Cowher's long-term coaching plans unclear
'I'm just taking it year to year'
Friday, June 09, 2006
Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
There is a growing feeling inside the Steelers organization that Bill Cowher may coach one more season or, at most two, and then retire to the $2.5 million home he and his wife bought in Raleigh, N.C., this year.
That sentiment was underscored yesterday with Cowher's answer to a question about whether this might be his final season coaching the Steelers.
"I'm just taking it year to year," he said, reiterating words he first spoke at the NFL meetings in March.
His brief comment came during a press conference yesterday to mark the end of the Steelers' spring workouts. Cowher declined, through a spokesman, to speak further about his future.
That answer conflicts with one he gave two years ago in March just before negotiations began that extended his contract through the 2007 season.
"I have a seventh-grader," he said then, "and I know for at least the next five years, if not longer, I plan on coaching."
His youngest daughter, Lindsay, reportedly left Fox Chapel High School to enroll as a sophomore in the fall in a school near Raleigh, where she will play basketball.
Talks between Cowher's agent, Phil de Picciotto, and Steelers President Art Rooney II have been ongoing to extend the coach's contract, something that has always been accomplished when he has had two seasons left on his deal. It's possible no deal will be struck before the regular season begins and if not, Rooney said talks would then stop until the season ends.
"There's always a chance," Rooney said yesterday. "As you know, he has two years left on his contract. No one's sitting here saying we have to absolutely have something done this year. We can always continue the conversation next year."
Rooney declined to reveal the progress of talks.
"The only thing I can say is we've had some conversations and I expect to have more. The important thing is that Bill's focus is entirely on the challenge of the 2006 football season and that's where it should be."
Asked if he thought this might be Cowher's final season coaching the Steelers, Rooney paused before saying he did not.
"I hate to speculate about things like that, but I would say I would be surprised if this were his last year. I'm sure he's given it some thought at some point about how long he wants to coach. He's at the 15-year mark and that's a long time in this league."
Some members of the organization believe Cowher's decision could hinge on how the 2006 season turns out, but he expressed his desire to possibly retire to at least one person last fall.
Cowher, 49, told an associate not connected with the team last October that he was growing tired of the grind of coaching professional football and might soon retire. It was about the time that he and Mrs. Cowher picked out their new home in North Raleigh, near where his wife grew up. When news of their purchase of the 7,400-square foot home broke in March, it stunned most in the organization. The Cowhers also own a summer home on Bald Head Island, N.C., and the first home they bought when the Steelers hired him in 1992, in Fox Chapel.
There was at least one television report that Mrs. Cowher and Lindsay would move to Raleigh and that Cowher would "commute" when he could, a difficult task for an NFL coach during a season that includes seven-day work weeks from late July to, in the Steelers' case this year when they won the Super Bowl, early February. Cowher's eldest daughter Meagan will be a sophomore at Princeton University and his middle daughter Lauren is enrolled there as a freshman and will play basketball.
Before the Steelers won the Super Bowl, Cowher said it was the one void in his coaching career that he had yet to fulfill. He is the longest-tenured coach in the league with one team. His record of 141-82-1 in the regular season ranks third among active coaches in victories and 14th in NFL history.
"We would hope that he continues to coach for a good while," Rooney said.
If he does retire in the next year or two, assistant head coach Russ Grimm or offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt would be strong candidates to succeed him. Both have been candidates for head coaching jobs in the NFL.
Other successful coaches have retired at early ages, although many later returned. Dick Vermeil retired after seven seasons as Eagles coach at age 46, only to return to coaching 15 years later in 1997. Bill Parcells left the New York Giants at age 49 after winning two Super Bowls, returned three years later to coach the Patriots and Jets for seven seasons and retired again after the 1999 season. He came out of retirement once more in 2003 to coach the Cowboys, where he enters his fourth season. Joe Gibbs retired after the 1992 season at age 52 after coaching the Redskins to three Super Bowl victories and returned to coach them in 2004, after he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Cowher could coach another season or two, "retire" for a few years and, if he wanted, be in high demand as a coaching candidate in his mid-50s.
Asked yesterday what he might do in retirement, Cowher said, "That's a good question. I wouldn't be able to talk to you guys. I'd miss you guys. That's why I'm still here."
Two years ago he said that he loved competing and that he would miss coaching. "Besides that, I'm not sure what I would do with myself. It's something that I love to do . . . I don't foresee taking a break anytime soon, to be honest with you."
He said in March 2004 that when his youngest daughter became a senior and only he and his wife were left at home, "maybe at that point what I need to do is sit back and reassess where I'm at."
That evaluation seems to have begun earlier.