Cowher resigns; Steelers begin rare coach hunt

0

PITTSBURGH (AP) – Bill Cowher resigned as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ coach Friday, stepping aside to spend more time with his family one year after winning the Super Bowl title he had chased since 1992.

The 49-year-old Cowher left with one year left on his contract following an 8-8 season that was a disappointment, especially after last season: The Steelers became the first team to win three playoff games on the road and then win the Super Bowl as a sixth-seeded AFC team.

“History will look back on Bill Cowher as one of the great coaches of all time,” Steelers chairman Dan Rooney said.

The Steelers will begin a coaching search immediately to replace the departing Cowher, who called Rooney on Thursday to inform him of his decision. Cowher said he would willingly offer advice about his successor if the Rooney family wanted his opinion. Cowher, one of the NFL’s most recognizable faces and successful coaches, has weighed resigning since shortly after the Steelers finally won the Super Bowl in February. But he wouldn’t say Friday he is retiring – meaning he could return to an NFL sideline some day, though he wouldn’t discuss that at his final Steelers news conference.

“That makes you feel old,” Cowher said of the word retirement.

Before winning the Super Bowl, Cowher always said his one goal was to hand Rooney the Lombardi Trophy. Rooney returned the favor Friday, handing Cowher a miniature silver trophy at his going-away news conference.

One of the NFL’s rarest events now will occur – a Steelers coaching search. They have had only two coaches since 1969, when they still were playing in Pitt Stadium: Chuck Noll (23 seasons) and Cowher. The Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts have had 15 coaches during that time.

Cowher has talked of wanting to spend more time with his family, especially now that they are living in a new home in Raleigh, N.C., where he and wife Kaye attended North Carolina State. Cowher’s two oldest daughters are at Princeton and the youngest has 2 years of high school remaining, time Cowher apparently doesn’t want to spend away from her.

“I wish the Steelers nothing but the best, but I’ve given a lot of thought to this decision,” Cowher said. “To be honest, I’m looking forward to it, spending time with the family. … Working in a world that is so regimented and scheduled, the ability to sit back at my age and spend time with family and be a big part of their lives again really excites me.”

While Cowher is resigning, there is no indication he is retiring from pro football. He said he is not weary of coaching or dealing with players – a sign he might be back on an NFL sideline as early as 2008.

“I’m not burned out,” he said. “But there comes a time in your life – I’m healthy and happy, and I’ve been fortunate – when you’ve got to prioritize things. My family has made a lot of sacrifices for me, and I’m looking forward to being there for them.”

It’s the right time.”

Cowher, who led the Steelers to the playoffs 10 times, the AFC title game six times and the Super Bowl twice, said his most vivid memories are of the five AFC title games at home – even if four of them were losses during the 1994, 1997, 2001 and 2004 seasons.

“It’s what they do for a city,” said Cowher, remembering how his daughters dressed up for school as their favorite Steelers players before those games. “We’ve had some disappointments, and I feel bad about that. But that was the fuel that brought me back.”

Two strong contenders to replace Cowher – Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and offensive line coach Russ Grimm – already are interviewing with other teams. Whisenhunt met Thursday with the Atlanta Falcons and Friday with the Cardinals.

The team will interview at least one minority candidate, possibly more, Dan Rooney himself led the NFL to adopt rules that minorities would be considered for league openings. The Steelers also are expected to talk with several candidates outside the organization, even though several players are lobbying for Grimm or Whisenhunt to get the job.

There have been numerous signs pointing to Cowher’s departure, beginning when he told the team last spring he was uncertain of his plans past this season. Contract extension talks last summer did not progress past the preliminary stage, though Cowher emphasized Friday his decision wasn’t about money, though he didn’t sound entirely convincing.

The Steelers gave Cowher the option of returning next season and completing his current contract, but that arrangement probably wouldn’t have satisfied either side.

Cowher, if he coaches again, has signaled he wants to be one of the league’s highest-paid coaches. His current $4 million-plus salary is about half that of Mike Holmgren, whose Seahawks lost to the Steelers in the Super Bowl last season. The Steelers have given no indication they are willing to pay any coach an $8 million salary.

Cowher is the NFL’s longest-tenured coach with his current team; Tennessee’s Jeff Fisher, with 13 seasons, is second. Cowher, a former Pittsburgh-area high school player, is third among active coaches in regular-season victories with a 149-90-1 record, and fourth overall with a 161-99-1 record counting postseason games.

Advertisement
SHARE