PITTSBURGH (Jan. 4, 2007) -- Bill Cowher is returning to the Pittsburgh Steelers -- to say goodbye.
The Steelers will begin a coaching search Jan. 5 to replace the departing Cowher, a person familiar with Cowher's status said. Cowher called owner Dan Rooney to tell him of his decision, and the team announced a Jan. 5 news conference not long after that. Cowher is expected to attend.
The 49-year-old Cowher, one of the NFL's most recognizable faces and most successful coaches for 15 seasons, has weighed resigning since shortly after the Steelers finally won the Super Bowl last February following numerous near misses.
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 only 2½ years of high school remaining, time Cowher apparently doesn't want to spend away from her.
While Cowher would be resigning with one season left on his contract, there is no indication he would retire from pro football. He said recently he is not close to being burned out, and still likes coaching and dealing with players.
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. 2 and asked for several days to weigh his future plans. 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.
While the Steelers would have given Cowher until next week to make up his mind, he decided not to make them wait and called Dan Rooney today.
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. The team would interview at least one minority candidate, possibly more, and talk with several candidates outside the organization.
The Steelers were willing to give Cowher some time following a disappointing 8-8 season to get away from the team, but felt they couldn't wait much longer with the Falcons, Cardinals and Dolphins already seeking coaches. The Falcons interviewed Whisenhunt, and the Cardinals plan to interview Whisenhunt and Grimm.
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 Jan. 1 with his players, which often last hours and hours, were much shorter 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.
The Steelers gave Cowher the option of returning next season and completing his current contract, but that arrangement would probably not satisfy 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.
The Steelers also wouldn't welcome a lame-duck coaching situation because it would create a season-long distraction, and ongoing speculation about who Cowher's successor would be.
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.
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.
The Associated Press News Service
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