PITTSBURGH —Coach Mike Tomlin, and Kevin Colbert, general manager approached Heinz Field's dais for their last pre-draft news conference. Tomlin smiled and gave his long-time colleague some direction.
“Kev, don’t sit on that side,” the coach said with a chuckle. “You always sit on this one.”
The two men shuffled behind the table, Colbert taking a seat to Tomlin’s left, just like always.
It’s the kind of familiarity and routine that reflects 15 years of working with each other. Tomlin must adjust to a new person sitting beside him. Colbert, who has been with the Steelers for 22 years, served as the official general manger for 11 years. He will be working his final draft this week, before retiring from the position in the spring. Round 1 of the draft airs on ESPN, ABC, and the ESPN App. .
“I’ve tried not to think about it, to be quite honest with you,” Tomlin said Monday. “It went through my mind a little bit when we were traveling because we’ve just had such great times over the years traveling and gathering information, the necessary information to get to know the young men. But we’ve been up against it pretty good, so there haven’t been a lot of those moments. Obviously, it’s been a pleasure to work alongside him. We’ll see where the roads lead us.”
“Welcome at the predraft press conference.”
Kevin Colbert claims there is no new information. He's certain we'll refer to it.
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) April 25, 2022
Colbert joined the organization in 2000 as the director of football operations and was named the team’s first official general manager in 2011. Though he’ll relinquish the title in the coming months, Colbert said he could stay on in another advisory role, but those specifics haven’t been determined. Since announcing he would step down as general manager after the draft, Colbert hasn’t been overly nostalgic about his slate of lasts alongside Tomlin.
“It’s been a great process to work with Coach,” Colbert said. “You don't take those things for granted. This is the part that he loves, and it makes it so much easier. It's great to watch him interact with the young men and their families. The respect he displays on the road is impressive. It's also very useful to have information that he provides that I didn't know. It has been a great working relationship. But it is more than that.
“You share the highs, you share the lows, and it's been great. We haven't had time to reflect on that, quite frankly. Now, I think that time will come whenever it comes, but right now we've got to get this thing right, and that's what we are focused on.”
While Colbert hasn’t allowed himself to get sentimental on the pre-draft trail this offseason, Tomlin has relished their final few months together on the road.
They loved to eat out together and take top prospects out to dinner.
“We eat a lot,” Tomlin said. “We sample regional dining, depending on where we are. But there’s a method to that, as well. We like the informal atmosphere of having lunch with the young people in our towns and getting acquainted with them. And hopefully that’s a setting where we can legitimately get to know them in a non-football way.”
Though Tomlin wouldn’t divulge the pair’s favorite haunts, he did tip his hand to a favorite region’s restaurants.
“I'm a sweet tea guy,” Tomlin said. “So, there are certain regions of the country that have high-grade sweet tea. That's where I like to go.”
The Steelers completed at least one interview with 16 candidates to replace Colbert, and they’ll resume the process after the draft. Among the lengthy list of names are a few familiar faces, including internal candidates Brandon Hunt and Omar Khan, the Steelers’ pro scouting coordinator and vice president of football operations and business administration, respectively. There’s also Doug Whaley, who spent 11 years as the Steelers’ pro scouting coordinator before four as theAndy Weidl (general manager) is a Pittsburgh native. Andy began his career working as a Steelers player personnel assistant. Vice President of Player Personnel
Tomlin will need to adapt to change, regardless of who assumes the role. This can both make him anxious and give him energy.
“I acknowledge that there is some angst, if you will, regarding some of the changes and uncertainty,” Tomlin said. “But that's always positive fuel for me. I'm a glass-half-full guy, and I'm always excited about the platform that transition could provide us in terms of getting better.”
Colbert stated that this improvement was one of his reasons for stepping down. Colbert discussed the Steelers need to improve and modernize within the limits of core organizational principles after a fifth consecutive season without winning the playoffs.
“We always have to be open to new ways to do things and more current ways to do things, quite honestly, and I encourage our younger scouts to push me in that regard,” Colbert said in February. “But the better solution may be outside the organization. We don't know, but I just think from a personal side for sure it’s time. Even from a professional side we have to be open to trying to stay ahead of the game.”
With the future rapidly approaching, Colbert isn’t thinking about the past and the numerous draft classes he’s helped assemble or the Super Bowl-winning teams he helped craft. Soon, there will be a time. He has work to do right now and a final mark.
“There's too many to look back on,” Colbert said of his drafts. “And maybe there's not enough to look back on, too, because Coach and I are never going to be satisfied with what our results were or are to this point. I hope this one's the best one.”