The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.


                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.







A Legend Says Goodbye

By Jerry Keys

"It's not about the destination, it's about the journey"

In many ways, those words Bill Cowher spoke at his press conference on January 5th are true.  After 15 years as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, he chose to resign.  Cowher cited he wanted to spend time with his family who now reside in North Carolina. 

I have expressed my personal opinion in publications in the past.  I mentioned I do not like change, even if I know deep down it is for the best.  There have been only two head coaches in Pittsburgh since Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon.  Now the search begins for a third.

Comparing Cowher to his predecessor, Chuck Noll, would not be fair.  Over

Jerry Keys

23 seasons, Noll guided the Steelers to 12 playoff appearances (including the eight straight from 1972-79 that merited 4 Super Bowl victories) but only four in his last twelve years at the helm.  Cowher led Pittsburgh to 10 playoff appearances in 15 years.

Noll posted a 4-3 mark in AFC Championship Games (losing his first and last but winning four out of five in between) and Cowher was 2-4.  In all four losses, Pittsburgh was the host team and was heavily favored.

Due to the advent of free agency in the NFL, there is no precise way to compare the two coaches.  One could argue Noll would have never enjoyed the luxury of the ferocious defenses Pittsburgh had in the 1970's if free agency was in place.  As a counterpoint, would

Cowher have enjoyed more trips to the Super Bowl if free agency were not in place?

As coaches come and go in other NFL franchises, there have been only two for the Steelers in my lifetime.  The Rooney Family has owned the Steelers since it's inception in 1933 (bought for $2,500) and could not have

made better decisions in hiring head coaches in the last 38 years.

Cowher's successor will be Mike Tomlin.  Tomlin spent the '06 season as the Minnesota Vikings' defensive coordinator.  He spent the previous five years as the Tampa Bay Bucs' defensive backs coach.  The Steelers lost their former two frontrunners in the replacing of Cowher, Ken Whisenhunt (new head

coach of the Arizona Cardinals) and Russ Grimm (was hired by Whisenhunt to be the assistant head coach and offensive line coach in Arizona), and will be seeing some big changes as Tomlin installs his own system.

As saddening as it was for me to see Cowher resign, I could not help but wonder if his departure was over money.  Cowher's last two contract extensions came after losing seasons (the last brought sharp criticism from the media) and he was under contract for 2007.

There was wide speculation Cowher wanted a salary equivalent to Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren (around $8,000,000).  The final year of Cowher's contract was reported to pay him "between $4.5 million and $4.7 million".  Rumors circulated the Rooney Family offered him $6 million per, while he was asking for $8 million.

The most gripping report was from legendary

Pittsburgh sports writer Ed Bouchette, who stated Cowher told him "it didn't have to end this way", as quoted in Jerry Micco's column (in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).  Personally, I find that hard to believe; with Cowher being a Crafton native (located within walking distance of the old Three Rivers Stadium) but the power of money can do very strange things to people.

According to recent polls, two-thirds of the people polled believe Cowher will resurface as a head coach in 2008.  Seeing Cowher standing on the visiting end of Heinz Field, bring in a team hoping to defeat the Steelers is equivalent to seeing your recently divorced (ex) wife out to dinner with your best friend.  I have the utmost respect and admiration for Bill Cowher but I loved the Steelers years before he came aboard.

Maybe it was not about the money.  He possibly was truthful about being with his family for a while.  Wouldn't it be nice if he pulled a "Joe Gibbs" and returned to Pittsburgh after a dozen years away from the game?  Should we mark our calendars for 2018?  After all Bill "The Chin" Cowher did say "you

can take the people out of Pittsburgh, but you can't take the Pittsburgh out of the people".

In Cowher's defense, did anyone notice how "distant" he was towards Art Rooney (the kid, not Chief; the Steelers founder)?  Dan Rooney (Art's dad and the Chief's son) and Cowher embraced at the press conference.  Dan was the central figure in the hiring of him (and Noll).

Dan has slowly turned over the day-to-day operations of the Steelers to his son (Art, the kid).  Was there any animosity building up between the kid and Cowher?  Was he jealous of Dan and Bill's close personal relationship (Cowher was quoted as saying "75% of our talks were not about football")?  And did Art, the kid, want Cowher out so he could hire the next head coach so he could claim the accolades of the Steelers success being due to "his" genius?

With the advent of free agency, you will be hard pressed to find a coach who will:  1) Stay with an organization for 15 years; 2) Have a losing record in only 3 of those 15 years; and 3) Be the heart and soul of the city (Cowher Power).

Cowher did have a dismal AFC Championship Game record, yet he had to be doing something right to get there so many times.  Only twice (in his first two years at the helm, '92 and '93) did they enter the playoffs and lose their first game. What does this mean?

The final eight playoff appearances went as follows:  1 Super Bowl win, 1 Super Bowl loss (again, thanks Neil O'Donnell for the two interceptions gift-wrapped for Larry Brown), 4 AFC Championship Game losses, and 2 AFC Divisional losses.  Six of the seven losses were games they were either heavily favored in or games they should have/could have won easily (only the '96 loss to New England was lopsided, 28-3).

All this was done with mostly mediocre or sub-par talent at the QB position.  Don't hold your breath for Hall of Fame consideration for this group:  Bubby Brister, O'Donnell, Mike Tomczak, Kent Graham, Kordell Stewart, and Tommy Maddox.  The jury is still out on "Big Ben", who lost a few inches in stature after the '06 debacle. 

Maybe if the Steelers had drafted a QB in the later rounds and pulled off a "diamond in the rough" such as Mark Brunell (5th round, 1993) or Trent Green (8th round, 1993), they could have possibly won two or three more of those AFC Championship Games.  Maybe won a few more Super Bowls.

You can second-guess yourself silly.  Cowher was a one-of-a-kind coach who took the "Steeler Nation" from the Pennsylvania area westward to the Pacific Ocean.  His chin, his jaw, his flying spit (yes he spit but not intentional) was of legend.  Sorta reminiscent to an old Steeler vet, Jack Lambert.

My lasting memory of Cowher's intensity came in '97.  The Steelers were down 23-21 and preparing to kick the game-winning field goal.  The field goal was blocked and run back by Jacksonville for a touchdown.  While the Jacksonville player was sprinting down the sidelines, Cowher briefly appeared to be poised to tackle the player himself from the sidelines.

Thanks to your coaching ability, you kept me glued to the television set when Pittsburgh games were televised in the 1990's and glued to the Internet listening to the games via radio feed in the 2000's.  On every Sunday (minus bye weeks, Monday/Thursday/Saturday games), from 1:00 till 6:00, from September to January, it was "Cowher Time".  Thank you for the memories.  Good luck on your future endeavors.  And if you ever do return to the NFL (I know you will), please don't go to Cleveland, Cincinnati, or Baltimore.