View Full Version : Unsung Colbert quietly molds another elite team

02-01-2011, 01:19 PM
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."

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02-01-2011, 01:21 PM
Kevin Colbert Q&A

Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert talked extensively Monday about a number of subject, including the job Mike Tomlin has done, the support the Steelers have shown Ben Roethlisberger and the decision to keep defensive end Aaron Smith on the roster. Here is his Q&A from Monday.

Q: Do you hate as a guy who collects talent to lose a fourth-round pick in Thaddeus Gibson because you kept Aaron Smith on the roster.

A: “When anybody claims one of your players that you wanted to keep in the fold some way, somehow, sure you’re always disappointed but you understand that can happen and those are risks that you have to take. A guy like Aaron Smith being on the roster, it’s very important even if he doesn’t (play in the Super Bowl) because you had to keep alive that possibility because he is that important.”

Q: How happy are you with how rookies have come through this year?

A: “We always judge a rookie class by where we are and to this point we’re as far as we can be. If they help us win a Super Bowl great and that’s the only way you judge any class of player, be it draftees or college free agents or unrestricted free agents.”

Q: Did the class as a whole exceed your expectations?

A: “No, we don’t have a crystal ball when we take a group of guys and put them together. You hope for the best results and we’ve gone pretty far with this group. We hope the journey’s not over. That, to me, is how you decide the worth of any group of players, is the end result.”

Q: Did you draft Emmanuel Sanders and/or Antonio Brown because Santonio Holmes had been traded?

A: “We never draft for need. Obviously we didn’t have the same group of players that we had from the previous season so if there’s a guy available that fits an area you might be looking at, sure you take him. When we took Emmanuel Sanders we felt better about that position. As the draft moved on we addressed some other things and when a guy like Antonio was still available he was too good to pass up.”

Q: It’s a tough position to come in and produce right away yet you had these two following Mike Wallace…

A: “They followed pretty much the same pattern. They all came in and were backups that played in different packages. They learned and those packages expand as the coaching staff and quarterback gets comfortable with them and they with Ben as well so that’s more like a natural progression.”

Q: Did you anticipate the signing of Flozell Adams working out this well?

A: “When Willie (Colon) got hurt, obviously the pool of players is going to be limited because everybody has pretty much picked over the free agents that are left. Fortunately there was a veteran guy like that left in Flozell. The only problem was he had been a left tackle the majority of his career. The majority of his college career he had played right tackle but his NFL experience was almost exclusively at left (tackle). When you get into those situations I know the coaching staff’s preference was to switch as few people as possible and that’s what we hoped we were going to be able to do with Flozell. I can’t say enough about what (offensive line coach) Sean Kugler did with him and what Flozell did in accepting that change, to move to the right side. I mean it’s a five-time Pro Bowl guy going into his 13th year and he’s willing to make that move. It was fortunate for us.”

Q: Does it ever bother that you’ve never won Executive of the Year?

A: “No. As long as we win the ultimate prize, that’s all that counts.”

Q: Are there players, such as cornerback Ike Taylor, you want to lock up before the CBA expires on March 3?

A: “Honestly, we have not had any discussion about next year. When you get this deep into the playoffs you fall behind on a lot of things because everybody’s focusing on the task at hand.”

Q: Is three to four weeks enough time to sign those guys if you want?

A: “Once we get out of here then we’ll talk about the next step but we really haven’t. All we’re worried about beyond this is I have to continue our draft preparations because I know that’s going to happen.”

Q: You said last April that you didn’t condone Ben Roethlisberger’s behavior but that he deserved the chance to make things right…

A: “I’m not surprised by his success on the field nor his behavior off the field since that time.”

Q: Did teams call you about him?

A: “No but if you remember our regular protocol in pre draft is pro scouts are going to call every team. Are you interested in trading up or trading down? Do you have any players available? We never shopped anybody in that period. We never actively shopped any player.”

Q: Do you see this team as being able to continue to compete for Super Bowls with some older players?

