Steelers' Colbert gets four-year extension

Updated: July 27, 2006, 3:11 PM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- Director of football operations Kevin Colbert signed on Thursday the very document the Pittsburgh Steelers wish coach Bill Cowher would agree to -- a lengthy contract extension.

Kevin Colbert
Michael Fabus/ Kevin Colbert's drafting prowess helped the Steelers win the Super Bowl last season.

Colbert, credited with helping build the Steelers into a Super Bowl champion by overseeing some of their best drafts since the 1970s, signed a four-year contract that runs through the 2010 season.

"Obviously, he has played a vital role in our success over the past several years, including the Super Bowl title last season," team president Art Rooney II said in a statement issued by the club.

Colbert effectively serves as the Steelers' general manager, but the team has never had an executive with that title. He is in charge of all player personnel and scouting decisions and serves as the Steelers' liaison between the NFL and its clubs on football matters.

The contract extension was reached the day before the Steelers begin training camp in Latrobe, Pa.

"I'm very thankful for the opportunity to remain with the Steelers," Colbert said. "My family and I are very fortunate to be part of such a special organization."

By agreeing to a new deal, the 49-year-old Colbert has three more seasons on his contract than his coach does; Cowher is signed only through 2007. Cowher has never gone into any of his 15 seasons in Pittsburgh with so few years left on his contract but has not said if he plans to coach beyond this season.

"I really don't know," Cowher said.

The team had hoped Cowher would sign an extension during the offseason.

Colbert, like Cowher a native of Pittsburgh, is entering his seventh season with the Steelers after spending 10 years as the Detroit Lions' pro scouting director. He replaced the fired Tom Donahoe following a 6-10 season in 1999, during which there was considerable speculation Cowher might be let go.

Instead, the Steelers replaced Donahoe and brought in Colbert, who moved quickly to build a closer relationship with the coach than Donahoe had. His scouting background helped result in a series of successful drafts that led the Steelers to go 13-3 in 2001, 15-1 in 2004 and 11-5 before winning the Super Bowl last season.

Among the players drafted under Colbert since 2000 were current or former starters Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Casey Hampton, Chris Hope, Larry Foote, Kendrell Bell, Clark Haggans, Antwaan Randle El, Heath Miller, Max Starks, Ike Taylor, Kendall Simmons, Marvel Smith and Plaxico Burress.

All of the Steelers' six first-round draft picks before this year have been productive players in the league, and Roethlisberger and Polamalu have quickly become two of the NFL's most recognizable players.

The Steelers' 26-6 record over the last two seasons is the best in the league, and they have played in the AFC Championship Game three times -- winning once -- since Colbert was hired.

Still, despite having one of the most high-profile management jobs in pro sports, Colbert has retained an extremely low profile -- declining to give interviews during a season so as not to prove a distraction to the team.

That style no doubt was partly the result of what became a public feud between Cowher and Donahoe in 1999, one that developed after Donahoe was critical at times of the team's play.

Before joining the Lions, Colbert was a scout with a combine scouting service and the Miami Dolphins. The Robert Morris University graduate was also a coach in three sports at Ohio Wesleyan University: Football, baseball and basketball.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press