In the summer of 2010, my first book will be coming out in stores entitled “100 Things Every Steelers Fan Should Know Before They Die.” The book, which is being published by Triumph Books, will be in stores next Summer and will retail for $14.95. We will have ordering info through Amazon as soon as it becomes available.
In the meantime, through the offseason, we’ll give Steelers Gab readers a sneak peek of some chapters of the book. Today is chapter 6, which talks about the man better known as “The Chin” – that of course being former head coach Bill Cowher!. Enjoy!
It’s never easy replacing a legend, but if there’s one coach that pulled it off and did an excellent job of it, it was former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher. “The Jaw” stepped in for Chuck Noll in 1992, and lit a fire under the Steelers that burned for most of his 15 seasons as the face of the franchise. His dream was to bring a 5th Super Bowl to Pittsburgh, and while it took quite awhile to do it, he finally delivered on his promise on February 5th, 2006 when the Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 in Super Bowl XL.
Cowher was a hometown boy, born and raised in Crafton, PA. He was a very good football, basketball and track competitor in high school, and at North Carolina State he was a starting linebacker, and was the team captain and MVP in his senior season. His playing career saw him make the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent in 1979. The following season he moved to Cleveland, where he played for the Browns for three seasons from 1980 to 1982.
He then went back to Philly, finishing his career playing two more seasons with the Eagles in 1983 and 1984. While not the most talented player, Cowher played every play hard, just like he coached. After his career ended, he joined the Browns and their head coach Marty Schottenheimer as the teams special teams coach. His energy and fire could be seen as the Browns made it to the AFC Title game in 1986. Cowher was on the fast track to greatness himself, as he then was the Browns secondary coach and moved with Schottenheimer to Kansas City as their defensive coordinator in 1989.
The end of Noll’s coaching career neared in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and by the end of the 1991 season, he had decided it was time. The Steelers had become a very average to below average team in Noll’s final decade, making the playoffs just once in his last seven seasons as coach. The team needed a fresh start, and Cowher was the perfect fit.
When he was hired on January 21st, 1992, he spoke right away of winning, saying that he was determined to light a fire under a group of young, talented players. Problem was, not many in the media agreed with him. The Steelers had been hampered by poor drafts, and players that never lived up to their billing. Plus some just never responded to Noll’s old school style. Enter Cowher.
He was not afraid to put players on notice right away, cutting high draft choices like linebacker Huey Richardson, a linebacker who was simply too soft to garner the first round pick the team had used on him. He also proclaimed that the Steelers would be a team built on the run game, turning running back Barry Foster into a star by feeding him the ball 20-25 times a game.
He also went away from gun slinging quarterback Bubby Brister and went with the safer, less flashy quarterback in Neil O’Donnell. Cowher’s fingerprints were all over this team right away, and it showed as they went 3-0 to start his coaching tenure, and right away were contenders, going 11-5 in 1992 as Cowher was named the AP NFL Coach of the Year.
In each of his first six seasons, Cowher got his team to the playoffs, but only once, 1995, were they able to go the distance, reaching Super Bowl XXX before falling to the Cowboys 27-17. He was able to endure high profile players leaving year after year via free agency, and never lost that fire or push to want to make his team better.
Cowher fired up his players with emotion, something the city had not seen in years. When you talked about the Steelers in the 90’s and early 2000’s, it was Cowher’s team, no questions asked. He suffered the hard losses right along with the team, and nothing hurt more than when the team fell in home AFC Title games like in 94, 97, 01 and 04. The media labeled the coach and the team as chokers, not able to win the big game.
That all changed in 05, as the club turned a 7-5 record into a 11-5 mark and a 6th seed in the playoffs. They took to the road, winning in Cincinnati, upsetting the first seed Colts in Indy, and then dominating the Broncos in his first road AFC Championship game in Denver. Ten years after a tough 10-point loss to Dallas in Super Bowl XXX, Cowher and his road warriors finally brought the Lombardi trophy back to the Steel city as the club earned a hard fought 11-point win over the Seahawks.
Questions abound during the offseason after the Super Bowl about Cowher’s future. It was not a secret that he and his family were moving to North Carolina, and many took that as a for sure sign that he was going to step down as Steelers coach no matter what happened after the 2006 campaign.
Those that thought that, were right. Cowher’s club had a bad post Super Bowl hangover, as they started the 06 season 2-6, but then just like their coach, they fought to the end, and went 6-2 down the stretch, finishing the season 8-8. In his final game as coach, Cowher’s team knocked the Bengals out of the playoffs with a 23-17 overtime win.
Five days after the win, Cowher announced he was stepping down, saying his desire to spend more time with his family had finally gotten the best of him. Cowher wrapped up his career with an overall record of 161-99-1 (.619) including a 149-90-1 (.623) mark in the regular season. His record with the team ranks second only to Noll’s overall (209-156-1/.572) and regular season (193-148-1/.566) records. Cowher’s .623 regular season and .619 overall winning percentages are the highest in Steelers history.
Many felt that his walking away from the Steelers was just the start, and he would be back on a NFL sideline the following season. Instead, about a month after he walked away he inked a deal to be a studio analyst with CBS’ “The NFL Today.” His name still pops up when there’s a vacancy in the league, but for now, Cowher seems content talking about football each Sunday instead of coaching it.
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