A: “I hope. The goal of the organization is to have a chance to compete every year so we have a chance this year. Beyond that we’ll try to re tool it and see where we stand. But quite honestly we haven’t thought (ahead), except for draft preparation.”

Q: Is it safe to say Maurkice Pouncey exceeded your expectations as a rookie?

A: “Yes. Maurkice was a junior and any time you take a junior you never expect instant contribution because we always say you’re getting them for their senior year. Couple that with that he was going to play the most difficult position as a center. That’s why coach Tomlin started him at guard so he could ease him into learning because there’s so much connunication that has to come out of that position. Much to our surprise he exceeded (expectations). We thought he could do it eventually. Nobody thought he could do it instantly.”

Q: Are you going to draft his brother?

A: “His brother’s pretty good.”

Q: Is it cool that two teams with this much history are playing in the Super Bowl.

A: “I will say this: The Green Bay Packers are a first-class, top-notch organization. I respect their president Mark Murphy, their general manager Ted Thompson and of course Mike McCarthy. From top to bottom they’re a class group, and it’s going to be fun to compete with them for this championship.”

Q: Do you need to re-build your (offensive) line

A: “We never go into an draft looking for this position or that position. We try to get young guys coming up behind. Who knows where we’re going to be come April but we’re not going to go into anything saying ‘OK, we have to rebuild this, this and this.’ We’ll go into it, ‘We could use this more than we could use that.’ But when you make the mistakes it’s because you force yourself to do one or the other.”

Q: Have you shown with success of your wide receivers that you really don’t need to use a: a first-round pick on wide receiver?

A: “I don’t know. We’ve had successful No. 1s with Santonio and Plaxico too. I think that’s more on those players proving that you don’t have to be a first rounder to be a contributor.”

Q: Did Jason Worilds get lost in the shuffle this season?

A: “That’s typical for that position. Those guys rarely contribute at that position for the first couple of years. If you just look at the history of it before I got here Jason (Gildon) and Joey (Porter) and Clark (Haggans) and James (Harrison) and (LaMarr) Woodley. They come into their own once they learn it and Worilds have done a nice job of contributing on special teams while he is learning the position. And he happens to be playing behind two Pro Bowl-caliber guys.”

Q: What do you think of the job Mike Tomlin has done this season?

A: “I think it’s been awesome. We’ve had our challenges, coming into the season, throughout the season. I think coach Tomlin has done a great job of keeping this team focused on the task at hand.”

Q: Think this might be his top coaching job based on all of the circumstances?

A: “Every year it’s new, it’s different. It depends. It depends on where we’re sitting next Monday. That’s what we all believe.”

Q: What are the challenge of drafting late when you’re successful on the field?

A: “If you’re successful you’re going to draft later and you want that that. Look every year there’s players available. I was doing some draft work on the way down (Monday) and we’re either picking 31st or 32nd (in the first round) but I feel good that there’s going to be players that can help this team in this year’s draft.”

Q: It took 20 years for you to make a Super Bowl (in 2005) after breaking into the NFL as a scout. What was that like?

A: “The first time it was almost incomprehensible that you were going. Then we were fortunate enough to win it because it evaded you for so long but it kind of proved if you stayed with it maybe good fortune will come your way.”

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02-03-2011, 01:26 PM
Kevin Colbert's five best moves as Pittsburgh's general manger
Kevin Colbert's five best moves as Pittsburgh's general manger
By Clark Judge
CBSSports.com Senior Writer Tell Clark your opinion!

Kevin Colbert's Five Best Moves

1. Trading up in the 2003 draft to acquire safety Troy Polamalu. The club packaged its first-round pick (the 27th overall), its third (the 92nd) and its sixth (the 200th) to choose a hard-hitting USC safety who would become an All-Pro, the most important player on its defense and the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year. I can't imagine where the Steelers would be without him. Wait a minute, no, I can because I watched them operate without him this season vs. the Jets, and they weren't nearly as effective.

