Aubrey Bruce: End of an era — the Colbert/Tomlin relationship


Steelers GM retiring after this week’s NFL Draft


by Aubrey Bruce, For New Pittsburgh Courier

This is one of the easiest stories that I have ever written or even attempted to write. Why? Well, because the actions of the two men that I will be profiling in this communiqué cemented their legacy over a decade ago. I will honor their legacy, simply by affording the readers the opportunity to hear it from their own mouths. Those two individuals are the Steelers Vice-President and General Manager Kevin Colbert and Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin.

Kevin Colbert was hired in 2000 as the Director of Football Operations for the Steelers, assisting in the assembly of two Super Bowl winning teams. In 2010, Colbert was named the Steelers’ first general manager and was placed in charge of player transactions and acquisitions as the head executive in the Steelers organization. When he was hired he said this about his position: “My role is (to) provide him (Dan Rooney) with people we think are potential replacements.”

When Mike Tomlin was hired by the Steelers in January 2007, Colbert had experienced close to seven years on the job and there wasn’t much of a clash of egos because the hierarchy was already established.

The relationship between Colbert and Tomlin may have, at times, gone through difficulties but I can assure you Colbert’s and Tomlin’s business relationship and personal union was a match made in heaven compared to the final two years of the nightmarish union of ex-Steelers director of football operations (GM) Tom Donahoe and ex-Steelers Head Coach Bill Cowher.

Donahoe was with Pittsburgh from 1991 to 1999. His tenure with the team was widely acknowledged as a power struggle between him and head coach Bill Cowher. Donahoe left the team following the 1999 season and Bill Cowher departed the team in 2006 after an alleged power struggle and ego problem with the team’s upper management. There are no such horror stories to report about the joint tenure of Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert.

During their recent joint press conference to discuss the 2022 draft, Mike Tomlin reflected upon his relationship with Kevin Colbert.

“I’ve tried not to think about it to be quite honest with you,” he said. “It went through my mind: a little bit some when we were traveling because we’ve just had such great times over the years traveling and gathering information, necessary information, to get to know the young men. But we’ve been up against it, pretty good and hustling. There hasn’t been a lot of those moments but obviously it has been a pleasure to work alongside him. We’ll see where the roads lead us.”

Kevin Colbert was also asked if he had “allowed (himself) to smell the roses” in regards to working with Mike Tomlin over the years. “No, not at all, honestly,’” he said. “Just to echo Coach’s comments, listen, it’s been a great process to work with Coach. You don’t take those things for granted. He loves this part of the process, and that always makes it an easier endeavor. It’s fun to be out and watch him interact with these young men and their families, and the respect that he commands on the road, it’s very impressive. And the information that he comes away with that I might have missed is very helpful. It’s been a nice working relationship, but it’s been more than that.”

Tomlin echoed those sentiments, “No doubt,” he said.

Colbert continued on: “You share the highs, you share the lows, and it’s been great. But quite honestly, we haven’t had the time to think about that. 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 (looking at), quarterbacks.”

During the press conference, Tomlin sort of set me straight as well. I asked him this: “When you’re looking at the quarterback position now, obviously with the tragedy that happened with (Dwayne) Haskins, does that affect your decision (of) you and Kevin, going (into the draft), whether you’re going to draft a QB maybe a little bit higher? Tomlin said, “In regard to Dwayne, our energy has been on paying proper respect and supporting his family. We have not approached it from a business decision or a business decision-making standpoint. We feel like that’s the appropriate mindset for us to have as we sit here today.”

That response reminded me that many times there are personal elements that are far outweigh the importance of dollars and “sense.” One of the most important things that the NFL world and the sports world in general will miss about the direct partnership of Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin is going to be their empathy and sense of humanity. Godspeed Kevin, and continued success for Mike Tomlin.


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