago when he signed a five-year contract extension through the 2015 season. He works well with Tomlin, just as he did with Cowher, because he has the perfect ego, which is to say no ego at all.
Colbert, 54, could have been a prized free agent after last season, but he wasn't interested in leaving. It's hard to imagine him going to another organization. He's a Pittsburgher, to borrow a term of endearment from Steelers patriarch Art Rooney Sr. He graduated from North Catholic High School, just as the ambassador, Dan Rooney, did. He went to Robert Morris College and coached baseball and basketball there. He married a Beaver Falls girl, Janis Karczewski.
You bet he's a Pittsburgher.
"To be able to work for this kind of organization? In your hometown? What else could you ask for?" Colbert asked.
"Mr. Rooney, Art [Rooney II] ... they're exceptional people let alone exceptional bosses. They understand the game as well as anybody in the league. They want us to compete for a championship every year. They don't accept a 6-10 losing season, but they understand it may happen occasionally. That doesn't give you an excuse to lose, but it makes this a great place to work."
There has been only one 6-10 season -- 2003 -- during the Colbert era. In the three other seasons the Steelers didn't make the playoffs, they were in the chase until late in the season.
And there's this, of course:
Three Super Bowls in the past six seasons.
I can't get past that.
"It's been great," Colbert said.
Yes, it has.
So has Colbert.
"I think they trust how it works here. They know we're going to do our best to keep their team together."
-- Kevin Colbert, director of football operations, on the Steelers way
First Published August 24, 2011 12:00 am