2. Choosing Ben Roethlisberger with the 11th pick of the 2004 draft. Normally, I'd make the franchise quarterback a GM's best decision -- especially with Big Ben on the verge of winning his third Super Bowl -- but Colbert credits former coach Bill Cowher for selling everyone on the Miami (of Ohio) quarterback, saying the move had to be made "for the good of the organization." He was right. Roethlisberger is one of the top quarterbacks in the game and a virtual certainty to make the Hall of Fame.

3. Signing linebacker James Farrior to a three-year, $5.4 million deal in 2002. Colbert added the former New York Jets' linebacker when it appeared the Steelers would re-sign their own Earl Holmes. Instead, Pittsburgh opted for an inside linebacker who had never played the position. "We felt James was the best fit from the player standpoint and from the cap standpoint," Colbert said then. Farrior would go on to become an All Pro and one of the mainstays in the league's best defense.

4. Trading down to acquire defensive tackle Casey Hampton. The Steelers almost never go up or down in the draft, but they did in 2001 when the New York Jets wanted their first-round pick. So Colbert dealt the 16th overall choice for the 19th and had the Jets throw in a fourth and sixth. Then he chose Hampton. So what? So Hampton has been so good that he has been named to the Pro Bowl five times and solidified the middle of the league's best run defense.

5. Signing tackle Max Starks to a long-term deal. Some people weren't all that high on the guy, but Colbert was -- and he had the good sense to recognize the value of his best tackle and one of his top offensive linemen. So he re-signed him when he could, locking him down to a four-year deal, and spared the club a difficult decision at the position while providing added protection for his quarterback.

02-03-2011, 02:32 PM
DALLAS — Chuck Noll turned 79 on Jan. 5, and he isn't doing particularly well these days.

But you better believe the man who coached the Steelers to their first four Super Bowl titles will be rooting hard for them to win No. 7 Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium.

"We're excited and wish we could be there," said Noll's wife, Marianne, speaking by phone Wednesday from their home in Bonita Springs, Fla. "We'll be watching."

Noll's health doesn't allow for much travel these days, and his wife said he is not available for interviews. Friends worry about a variety of health issues, although Marianne Noll acknowledged only her husband's "horrific" back condition. She said he is eagerly anticipating the arrival of his son, Chris, daughter-in-law, Linda and two grandchildren — Katie, 17, and Connor, 11 — from Connecticut to watch the game.

Just like old times, Marianne Noll will turn on all the televisions in the house. That is what she used to do when her husband's team played a road game.

"It helps ease the nerves because you can pace from room to room," she said, laughing. "I did it during the AFC Championship last week, and Chuck said, 'Why are you doing that?' "

It's hard not to think of Noll at a time like this, what with the Steelers smack in the middle of Cowboys country, shooting for another championship in a stadium that houses murals of Tom Landry and Roger Staubach.

Noll's 1970s teams, after all, achieved greatness on the backs of some excellent, Landry-coached outfits, beating them in two epic Super Bowls.

The foundation Noll set in place still helps guide the Steelers. People forget or simply don't know that the NFL's most-decorated franchise was a bad joke when Noll arrived and that it took him four years to build a winner.

One of Noll's greatest players, Lynn Swann, said it well yesterday: "Everything those guys are doing today is built on the culture Chuck Noll established."

I asked Marianne Noll to take me back to her husband's hiring, when he was the 37-year-old defensive coordinator of the Super Bowl runner-up Baltimore Colts in the winter of 1969.

He had other options. As Marianne recalled, "He was the hot ticket that year."

Why the Steelers? She paused, then said, "Chuck took that job because he felt (the Rooneys) wanted to win — sincerely and honestly wanted to win. That was enough for us. He and Dan, they were good together from the very beginning."

They soon would become great together. Noll remains the only coach in NFL history to win four Super Bowls. He was a giant of the game who maintained a low profile and, as Swann put it, "never gets the credit he deserves for managing one of the great teams in NFL history."

Football people know the truth. That was reinforced yesterday at the bustling Super Bowl media center when I posed the following question: "What pops into your mind at the mention of the name Chuck Noll?"

