PITTSBURGH — Omar Khan is not only the Steelers’ new general manager, but he’s also another sign of the growing diversity in the NFL front office ranks. When Khan was offered the position from Art Rooney, a job he called a “dream come true,” the first people he called were his wife and his parents to share the news.
“You know, first call was to my wife, Kristen,” Khan said during his Friday introductory press conference at the UPMC Sports Complex. “So obviously it was a lot of joy, just knowing that we’re here — I love it here. My wife is from western PA, my kids were born here. I’ve been here for 22 years. This is where I want to be. I’m a western PA person now. It still hasn’t necessarily hit me, but it’s been great. My parents were just thrilled. My dad and especially my dad, he’s been looking forward to this moment for a long time.”
Khan was thrilled to share the news with his wife and two daughters. And there was a special pride in telling his parents. As a first generation American, Khan was born to a diverse family of a mother born in Honduras and a father born in India who met in New Orleans, where Khan would grow up.
“I come from two amazing parents, my mom, my dad, both immigrants,” said Khan. “My mom is Hispanic, she’s from Honduras, my dad is Indian, both who have had the opportunity to live the American dream and have always done whatever they had to do to make sure my brother, my sister and I always had the resources necessary to succeed. To this day, they’re the two hardest working people I’ve ever met in my life.”
The Steelers have been an example of inclusion and diversity in the NFL, a league that has struggled to improve its efforts in diversity in hiring coaches and executives.
They were the first organization to hire a Black coach in Lowell Perry; on the cutting edge of recruiting prospects from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the 70s, the first team to hire Tony Dungy, the first Black head coach to win a Super Bowl; hired the second Black head coach to win a Super Bowl in Mike Tomlin, And became the endorsers of the Rooney Rule that sought diversity and inclusion in more league hiring practices.
Khan’s background makes him the Steelers’ first person of color to hold the position of general manager, and one of eight minority executives to hold a GM position in the NFL. He joins Andrew Berry of the Browns, Martin Mayhew of the Commanders, Chris Grier of the Dolphins, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah of the Vikings, Ryan Poles of the Bears, Terry Fontenot of the Falcons, and Brad Holmes of the Lions.
Steelers owner Art Rooney II did note in a February statement that the inclusion of minorities and women in NFL hiring practices for front office positions had improved. Part of that had stemmed from the increased reach of the Rooney Rule, which added that NFL teams had to interview at least two candidates who were either people of color and/or women whenever hiring new head coaches, coordinators or general managers.
“Yeah, I hope we get to the point where we’re not even having those — need to have those conversations,” Khan said when asked about NFL diversity efforts. “But I’m excited about what the league is doing and the initiatives, commissioner and Art and — there’s some really great things that they’re doing, and I think it’s headed in the right direction.”
For Khan, his love of football started long before his time with the Steelers. It began with his childhood fandom of the Saints, and sharing that love with his father.”
“My dad probably moved here I think it was late teens,” Khan recalled. “Don’t quote me on that. My mom I think was in her 20s and they met in New Orleans and eventually I came around. Football in this league, in this game has always been the bond that I had with my dad from early on. He taught me about the game. I grew up a die-hard Saints fan.”
“When I used to talk about Rickey Jackson and Pat Swilling, Sam Mills, Vaughan Johnson,” Khan continued. “He’d say let me teach you about this guy named Jack Ham and Jack Lambert, and I used to know everyone on the Saints team, and he used to tell me about this guy Joe Greene and Franco Harris. It’s kind of ironic that, fast forward, I ended up in Pittsburgh because I’ve been hearing about those guys — Lynn Swann — he loved great players and the great teams, and he knew all about them.”
Khan wanted a path to the NFL even in childhood. But he noted once he realized he wasn’t going to be a great athlete, he had to find another way. That dream went to being in an NFL front office. After starting with the Saints working in football operations in 1997, Khan became the Steelers’ football administration coordinator in 2001.
From there, he would rise through their front office ranks over the next two decades before becoming GM. It was the completion of a process he told his parents about even before he was a teenager.
“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 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.”
Khan has already built a legacy of being an important contributor to two a franchise for two decades while being part of two Super Bowl wins, three AFC Championships, 10 division titles, and 14 playoff appearances. But now, he gets to make his mark as a GM by taking over for Kevin Colbert in one of the NFL’s most storied franchises.