Growing up in New Orleans, it didn’t take long for Omar Khan to realize that his path to the NFL wouldn’t come as a player.
“When I was running around that football field and I realized that I wasn’t as good an athlete as everyone else on that field, I better change my course,” Khan said. “Maybe not try to be Archie Manning but try to be Jim Finks.”
Thanks to that self-awareness, along with a lot of hard work and patience, Khan rose to the top of an organizational food chain this week when he was named general manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Khan, 45, was introduced at a press conference Friday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
After spending 26 years in the NFL and 21 with the Steelers, including the last five as vice president of football and business administration, Khan will get his first taste of running a franchise. It’s the culmination of a dream that began around the same time he realized that even though he didn’t have the skills to throw the ball like Manning, he could use his brain to become a longtime front office executive like Finks.
He credits his parents — immigrants who married and raised three children in New Orleans — with a strong work ethic and a willingness to let him pursue his dreams.
“They were the ones who had to listen to a kid of 8, 9, 10, 12, 14 tell them that he didn’t want to be a lawyer, didn’t want to be an engineer, I didn’t want to be a doctor, teacher, policeman or firefighter Khan said. “All he wanted to do was work in the National Football League, become general manager and win a bunch of Super Bowls.”
As the Steelers’ chief contract negotiator and salary cap expert, Khan has been on two championship teams, but a Lombardi trophy hasn’t been added to the trophy since the 2008 season. , Khan began the process of restructuring the front office, mainly in the personnel department.
Andy Weidl, a native of Mount Lebanon, was hired from the Philadelphia Eagles to become assistant general manager, a newly created title. Khan also added former Detroit Lions executive Sheldon White as director of professional scouting, a role previously held by Brandon Hunt. Former general manager Kevin Colbert’s role remains undetermined, but his son, Dan, has been promoted from scout to director of college scouting. Hunt reportedly left the Steelers to join the Philadelphia Eagles.
Khan lacks the scouting experience of his predecessor, but he said he plans to be involved in all phases of the Steelers operation.
“I am confident in saying that I have touched all aspects of football operations, some more than others,” Khan said. “Any good leader understands their strengths and weaknesses. … Every good leader surrounds themselves with people who are going to help them succeed, and that’s my plan.
Team chairman Art Rooney II selected Khan from an initial pool of 16 applicants that was narrowed down to six for a second round of interviews.
“Obviously we went with the guy that we know very well,” Rooney said. “I think it will be a very smooth transition.”
A graduate of Tulane, Khan worked with his hometown NFL team for five seasons and never considered leaving. A phone call from the Steelers in 2001 changed his outlook.
“An opportunity to work for the Rooneys, I wasn’t going to pass up,” Khan said.
During his two decades in Pittsburgh, Khan met and married his wife. He and Kristen Khan have two young daughters, and they were by his side at the press conference.
Admittedly, he has more yinzer than bayou in his blood these days.
“That’s where I want to be,” he said. “I’m a western Pennsylvania person.”
Khan has had a handful of interviews for general manager positions over the past decade. In hindsight, it worked in his favor that he didn’t land any of those vacancies.
“It’s the dream job for me,” he said. “It’s the one I always wanted, and it wasn’t available.”
Khan said his experience of interviews elsewhere had taught him patience while he waited for Rooney to make his decision. But that didn’t stop his emotions from boiling over when Rooney called Khan into his office earlier this week.
“I tried to control myself not to smile too much,” he said. “I was very, very – I was thrilled. It was a dream come true. In fact, I gave him a hug on the way out.
Khan broke the good news to Kristen and then to her parents. Son of a Honduran mother and an Indian father, he had realized the dream of his life. A first-generation American, Khan learned to love football from his father. Yet when he rattled off the names of his favorite Saints players, his father fired back with other big NFL names, including many from the Steelers.
“He used to tell me about this guy Joe Greene and Franco Harris,” he said. “It’s ironic that quickly I ended up in Pittsburgh because I heard about these guys – Lynn Swann – he liked big players and big teams.”
Now Khan will be tasked with building the next in Steelers history.
“I’m confident time will show this was the right decision for the franchise,” he said.