A sampling of answers:

• "Four Super Bowls," said Gil Brandt, 77, master personnel director of the Cowboys teams that battled Noll's Steelers: "But what really pops into my mind is here is an unassuming guy who accomplished a lot without bragging about it. How's that?"

• "An extremely organized man, very driven, never let up on his players, yet was loved by them," said Jim Dent, author of "The Junction Boys" and a long-time chronicler of the Cowboys. "I was just at Joe Greene's (Texas) house the other day, and that's exactly what he told me: 'The guy was on your (back) every day, but you loved him.' "

Back in Pittsburgh, former Steelers publicist Joe Gordon, a close friend of Noll's, was asked the same question and remembered how "unflappable" the coach was on the morning of big games, such as the 1978 AFC Championship against the Houston Oilers.

Noll walked into Gordon's office, as per usual, to shoot the breeze.

"I had a broken cabinet — a cheap plastic flap was sitting on top of it — and Chuck says, 'Let me see that thing,' " Gordon recalled. "So there he was, 21/2 hours before the AFC Championship, on his hands and knees fixing a cabinet."

Gordon and his wife are planning a trip to see the Nolls next month, by which time the Steelers could be basking in the glow of a seventh Super Bowl victory.

Who knows if any of them happen without Chuck Noll?

Read more: Starkey: Noll following Steelers' run - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... z1CvEVHGWP (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_721092.html#ixzz1CvEVHGWP)

02-04-2011, 08:14 AM
Why isn't Colbert crunching the numbers and figuring out how much he can offer a dude like Ike after the season? I think being able to offer Ike a contract shortly after the Super Bowl would be to our advantage. We could offer Ike a signing bonus now so he'd make some money even if their is a work stoppage. Thereby, we could sign him for less than market value and get a lower cap hit (when a new one is instituted).

02-17-2011, 07:33 PM
2. Choosing Ben Roethlisberger with the 11th pick of the 2004 draft. Normally, I'd make the franchise quarterback a GM's best decision -- especially with Big Ben on the verge of winning his third Super Bowl -- but Colbert credits former coach Bill Cowher for selling everyone on the Miami (of Ohio) quarterback, saying the move had to be made "for the good of the organization." He was right. Roethlisberger is one of the top quarterbacks in the game and a virtual certainty to make the Hall of Fame.

Well, that dispels the myth that Cowher preferred Shawn Andrews and only ended up with Ben because he was overruled by Dan Rooney.

02-17-2011, 07:39 PM
Why isn't Colbert crunching the numbers and figuring out how much he can offer a dude like Ike after the season? I think being able to offer Ike a contract shortly after the Super Bowl would be to our advantage. We could offer Ike a signing bonus now so he'd make some money even if their is a work stoppage. Thereby, we could sign him for less than market value and get a lower cap hit (when a new one is instituted).

In the next two years, we have the challenge of having to find a way to sign LaMarr Woodley, Ike Taylor, Lawrence Timmons, and Troy Polamalu. All are important cogs. We want to make sure that we know what the salary cap situation will be going forward after the new CBA is ratified so that we are able to sign as many of them (hopefully all) as we can. If we signed Ike and Wood now, not knowing what the future salary cap might be, we might not be able to sign Troy and Timmons in the future if the cap isn't structured as we expect it to be. The team will wait to see what the landscape looks like, and will then craft the best proposals they can to help both the team and the players get what they want. For all we know, the lockout may extend throughout the summer, and there may not be free agency at all this offseason (we can bring back any of our own UFA's that we want for 120% of last year's salary). Who knows at this point.

02-20-2011, 02:39 AM
Colbert: Second isn't good enough

By Bob Labriola - Steelers Digest
Posted Feb 17, 2011


On the issue of the Steelers 2010 season, Kevin Colbert is not conflicted. Not at all. It is said that professional sports is a bottom-line business, and the Steelers director of football operations is a bottom-line guy.

“As I have said, we were good enough for second, but second’s not good enough,” said Colbert. “We were one play away from being a World Champion, but we can’t go into next year thinking we’re one play away. We have to start over.”

