SAN DIEGO (AP) – There aren’t many friendships in the NFL quite like the one between Marty Schottenheimer and Bill Cowher.

They grew up in small towns outside of Pittsburgh and both were NFL linebackers, although Cowher was better known for his special teams play and Schottenheimer often jokingly refers to himself as having been a “practice player.”

Cowher played for the Cleveland Browns from 1980-82 when Schottenheimer was an assistant coach. He was an assistant for seven seasons under Schottenheimer at Cleveland and Kansas City before becoming Pittsburgh’s head coach in 1992.

They usually talk by phone once a week.

On Monday night, they tried to beat each other when Cowher’s Steelers visited Schottenheimer’s San Diego Chargers.

“When we get the opportunity to compete against each other, there’s something special in that,” Schottenheimer said. “We’re determined, both of us, to do whatever we have to do to win.”

Maybe that means Cowher jutting his famous jaw a little more. Or Schottenheimer getting extra emotional as he spews cliches to fire up his players before the game.

Cowher has the better record in head-to-head matchups, 4-2 overall, including an overtime playoff loss to Kansas City following the 1993 season.

Schottenheimer has the better story to tell about his friend.

“When he was our special teams coach in Cleveland, on kickoffs he’d start down there by where it’s being kicked off, and when the players start to run toward the ball, he’d start running, and I don’t know how many officials he knocked down on the sideline until they finally came to me and said, We’re going to fine you if you don’t get him the heck out of there,’ ” Schottenheimer said. “It was a safety issue as much as anything.

“He’s a great competitor. I have great regard for him. He’s a dear friend.”

Cowher’s intensity and persistence paid off after he followed Schottenheimer to Kansas City in 1989.

Schottenheimer had two candidates in mind for defensive coordinator. Every day, Cowher would tell him: “Coach, if you can’t get those guys, I can be your coordinator. I can do this.”

“And I was thinking, Oh yeah, right,’ ” Schottenheimer said.

“And ultimately, those two guys were not available for one reason or another, so I’m thinking, Oh, man, here’s a guy who’s never done this before and I’m going to make him my defensive coordinator?’ So I slept on it for a day or so and finally I said, All right, this will work. I’ll be there and I’ll be able to kind of back him up.

“And as it turned out, he didn’t need me, and he just did a terrific, terrific job.”

Between them, they have 34 seasons of NFL head coaching experience and have taken 21 teams to the playoffs.

“Given the fact he’s the only guy I have ever worked for, a lot of who I am and how we do things and what I believe in comes from Marty,” Cowher said. “Having worked for him, I have so much respect for Marty.”

Cowher has seen change in his mentor over the years.

“Marty has gone to some different teams and we talk about how we do certain things like meetings and practice schedules,” Cower said. “I was telling him one time about how we practice. I told him what we do and he said, That’s a pretty good idea!’ I told him, I learned that from you.'”

“He’s coached in a lot of different places and tinkered with a lot of different ideas, but I’ve kept the same practice format that I learned from him for 14 years here,” Cowher said. “I guess he’s gone the full cycle. He’s always been very open-minded. He’s receptive to change.”

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