Although they play in America’s worst city for Black people, the Pittsburgh Steelers could soon stand out for being the NFL’s only franchise with both a Black head coach and general manager.
The team’s current GM, Kevin Colbert, said last week that he plans to step down after this year’s draft in April. The Steelers have already reportedly interviewed two internal candidates, salary cap wizard Omar Khan, who is of Honduran and Indian lineage and pro scouting guru Brandon Hunt, who is African-American.
Neither has been named a finalist for the role and both have seen interest from other teams but the Steelers are regarded for stability in its top positions. The organization has only had three head coaches since the 1960s, its starting quarterback just retired after 18 years and Colbert has been in his role since 2010. Tomlin has been in his role since 2007, an eternity for an NFL head coach. Sticking with either Hunt or Khan would fit the team’s modus operandi.
Khan has worked for the Steelers for almost as long as Colbert. He has been with the Steelers since 2001 after being with the New Orleans Saints the four years prior. Khan is the vice president of football and business administration, a role he has had since 2016. He has been on the football business side of things since graduating from Tulane University in his native New Orleans in 1997.
Hunt is the Steelers’ pro scouting coordinator. He is a native of Pittsburgh. While both candidates have deep Pittsburgh roots professionally, it does serve the Rooneys to interview other candidates outside of the organization to see if they are missing out on anything in the process. Whoever replaces Colbert as the Steelers general manager will have been closely vetted for it.
Last week, the Minnesota Vikings hired former Cleveland Browns exec Kwesi Adofo-Mensah as their GM, making him the seventh among current Black GMs in the sport. If Hunt got the gig, he’d be at least the eighth, assuming none of the others are fired and no more are hired first.
The Steelers have a history of making racial progress, at least compared with the rest of the NFL, which, isn’t a high bar since, again, there’s only one Black head coach out of 32 teams. Last year the NFL Hall of Fame posthumously inducted Bill Nunn, a Black sportswriter turned pro scout who built the Steelers’ ‘70s Super Bowl dynasty by drafting overlooked players from HBCUs.
The Rooney Rule, pro football’s edict that teams must interview at least one nonwhite candidate for head coaching vacancies, is named after the Steelers’ late owner Dan Rooney. The rule has been criticized for being ineffective but has also been pushed as a best practice for companies outside of sports. Rooney spent most of his life as a Republican—which in Pittsburgh is like being the only person to never have crossed a bridge—but was a public supporter of Barack Obama’s first campaign for president and was named the Obama administration’s ambassador to Ireland.
By contrast, the team’s home city just installed the first Black mayor in its 205-year history, and still makes Deliverance look like a utopia in terms of Black women’s quality of life.