PITTSBURGH (Jan. 5, 2007) -- Bill Cowher resigned as the Pittsburgh Steelers' coach, stepping aside to spend more time with his family one year after winning the Super Bowl title he had chased since 1992.
The 49-year-old Cowher left with one year left on his contract following an 8-8 season that was a disappointment, especially after last season: The Steelers became the first team to win three playoff games on the road and then the Super Bowl as a sixth-seeded AFC team.
"History will look back on Bill Cowher as one of the great coaches of all time," Steelers chairman Dan Rooney said.
The Steelers will begin a coaching search immediately to replace the departing Cowher, who called Rooney on Jan. 4 to inform him of his decision.
Cowher, one of the NFL's most recognizable faces and successful coaches, has weighed resigning since shortly after the Steelers finally won the Super Bowl in February.
One of the NFL's rarest events now will occur -- a Steelers coaching search. They have had only two coaches since 1969, when they still were playing in Pitt Stadium: Chuck Noll (23 seasons) and Cowher. The Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts have had 15 coaches during that time.
Cowher has talked of wanting to spend more time with his family, especially now that they are living in a new home in Raleigh, N.C., where he and wife Kaye attended North Carolina State. Cowher's two oldest daughters are at Princeton and the youngest has 2½ years of high school remaining, time Cowher apparently doesn't want to spend away from her.
While Cowher is resigning, there is no indication he is retiring from pro football. He said he is not weary of coaching or dealing with players.
"Do I looked burned out?" Cowher asked at a recent news conference.
Cowher, who led the Steelers to the playoffs 10 times, the AFC title game six times and the Super Bowl twice, met with Rooney and team president Art Rooney II on Jan. 4 and asked for several days to weigh his future plans following an 8-8 season. There was an understanding a decision would be made quickly because the Steelers don't want any top candidates accepting other jobs before talking to them.
Two strong contenders to replace Cowher -- Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and offensive line coach Russ Grimm -- already are in place and are interviewing with other teams. Whisenhunt met Jan. 4 with the Atlanta Falcons.
The team will interview at least one minority candidate, possibly more -- Dan Rooney himself led the NFL to adopt rules that minorities would be considered for league openings. The Steelers also are expected to talk with several candidates outside the organization, even though several players are lobbying for Grimm or Whisenhunt to get the job.
There have been numerous signs pointing to Cowher's departure, beginning when he told the team last spring he was uncertain of his plans past this season. Contract extension talks last summer did not progress past the preliminary stage.
Also, his season-ending meetings with his players, which often last hours and hours, were much shorter and more emotional than usual. No players were seen in the Steelers' complex past mid-afternoon and Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca said it was obvious Cowher looked ready to leave. Joey Porter said he almost cried.
The Steelers gave Cowher the option of returning next season and completing his current contract, but that arrangement probably wouldn't have satisfied either side.
Cowher, if he coaches again, has signaled he wants to be one of the league's highest-paid coaches. His current $4 million-plus salary is about half that of Mike Holmgren, whose Seahawks lost to the Steelers in the Super Bowl last season. The Steelers have given no indication they are willing to pay any coach an $8 million salary.
Cowher is the NFL's longest-tenured coach with his current team; Tennessee's Jeff Fisher, with 13 seasons, is second. Cowher, a former Pittsburgh-area high school player, is third among active coaches in regular-season victories with a 149-90-1 record, and fourth overall with a 161-99-1 record counting postseason games.
When Cowher was hired in January 1992 at age 34, he said his only goal was to put a fifth Super Bowl trophy inside the Steelers' trophy case at Three Rivers Stadium. It took him 14 years and two Steelers stadiums to do so, but he finally managed it.
If he wants to return to a sideline immediately, with another team and at a much higher salary, that team would have to work out compensation with the Steelers because Cowher is under contract for 2007. But several players said they were certain that if Cowher didn't coach the Steelers next season, he would not coach any team.