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  1. #1
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    Steelers expect Cowher to quit, management looking at replacements

    Steelers expect Cowher to quit
    Team management puts together a list of head-coaching candidates for when the 15-year veteran retires, as they think he'll do after today
    Sunday, December 31, 2006
    By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Steelers management has compiled a list of head coaching candidates when, as they expect, Bill Cowher steps down after he concludes his 15th season on the job in Cincinnati today.

    Although Mr. Cowher, 49, said last Tuesday that it would not be long before he makes an announcement clearing up his plans, no press conference is scheduled and none may occur this week in Pittsburgh, at least not with Mr. Cowher present.

    Mr. Cowher plans to meet with his players at the team's UPMC complex on the South Side Tuesday and then leave for his new home in Raleigh, N.C., where his wife, Kaye, and youngest daughter, Lindsay, a high school sophomore, have lived most of the past year.

    He has not informed his players or his coaching staff of his plans. Steelers chairman Dan Rooney and his son, team president Art Rooney II, have not commented on the situation.

    The Rooneys would join Kevin Colbert, the director of football operations, in heading a coaching search, the team's first since 1992. At that time, the Steelers interviewed about a dozen candidates for the job, including current Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt, one of two finalists for the position that Mr. Cowher landed after longtime coach Chuck Noll retired.

    Two members of Mr. Cowher's offensive staff are considered the prime candidates to take his place: Russ Grimm, the assistant head coach and line coach, and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. The Steelers also want to interview outside candidates, including University of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, an Upper St. Clair native. The NFL requires each team to interview a minority coach -- called the Rooney Rule because Dan Rooney proposed it -- and the Steelers will do that.

    If and when Mr. Cowher quits, the team expects to move quickly to replace him.

    Mr. Cowher has one year left on a contract that pays him an estimated $4 million to $5 million a year. Talks to extend his deal broke off in August. If he steps down, he could not coach elsewhere until 2008.

    Sources on both sides have told the Post-Gazette that more than one issue has led Mr. Cowher to this crossroads in his career. Part of it is money. The Steelers offered Mr. Cowher between $6 million and $6.5 million annually near the end of a contract extension. That's an amount Mr. Cowher may consider below market for a coach with his record, especially since that salary would not kick in for another three or four years.

    The coach he beat in the Super Bowl last February, Seattle's Mike Holmgren, earns an estimated $8 million to $10 million a year, and Washington's Joe Gibbs earns anywhere from a reported $5 million to $7 million annually.

    There are personal issues, too. Mr. Cowher said at a recent press conference that he was not tired of coaching and he was not "burned out." However, he told at least one associate more than a year ago that he was tired of the coaching grind and might retire soon. It was then, in the fall of 2005, that he and his wife purchased their 7,400-square foot, $2.5 million home in Raleigh.

    Both Mr. Cowher, a Crafton native, and his wife graduated from North Carolina State University and were star athletes there. Kaye Cowher is from North Carolina and the couple have many friends and family in the area.

    Mr. Cowher admitted recently that he thought of retiring after the Steelers won the Super Bowl in February.

    When Kaye and Lindsay Cowher moved to Raleigh, and Lindsay enrolled in a private school there speculation increased that this would be Mr. Cowher's final season here. The Cowhers' other two daughters, both now at Princeton University and stars on the school's basketball team, graduated from Fox Chapel Area High School.

    Asked last summer why Mr. Cowher would send his wife and daughter to Raleigh while he coached the Steelers in Pittsburgh, a close associate of his said the question included a misused word: "send," the implication being it was not Mr. Cowher's decision to have his wife and daughter move to North Carolina.

    Steelers believe time is short

    Whatever the reason for the move, it seemed an untenable situation. Further evidence came when contract extension talks broke off in August. Mr. Cowher has never entered the final two years of a contract -- he's always been given an extension before it came to that point. That they were negotiating meant Mr. Cowher entertained thoughts last summer of extending his stay as Steelers coach, lending credence to the idea that the money just wasn't enough to convince him to do so.

    Art Rooney II said in August that he hoped talks would resume when the 2006 season ended. But as the season approached its final weeks, Mr. Cowher mentioned he had a decision to make on his future and he would take time after the season to consider his options, saying it would not be a "knee-jerk" decision.

    "It will be something I will need to get away from and give some serious thought to and I will do that -- at the right time," Mr. Cowher said.

    The Steelers do not believe they have that kind of time to wait. Both Mr. Whisenhunt and Mr. Grimm could be prime candidates for head coaching jobs elsewhere this week, and with the Steelers not in the playoffs, they are permitted to talk to other teams. Coaches of teams in the playoffs can be interviewed once but not hired until after they are eliminated.

    Octagon Financial Services president Phil de Picciotto, Mr. Cowher's agent, began calling the Steelers several weeks ago, and while the sides eventually talked, nothing was accomplished. Mr. De Picciotto was out of town, a secretary in his McLean, Va., office said, and unavailable this past week.

    Besides money, the sides could not agree on the coach's obligations to be in Pittsburgh in the off-season. Mr. Cowher wanted to spend more time in Raleigh and that was not something Steelers management felt would work. Some were surprised, for example, when Mr. Cowher took time off this past year during preparations for the draft. He has spent time in Raleigh at least three times during the season -- once after the Thursday night season opener in early September, once during a bye week in late September and again after their second Thursday night game in early December.

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  2. #2
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    Re: Steelers expect Cowher to quit, management looking at replacements

    I hope Cowher stays. He has been a great coach for the Steelers and I will miss his scowl.

  3. #3
    Nick's Avatar
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    Re: Steelers expect Cowher to quit, management looking at replacements

    I agree. He's a great personality for the league, and he's been there so long it's hard to imagine someone else coaching that team but maybe that has something to do with the fact that they've only had two different head coaches since the late 60's.
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