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Steelers’ future features critical openings to fill

PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger isn’t the only one with longtime ties to the Pittsburgh Steelers who is stepping away.

General manager Kevin Colbert, who has spent more than two decades overseeing a roster that’s made the Steelers perennial contenders, is leaving after the NFL draft this spring.

The 65-year-old Colbert has stuck to a “one season at a time approach” for a while. Team president Art Rooney II said Friday that Colbert wants to move into a more advisory role. The team has already conducted interviews with internal candidates Omar Khan and Brandon Hunt and shortly will turn its eye to candidates outside the organization.

There is no rush to hire Colbert’s replacement. Rooney said the hope is to have Colbert’s successor in place after the draft. The next general manager will have a tall order in replicating Colbert’s success. The Steelers won two Super Bowls and appeared in a third under his watch. They reached the playoffs 14 times since he was hired as director of football operations in 2000.

Colbert will be actively involved in one final draft as the Steelers look to replace Roethlisberger, who retired on Thursday after 18 seasons in Pittsburgh. Rooney declined to get into specifics about what Colbert’s emeritus role will be, though he joked “(Colbert) would probably rather describe it as something more than ‘hanging around.’”

The Steelers, as much as any team in the league, prefer to promote from within when major coaching positions are open. Khan has been with the organization since 2001 and currently serves as vice president of football and business administration. Hunt is the team’s pro personnel director.

Asked specifically about Hunt, Rooney called him a “good candidate.”

“He has taken on additional responsibilities and handled them well,” Rooney said. “So I think Brandon is somebody that has the kind of experience we’ll be looking for.”

The team is also actively searching for a defensive coordinator after Keith Butler retired over the weekend. Senior defensive assistant Teryl Austin figures to be the favorite but Rooney said the team is not averse to looking elsewhere to help a defense that sank from third overall in 2020 to 24th this season.

“We’re certainly not afraid to bring somebody in from the outside if need be,” he said. “And as you know, when we hired coach Tomlin, we had some good internal candidates in that round and wound up hiring somebody from the outside. So we just don’t try to get too narrow and too much of a narrow focus, and really try to get the best person for the job wherever they’re coming from.”

There are no plans to move on from offensive coordinator Matt Canada, whose unit struggled in his first season calling plays. The offense’s issues were many, from sluggish play by an almost completely retooled offensive line to Roethlisberger’s nonexistent mobility to a wide receiver group that took a step backward.

Finding a replacement for Roethlisberger is the team’s top priority this spring. Backups Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins will be in the mix, though the Steelers also have the 20th overall pick in the draft and more than $40 million available in salary cap space, That number is expected to climb if high-priced veterans such as inside linebacker Joe Schobert are cut.