On the Steelers: Unsung Colbert quietly molds another elite team
No one hears much from Kevin Colbert during the season. But it's tough to argue with his track record as director of player personnel with the Steelers.
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DALLAS -- It took Kevin Colbert 20 years of hard labor on the National Football League scouting prairies before he finally landed in the lush oasis of a Super Bowl.
He grew up in Pittsburgh, a Steelers fan who followed in the footsteps of the Rooneys at North Catholic High School. As such, Super Bowls and Lombardi Trophies seemed a birthright, and then Colbert went to work as a scout and discovered they were not.
Starting in Miami in 1985, six years with the Dolphins. Then 10 years with the Lions in Detroit. And then coming home to Pittsburgh and the Steelers, another five years, two coming agonizingly close, before his team reached its first Super Bowl after the 2005 season. And won. And got there again three years later. And won. And now they are here again.
Super Bowls have become commonplace for Pittsburghers again and a lot of credit should go to Colbert, yet it does not. He has never won the executive of the year, which the Sporting News has chosen since 1955. Bill Polian has won it six times, and while Polian is recognized as an excellent general manager, he has one Super Bowl ring. Scott Pioli of Kansas City won it this year because the Chiefs were so bad the previous year.
Yet, Colbert keeps stocking teams that have gone to five AFC championship games in the past 10 years and can win their third Super Bowl in that time. Again this year, he's staring at draft picks near the bottom of each round and not the middle or top.
"I don't care," Colbert said, shrugging off the award stuff. "As long as we win. The ultimate prize is what counts."
He's a Cool Hand Luke of the Steelers' front office, rarely showing emotion other than an occasional outburst while watching his team play. His big plans for tonight in Dallas? He intends to take in the hockey game between the Canucks and the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center
"The first time it was almost, like, incomprehensible that you were going," Colbert said about cracking his personal Super Bowl ice in 2005. "And then we were fortunate enough to win it. Because it had evaded you for so long, it proves that if you stay with it, maybe good fortune will come your way."
He knows all the talk about three Super Bowls in six seasons or extending the record by bringing back a seventh Lombardi Trophy. Colbert, like a good scout, doesn't get distracted by looking at past accomplishments.
"Really, this isn't about us being here for the third time, it's about this team, this 53 and eight-man practice squad. Sure, for guys who have been here before it's nice, but the focus has to be on this group, chasing this championship. It isn't about three and it isn't about seven, it's about this group."
Colbert maintains a policy of not speaking about the team during the season. The exception he makes, almost because he must, is at Super Bowls. Monday, he touched on a variety of subjects:
• He does not regret releasing rookie linebacker Thaddeus Gibson to make room for another defensive end on the roster, Steve McClendon, because they did not put Aaron Smith on injured reserve. Smith has not played and McClendon has not played in the past seven games. Gibson, claimed by the 49ers, did not play much with them.
"When anybody claims one of your players that you wanted to keep in your fold some way, some how, sure you're disappointed. But you understand that can happen and it's a risk you have to take. But a guy like Aaron Smith on your roster is very important -- even if he doesn't make it, yes. Because you had to keep alive that possibility that he could make it because he's that important to us."
• Colbert said the Steelers have not discussed which impending free agents they might sign before March 3, which will either mark the beginning of the free agency signing period or the beginning of the lockout. Willie Colon? Ike Taylor? LaMarr Woodley? Not a clue, he maintained. And Colbert added that he's not permitted to talk about anything beyond March 3.
"We really have spent very little time talking about next year. We haven't had any discussions about next year. We're really behind. When you get this deep into the playoffs, you fall behind on a lot of things because everybody's focused on the task at hand. Once we get out of here, then we'll talk about the next steps ... I can't even say anything about potential free agency."
• Many believe this is among his best rookie draft classes in his 11 years doing it with the Steelers. Colbert acknowledges that Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey exceeded all expectations, and the contributions others have made, such as wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. He'll wait for the final analysis.
"We always judge a rookie class by where we are. To this point, we're as far as we can be and if they help us win the Super Bowl, great. That's the only way to judge any class of players -- draftees or free agents or unrestricted free agents. You hope for the best results and again we've gone pretty far with this group. We hope the journey is not over."
First Published February 1, 2011 12:00 am