Don't expect a Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe-like rift to develop between Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert. Both men are at ease with the way things are done.
In their first few years together, former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher and director of football operations Tom Donahoe enjoyed working with each other.
Heck, when you make the playoffs in six straight seasons, there’s not much friction to deal with, even though Cowher and Donahoe had considerable egos.
When the Steelers failed to make the playoffs in 1998 and 1999, the relationship between Cowher and Donahoe soured to where the two men could no longer work together.
The Rooney family, which owns the Steelers, were forced to make a decision. Did they get rid of their director of football operations or head coach. They chose the director of football operations and Donahoe was fired after the 1999 season.
Enter Kevin Colbert.
Colbert was hired in January of 2000 and quickly established a good working relationship with Cowher. It was so good that Cowher thanked him when he resigned earlier this month for giving him a “second wind.”
Colbert, who turns 50 on Monday, hopes to have a similar working relationship with new head coach Mike Tomlin, who was hired last week to replace Cowher.
“I’m going to approach it the same way (as with Cowher),” said Colbert, when asked if his job would change with the hiring of a new coach. “We talked about how we do things and our approach to it. Mike’s comfortable with that. Of course, as we go through it and learn what we like and what we need to do, I’m open. I’m open to ideas. We all have to learn and grow. … The core values are there. We have the same values. It’s just a matter of going through the process one year and figuring out what we like and what we don’t like and what’s going to best serve us in the future.”
What has served the Steelers best in player personnel decisions is a consensus. Speculation following Donahoe’s demise was that Cowher had gained more say in player personnel decisions, something those involved with the process denied. As had been the case prior to Donahoe’s departure, Colbert and his scouting department offer their evaluations on players and the coaching staff offers theirs. Then, a consensus is reached.
Tomlin seems content to continue that system.
“The one thing that turned me on about this organization is that it’s a collective effort with how we do things,” said the 34-year-old Tomlin. “Nothing is heaped upon one specific person. I look forward to working with Kevin on personnel matters and I’m excited about that. I really am.”
As Donahoe did during Cowher’s hiring, Colbert was part of the three-man search committee with team president Art Rooney II and chairman Dan Rooney that interviewed and settled on Tomlin as the next head coach.
Part of the reason for that was the Rooneys knew Colbert would have so much interaction with the new head coach in dealing with free agency, the draft and making final decisions over the roster.
One of the key issues now is whether or when the Steelers shift to a 4-3 defense that Tomlin favors from the 3-4 defensive front they have run the past 15 seasons under Cowher.
“I don’t think he’s locked into doing one thing right now,” said Colbert. “He’s going to look at the players we have and see how they fit into what they’re doing currently, and how he and his coaches want to progress. And then we’ll see how we can add to it with current personnel or maybe future personnel through free agency and the draft.”
That makes the next couple of offseasons very important for Pittsburgh’s future. A missed read on a key free agent or a couple of high draft picks could set the team back.
Tomlin, however, promises not to be married to one system.
“As coaches, we have to be flexible to do what our guys do well,” he said. “I think that if we say that this is our personality and this is all we’re looking for as a player, then we might miss out on someone who has special skills. It is going to be a blending of both if we’re going to have a chance to be consistently good over a long period of time.”
By Dale Lolley
Posted Jan 28, 2007