PITTSBURGH — Omar Khan tried to keep the smile from overtaking his face when Art Rooney II told him the news.
But minutes after accepting the Pittsburgh Steelers general manager position, Khan couldn’t contain his emotions.
“When I was sitting down with Art and he told me, and I tried controlling myself from smiling too much,” Khan said Friday. “I was very, very — I was thrilled. It was a dream come true. I actually gave him a hug on the way out. It’s awesome.”
Khan, 45, was announced as the next general manager earlier this week, succeeding longtime GM Kevin Colbert after Khan spent more than two decades with the organization, primarily in football and business administration roles.
“Obviously, we picked the guy we know very well,” Rooney said. “Excited that we know Omar, Omar knows us, and I think it’ll be a pretty smooth transition.”
Though Khan is the Steelers’ first general manager without a background rooted in talent evaluation since the 1970s, he doesn’t anticipate much changing in the way he or the organization operates.
“I think it’s going to be an easy transition,” Khan said. “Coach T [Mike Tomlin] and I have had a great relationship over the last 16 years. We’ve trusted in each other on a lot of things. We’ve spent a lot of time together. It’s going to be a smooth transition.”
In hiring Khan, the Steelers went with both a familiar face and a new approach, marrying the past with the future.
“I’m confident time will show this was the right decision for this franchise,” Khan said. “I’m excited. I can tell you that I don’t take anything for granted. I understand the expectations that come with this job. I can assure everyone that the expectations that I set for myself are even greater.”
Khan, who was born in New Orleans, is the son of two immigrants. His mother was born in Honduras and his father is from India. After realizing that he wasn’t skilled enough to play football, he changed gears and made working in the NFL his dream, modeling his work ethic after his parents’.
“Today is as much for them as it is for me,” Khan said of his parents. “They’re also the ones that had to listen to an 8-, 9-, 10-, 12-, 14-year-old kid tell them that he didn’t want to be a lawyer, he didn’t want to be an engineer, he didn’t want to be a doctor, a teacher, a policeman, a fireman; all he wanted to do was work in the National Football League, become a general manager and win a bunch of Super Bowls.”
He got his start in the New Orleans Saints organization in player personnel roles for four seasons before joining the Steelers.
As the vice president of football and business administration, Khan has been the Steelers’ top negotiator and salary-cap whiz. He’ll maintain many of those responsibilities, and he’s also building a staff of front-office members who have strong scouting backgrounds.
Khan announced Friday he is hiring former Philadelphia Eagles vice president of player personnel Andy Weidl — a Pittsburgh-area ,man — and former Detroit Lions vice president of player personnel Sheldon White, and elevating Dan Colbert, previously a veteran college and pro scout to a senior-level position. Weidl will serve as assistant general manager, White will be the team’s director of pro scouting and Colbert will take over as director of college scouting.
Khan said because the situation is fluid, he doesn’t know if Kevin Colbert — who stepped down as GM after the draft will wind up on his staff. Brandon Hunt is headed to the Eagles to join their scouting department, sources close to the situation told ESPN’s Kimberley A. Martin.
“I’m confident in saying that I’ve touched every aspect of the football operations, obviously some more than others,” Khan said. “But I think every good leader understands his strengths and his weaknesses, neither of which I’m going to discuss here publicly, but I think every good leader surrounds himself with smart people that are going to help him succeed, and that’s my plan. “
Khan also said he’ll continue the longstanding policy of not negotiating contracts during the season, he said Friday, though he is open to infusing the organization with a fresh set of ideas.
“Anything that can help us improve or win football games, we’re going to look into and utilize,” Khan said. “I have some cool ideas I think I’m going to implement.”