When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL draft, it’s virtually guaranteed that the following question will be raised more than once: who has final say?
When Chuck Noll was still the head coach, he had final say on who was drafted, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Still, when it came to making the pick, he regularly listened to, and often heeded, the advice of his coaches and scouts, even in the face of his own beliefs about specific players.
It hasn’t been that way since Noll retired; nobody really has the final say, because all of the discussions that can be had are mutually shared and hashed out in the weeks and months leading up to the draft. That’s what the draft board is for.
Bouchette spoke to former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher about the draft process during his tenure with the team, and his relationship with personnel men Tom Donahoe and Kevin Colbert, the latter of which is the team’s general manager today.
Cowher did say that if the head coach doesn’t want a specific player, then the team isn’t going to draft him. After all, it would be more of a challenge to coach a player you weren’t in favor of drafting in the first place.
He went into more detail in the relationship, describing a process built more on cooperation than confrontation, which he described as “a consensus of opinions”:
I felt the draft was always a great collaboration of people. There wasn’t a line between the scouting department and the coaching department, there was always a collaborative effort.
The Steelers nurtured that. They made sure that exists. If ever there’s a disagreement between Mike and Kevin, Mr. Rooney would say you have to stay in that room longer.
No one is putting anything of who has final say; that is never going to come up in that building.
In 15 years I was there, and when Tom was there, that never became a problem. That’s one thing when we came out it was a Steelers decision and you respect it. That’s what the scouts’ jobs are, we’ll take the consensus.
Much of this is generally common knowledge, if not at least common sense, but the question of who has the final word on draft picks is a regular point of discussion, not only during draft time, but year-round, particularly when it pertains to picks that didn’t work out.
Mike Tomlin has certainly taken his fair share of criticism for an apparent shift in drafting philosophy since he became coach, and, until last season, was widely scorned for drafting Jason Worilds in the second round of the 2010 draft, as just one example.
But as we can now see, it simply isn’t reflective of reality. Former head coach Cowher would know how the Steelers’ draft process works better than anybody, and thus could be seen as an authority in this discussion. There is no individual final say in any practical sense. But if there were, it would go to the one writing out the checks.