Published: Saturday, January 6, 2007
Cowher's decision was good
No one likes to see an era come to an end, but Bill Cowher's resignation as Pittsburgh Steelers coach is a good thing for the team and the future Hall of Fame coach.
At Friday's press conference announcing the resignation, Cowher said his decision is what's best for his family at this time. There's no reason to doubt him.
The Steelers have had a glorious run under Cowher eight division titles in 15 seasons, six AFC Championship games, two Super Bowl appearances and one for the thumb.
But when a Super Bowl champion returns with a 2-6 start, clearly something isn't right. And that's why a change is what's best for one of the NFL's most successful franchises of the past 35 years.
No matter how much he denies it, the Cowher who coached the Steelers after the Feb. 5 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL was not the same passionate, fiery leader who was the face (specifically the chin) of a hardnosed team since 1992.
Lost some fire
A perfect example of the calmer Cowher was how easily top draft pick Santonio Holmes escaped his wrath until the eighth game of the season. As a punt and kick returner, Holmes showed lapses in good judgment early in the season, particularly by fielding punts inside the 10 yard line.
The Cowher of old would have been in the face of the prima donna and laid down the law. But Cowher took no action against Holmes until he fumbled a kickoff on Nov. 5 that led to the Broncos taking a 14-0 lead early in the first quarter of a 31-20 loss.
Cowher temporarily benched the former Ohio State star on returns. Eventually Holmes started making key plays, especially on offense as a wide receiver.
Why did it take two months to remind the rookie who's the boss?
Poor start cost
The Steelers' start contained one loss too many. The Steelers went 6-2 in the final half but lost twice to Baltimore and missed the playoffs by one game.
Cowher's worst decision came when he started quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Oct. 29 against the lowly Raiders in Oakland.
It was a must-win game for the then 2-4 Steelers and they blew it. Roethlisberger, who already had suffered multiple facial injuries during a June motorcycle accident and a Labor Day weekend emergency appendectomy, was knocked out of the Oct. 22 overtime loss to the Falcons in Atlanta with a concussion.
Common sense said the third-year quarterback needed a break. Backup quarterback Charlie Batch had played well filling in for Roethlisberger in the opening win over the Dolphins and in Atlanta.
But the Steelers started Roethlisberger, who was intercepted four times. Two were returned for touchdowns in the 20-13 loss.
Cowher defended the decision to go with Roethlisberger because the team's medical staff proclaimed the third-year quarterback fit to play. As the father of three athletes, he should have know better. The injuries Roethlisberger had suffered had taken their toll.
a team effort
Failure to reach the postseason was a team effort. The magic of last January's playoff run that produced three road wins has evaporated. It's time to shake things up.
Before Feb. 5, the knock on Cowher was his 1-4 record in AFC Championship games, all played in Pittsburgh.
But to be fair, three of the teams that beat the Steelers (the Broncos in 1998 and the Patriots in 2002 and 2005) went on to win the Super Bowl. And only Bill Belichick's Patriots two seasons ago were the favorite in the grand finale.
If Cowher's heart isn't in it, it's best he takes time off. At 49, there's plenty of coaching years in him if he chooses.
Will he coach again before his youngest goes off to college? Who knows?
Was money an issue? Cowher and the Steelers say no.
So for only the third time since 1969, the Steelers are in the market for a head coach. The franchise will be blessed to find one half as successful as Bill Cowher.
Tom Williams is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read his blogs at Vindy.com.