What have you done for me lately?
A simple question, and one the NFL universe is quite fond of directing at coaches, players and front office staff alike. It is essentially the polite way of saying "win or don't bother coming into work
tomorrow next season".
After successive 8-8 seasons Steelers fans could be forgiven for having the question dangling somewhere quite close to the tip of their tongues. In fact one need only listen to the more vocal and constantly unimpressed section of the fan base to hear a chorus of "what have you done for me lately Mike, Kevin and the rest of the gang?
In truth, some of the disgruntlement may be justified. The Steelers have underperformed, at least to our standards, these last couple of seasons and they're are many who deserve to feel their seat's tempretaure raised ever so slightly.
However, Kevin Colbert, is the one man who has earned the right to go about his business unquestioned and undoubted. In an article published last night, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Ed Bouchette highlighted the career path and success enjoyed by Colbert in his 30 years in the NFL, drawing attention to the fact that if any ones past performances have inspired faith and trust, it should be Colbert's.
After a career coaching in baseball, basketball and football Colbert accepted an offer to work for the NFL scouting service BLESTO. An offer he accepted over one to go coach basketball at Robert Morris University, which raised an interesting what if scenario...
That was in 1984. Since then he worked his way up through the ranks, with stops at the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions on the way, until he was appointed director of football operations for the Steelers in 2000. Then, in 2010, he was promoted to the newly created General Manager position, penciling his name into Steelers history as the first and only man to hold such a position in the organisations history.
This season will be his 15th with the Steelers, an exceptionally long time for someone at any level of the sport to stay at one franchise. What makes Colbert's tenure even more impressive is the sheer amount of success he has enjoyed.
Three super bowl appearances and two Lombardi trophies with two different head coaches, and an organisational model that was and is the envy of the league. An almost flawless record in the early rounds of the draft, as well as a stellar reputation as a bargain shopper in free agency, Colbert constructed what was one of the best rosters of the 00's with a blend of drafted, undrafted and free agent players.
In terms of success, two Super Bowl wins speak for themselves. However it is consistency which Colbert should be remembered for. Until 2013, the Steelers have never went more than one season without reaching the play-offs. In fact during Colbert's reign the Steelers have had one losing season, 6-10 in 2003, which was coincidentally the year Colbert drafted a Hall of Fame quarterback. Not a bad day's work Kevin.
What makes Bouchette's article extremely insightful is that it shines a light on other people in the NFL's opinion of Colbert. Generally speaking there are few column inches devoted to praising the behind the scenes guy who only surfaces for the month of April.
"If you were to say to me, describe Kevin Colbert in one word, I would say selfless...The guy to me is the ultimate — I don't want to say team player because he’s more important that. He puts the organization ahead of anything else. He can see the big picture."- Bill Cowher
Colbert and former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher worked together for 7 years, producing one Super Bowl and a spell of drafting success that has rarely been produced in the NFL.
"He is the most-unheralded GM in the league...I feel there is nobody better, he’s No. 1. He does such a great job and has done such a great job over the years.
I put together a GM/executive committee, and Kevin was the first name I wrote down. He contributes, he’s so humble and so good. He has no ego"- Steve Accorsi
The retired Giants GM was quite effusive in his praise of Colbert. It sounds to me like he believes that Colbert is genuinely the best in the business, and not just paying lip service to an old acquaintance when asked for his thoughts.
"He’s honest, straightforward and really good at what he does. There are no peaks and valleys; he’s been the same guy for 30 years, which is really remarkable. He’s had a lot of success and he never went high-hat. I remember when he was carrying his projector like everyone else, and he’d still do it if they had one...
He’s really a unique guy to be in that role and to be the guy he is all the time."- Tom Modrak
Modrak is the current director of BLESTO and a former Steelers scout. Although he doesn't allude to Colbert skills as a GM in any considerable detail, it's always nice to know the man calling the shots is a decent guy.
Back to back 8-8 seasons will take the shine of even the most impressive armour. The question of whether Colbert and the Steelers brain trust held on to an ageing veteran core for one or two seasons to many is a legitimate one.
As I have always said, all is fair in love and the pursuit of a Superbowl. However that doesn't change the fact that Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis and Emmanuel Sanders are all gone, not to mention there have been some draft picks that have went awry here and there in recent memory.
It would take a very short memory to believe Colbert can't get it done, but this is after all the NFL...
Here at BTSC there is an informal motto, or perhaps an informal sentiment, which is "in Colbert we trust". It has become, at least for myself ,an almost mechanical reflex whenever the touchy subject of his abilities or recent draft classes arise.
"Don't worry, Colbert's a really good GM he'l get us out of this mess"....
"well, how do you know he will? Why is he good?"
"because he's Kevin Colbert, he's a really good GM".
This kind of circular thinking isn't good, but what is important to remember is that in actual fact, Kevin Colbert is a really, really good general manager. It gets easy to repeat a sentence over and over again and commit it to fact, whilst forgetting they why and the how behind it. Quotes from Bouchette's article, what we already know and the results over the past 14 years serve to remind us that Colbert is probably the best GM in the entire NFL.
I'm not saying anyone has forgot that fact, but every once and a while it's good to step outside the box and reassess what you think you know. It's even better when what you think you know is true. Colbert's right up there with the best. Anyone calling for his replacement is ludicrous, because quite simply there is no one better at his job than himself.
As Steve Accorsi said, "If I were a Steelers fan, he’d be the last person I’d worry about whether he’d get good players for me".