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The Steelers rebuilt front office hasn’t really changed

The Steelers have changed a lot in the front office, or have they?

Kansas City Chiefs v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

The Steelers hired in-house for their new general manager when they chose to promote Omar Khan from his position of vice president of football and business administration. The move was championed as bringing little in the way of turmoil and lessening the adjustment period to the new GM. The Steelers also brought in Andy Weidl from the Eagles to be their assistant general manager.

A move of stability mixed with adding fresh blood. A two-headed general manager approach that mixes a long-time Steeler in Khan with fast-rising fresh blood in Weidl. Weidl spent 18 years in the NFL working various scouting jobs until 2016 when Tom Donahoe, whom he started working for in 1998 when Donahoe was with the Steelers, hired him away from Baltimore and put him in the front office. In 2015 Weidl was a regional scout. Weidl became the assistant director of player personnel, two years later he took over as director of player personnel in 2018. In 2019 he was promoted to vice-president of player personnel. Three seasons in that position would end with him joining the Steelers as assistant general manager.

From the moment Weidl hit the front office, his star has risen quickly. Now he is in position to be the primary talent evaluator for the Pittsburgh Steelers, as Omar Khan comes from the business side of football operations and has never worked a job with the Steelers that was primarily based on talent evaluation.

While the hiring of Omar Khan can easily be looked at as “status quo”, the Steelers have a completely different chief talent evaluator who last worked for the Steelers in 1999. Pairing a fast-rising front office talent evaluator with a man who can run the business side of this football team in his sleep, on paper, seems like a potentially great move.

But any gain needs to be balanced by what it cost. The loss of Kevin Colbert is a big one. One of the chief appeals of the Khan hiring is it disrupts what Kevin Colbert built as little as possible. But chasing what you already had isn’t an upgrade, it’s an admission that you might not be able to do better than what you already had.

In the same way Steelers fans can look at the quarterback position and know how unlikely it is that any quarterback on this roster can match the success Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to, it’s absolutely fair to look at Kevin Colbert’s successor with a healthy understanding of just how big those shoes are. At least Mitchell Trubisky and Kenny Pickett have the benefit of Roethlisberger’s post-injury struggles and the undefeated record of father time easing the transition for them. Kevin Colbert may not have a series of all-time great drafts in the last few years, but he still leaves an impressive legacy.

But Kevin Colbert wasn’t the only loss to the Steelers in the transaction. Brandon Hunt joined Omar Khan as the favorites for the general manager position. Khan on the business and organizational side, Hunt on the scouting and evaluating side. Not only did Brandon Hunt not get the general manager job, the Steelers brought in an outsider to step into the top spot on the personnel side, and Brandon Hunt is moving from the Steelers to the Eagles.

This means that two of the most important talent evaluators for the Steelers have moved out of their roles. While Andy Weidl seemingly is stepping in to take on the talent evaluation side of the GM job, Brandon Hunt’s job as director of Pro Scouting will be filled by Sheldon White, a long-time front office guy for the Detroit Lions who fell out of the NFL ranks after his interim general manager stint in 2015 failed to turn into a permanent position. White ended up joining the Michigan State University Spartans as an advisor. His son committed to the school for football, and he ended up joining him.

In 2021, with his son in the NFL, Sheldon White returned to the NFL as a scout for the Washington Commanders. Now his career rebound in the NFL gets a boost to Director of Pro Scouting as he will again follow his son, Steelers wide receiver Cody White, to a new job. That the Steelers can let a long-term employee leave the team and replace him with someone that has no history with the franchise and yet still seem nepotistic is a very Steelers thing to do.

Speaking of nepotism. . .

Dan Colbert was promoted from being a scout to director of college scouting meaning both the pro and college scouting directors achieved that title with a relative currently working for the team. The Steelers under Art Rooney II have leaned much harder into the “family” angle of the family business, with three sets of brothers playing for the Steelers, Dan Colbert moving up the ladder toward his dad’s old job, and even hiring a player’s dad.

The old adage that “the more things change, the more they stay the same” can certainly apply to the Steelers, and especially this offseason of change. But the question everyone is wondering about is if it is a good thing.

It’s easy to point to the Steelers long term success and say it’s worked really well so far, and it’s easy to point to more recent years and say it hasn’t worked well enough to get the Steelers deep into the playoffs. The Steelers are trying to balance familiarity and continuity, two important factors in any business, with embracing change and attracting new ideas and talent, also very important factors for any business’s success.

Time will tell if they found that balance successfully or not, but for now, we can look at a season of change and find that while the faces are different, the process is still very much the same.