If there’s one guarantee regarding the Steelers, it’s a proclivity to not only retain personnel, but also to elevate them to higher positions when vacancies appear.
Take the last two offseasons as a measuring stick. After cutting ties with Randy Fichtner, Pittsburgh promoted quarterbacks coach Matt Canada to offensive coordinator. Then, when Keith Butler retired, Kevin Colbert and Art Rooney moved Teryl Austin from secondary coach to the team’s defensive coordinator.
This trend of moving pre-existing coaches is deeply rooted within the organization. Before being named OC, Fichtner had been with the Steelers since 2007, coaching receivers and quarterbacks. Butler had been the team’s linebackers coach since 2003. In fact, the last time the Steelers had an offensive/defensive coordinator named to that position without having prior experience within the franchise is Todd Haley in 2012, who went from head coach of the Chiefs to Pittsburgh’s OC.
As Rooney, Colbert and Tomlin have continued to level up their own guys, fans have grown distraught, citing few peripheral ideas and an overall sentiment of boredom. I get it: there generally is a lack of pizazz when an organization simply promotes a member rather than getting a glitzy new face.
However, the Steelers’ tendency to do so is often linked with longstanding success and familiarity with procedures. The same applies to the team’s ongoing search for a successor to Colbert at general manager, whose worn out, diamond-encrusted shoes will have to be filled for quite some time.
This week, Pittsburgh successfully narrowed its list of candidates to receive a second interview, which includes Andy Weidl, Doug Whaley, John Spytek and Ryan Cowden. All are from different organizations, holding varying levels of personnel and scouting experience.
One of the main draws of such candidates is bringing in one of the braintrusts behind franchise turnarounds. For example, Spytek, the Buccaneers’ vice president of player personnel, helped to acquire Tom Brady, Tristan Wirfs, Antoine Winfield Jr., Rob Gronkowski and other assets needed for the team’s dominance since 2020. Weidl, who holds the same title with the Eagles, spearheaded the franchise’s Super Bowl LII run as well as proved pivotal in Philadelphia landing De’Vonta Smith and A.J. Brown.
Sure, it would be fun to have the Steelers’ next GM be one of the architects of a grassroots rebuild or someone with vast experience in different organizations. Yet, there were two names conscientiously left off of the list above: Brandon Hunt and Omar Khan.
Both Hunt and Khan currently work hand-in-hand with Colbert: Hunt as pro scouting coordinator, and Khan as vice president of football and business administration. Both have spent at least 12 years in Pittsburgh, spearheading a team that has enjoyed eight playoff appearances in that span.
Moreover, Hunt and Khan each play an integral role in the Steelers’ day-to-day, as well as long-term, operations. Hunt frequently accompanies Tomlin and Colbert to colleges’ pro days; he was seen at Pitt’s Pro Day this year to scrutinize Kenny Pickett. Likewise, Khan has been the team’s de facto cap specialist, assisting in orchestrating T.J. Watt’s record-setting extension as well as signing Myles Jack, James Daniels and other solid acquisitions to team-friendly deals.
Hunt and Khan have caught the eye of other swooning franchises. Hunt recently interviewed to be the Bills’ assistant general manager, while Khan was in the running for the Texans’ and Bears’ GM positions. It’s clear that each provides savvy insights and is venerated around the league.
All along in the team’s quest for its successor to Colbert, it seems that Hunt and Khan have been co-favorites. For some, that principle is irritating, with the Steelers potentially set to shift yet another pre-existing staffer to a higher position.
Admittedly, the Steelers have had mixed results when they do promote in-house. But if Hunt or Khan is named the team’s next pioneer in the near future, it shouldn’t be dismissed as following a recurring pattern, particularly one viewed as lazy.
Even if the hire isn’t as clinquant as expected, Pittsburgh fans should be elated if their next general manager would have vast experience working under Colbert. After all, it’s not every day that you have two legitimate hot commodities working as understudies in the same organization.
Whether Khan or Hunt, the concept of having a general manager groomed under a future Hall-of-Famer staying in the building and executing their nascent ideas should be celebrated.