In the immediate aftermath of a 2009 season that ended with a 9-7 record and no spot in the playoffs, Colbert offered a blunt assessment of the team. In it, he said he viewed the 2009 Steelers, despite being just months removed from the sixth championship in franchise history, to be exactly what their record indicated – a mediocre team not good enough to squeeze into the playoffs.

One calendar year later, Colbert has not deviated from the method he uses to evaluate a particular Steelers team’s performance in a given season, no matter how harsh is may seem.

“We should be judged on what our final record was and where we ended the season,” said Colbert. “Obviously we were a better team than we were in 2009, and so you hope that going into the next season more players will progress than regress.

“But anytime we go into a season, if we don’t win a Super Bowl championship, in our eyes, it’s a failure. Did we have a better chance this year than we had the previous year? Sure. But I don’t feel any different today than I did last year at this time. We’re still not where we wanted to be.”

When the calendar hits mid-February comes the time when Colbert and the rest of the team’s player personnel department go to work on what ultimately ends up being the 80-man roster the Steelers take to training camp. But there is nothing typical about this offseason, what with the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement due to expire on March 4.

The only things certain at this point for the NFL are that the Combine will be held as scheduled in Indianapolis next week and that there will be a 2011 NFL Draft in late April. Another certainty is the manner in which the Steelers will continue to operate within the NFL, which is to use the draft as the primary method of adding talent while trying to keep as many of their own players as is possible.

Based on the criteria that had been in place before the uncapped year regarding free agency, the Steelers will have two restricted free agents and 14 unrestricted free agents.

The UFAs are RB Mewelde Moore, TE Matt Spaeth, G Trai Essex, Ts Willie Colon and Jonathan Scott, NT Chris Hoke, DE Nick Eason, ILB Keyaron Fox, OLB LaMarr Woodley, CBs William Gay, Anthony Madison and Ike Taylor, P Daniel Sepulveda and LS Greg Warren. The two RFAs are QB Dennis Dixon and T Tony Hills.

It’s unlikely the Steelers will be able to get any of their unrestricted free agents under contract before March 4, what with the combination of the re-signing rules for the uncapped year and the uncertainty over whatever particulars might be negotiated into the next CBA combining to paralyze any such efforts by teams across the whole league.

The Steelers, like all teams, have a franchise player tag and a transition tag available to be used by Feb. 24, and it would make perfect sense for them to use the franchise tag on Woodley, even though what “franchise tag” comes to mean in the new CBA is another of the unknowns.

“We’d like to retain all of our potential free agents, if possible,” said Colbert. “I would think we would still evaluate our team as we always have and look at potentially who we could lose and who we could retain (in free agency), in addition to what we could add through the draft.”

Colbert did say the team would like to have Flozell Adams back for a 14th NFL season, and he is under contract to the team for 2011. It has been reported that Adams is at his home in Dallas and trying to decide whether he wants to play another season.

“Flozell was a big part of our success this past season,” said Colbert. “Anytime you bring in someone from the outside, if your coaches haven’t had a chance to coach this player before, you really don’t know what you’re getting. The pleasant surprise was seeing what Flozell could do physically at this stage of his career, and then the things that really caught my attention were his professionalism in accepting a move to right tackle after having been a player of status at left tackle, and the quiet leadership he brought to an unstable situation because of all the injuries we had.”

STEELERS NOTES: The team did sign six of the seven players who ended the season on their practice squad. Re-signed were WR Tyler Grisham, S Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith, T Kyle Jolly, DE Sunny Harris, TE Eugene Bright and OLB Chris Ellis. FB Frank Summers signed with the San Diego Chargers. The eighth practice squad player – G Dorian Brooks– had been added to the 53-man roster for Super Bowl XLV when Maurkice Pouncey was placed on the injured reserve list ... The Steelers also signed WR Wes Lyons to a Reserve/Future contract. Lyons (6-8, 230) originally signed with the New York Jets in 2010 as an undrafted rookie out of West Virginia. He is a Pittsburgh native who attended Woodland Hills High School.

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