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Steelers Keep Their Head (Coaches)

Stability a tribute to Cowher

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Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and get your ticket for the annual NFL head-coaching carousel.

It's an event which most of us black-and-gold-clad fans are too young to have ever seen close up.

What typically happens is this: A team suffers through a terrible season or two, fires its head coach and starts looking around for replacements.

You can almost always count on one or two of the perennial bottom-dwelling sad sacks to be in this mix. This year is no different: Detroit and New Orleans (wherever they end up playing) are searching for a coaching balm to cure their woes. And this year, they are again looking to Pittsburgh.

I think the NFL should compel the franchises to do their hiring and firing all on one day, like the draft. It could be televised, and hosted by somebody really obnoxious, like Larry David. Or Drew Rosenhaus. Short of that, we can always watch Steelers coaches be lured away. Bill Cowher may not have a Lombardi in his closet like New England coach Bill Belichick, but every time he's had a little success, his team is raided faster than you can spell "Kimo Von Oelhoffen." It's hard to imagine any other head coach having his staff pillaged so consistently. The Patriots, by contrast, won three Super Bowls in four years before it occurred to anybody to interview coordinators Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis.

Since Bill Cowher has been coach, his staff has been raided again and again. Some of the highlights: DC Dom Capers (Carolina and Houston); DC Dick LeBeau (Cincinnati and back again); OC Chan Gailey (Dallas); DC Jim Haslett (New Orleans); LB coach Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati via Baltimore); and OC Mike Mularkey (Buffalo). Of those, only Lewis has had any appreciable success. Last week, Mike Mularkey resigned from his job with the Bills, walking away with $3 million left on his contract. According to agent Mike Brown, Mularkey had philosophical differences with the Buffalo organization; he felt it lacked integrity. Interesting.

This year, Cowher has given offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and offensive line coach/assistant head coach Russ Grimm permission to interview for any of the six available NFL head-coaching jobs.

Grimm is mentioned as a leading candidate for the Detroit Lions job. Why he'd want it is a mystery. First, he'd have to answer to incompetent GM Matt Millen. Second, he'd be working for a franchise that's been woeful since the Eisenhower era. And third, he'd have to live in Detroit. Moreover, the Lions have been through six coaches in the past 14 years. In that time, they've been to the playoffs six times, with four of those appearances coming under the leadership of Wayne Fontes.

New Orleans has been steadier than one might expect, particularly with parasol-waving used-car huckster Tom Benson in the owner's box. Still, in the past 14 years, the franchise has been through four coaches and gone to the playoffs exactly once. The Katrina tragedy aside, is there a bigger train wreck in professional sports than the New Orleans Saints?

Conversely, what happens in Pittsburgh is this: Chuck Noll pops his head into Dan Rooney's office and says simply, "It's time." The Rooneys interview and settle on Bill Cowher as his replacement. Fifteen years pass.

Perhaps Bill Cowher's a better head coach than we sometimes give him credit for. Maybe head coaching has more to do with philosophy and steadiness than X's and O's. It's possible that being able to break down game film is not the most important job of a head coach. If it were, wouldn't Dom Capers have had more success? Being able to best utilize the talents of those around you may be the most important thing a coach can do, and the Steelers' head coaches (only two in my lifetime) do that with aplomb.

Most importantly, Cowher's tenure speaks to the ownership's certitude that the Steelers will be regulars in the post-season, even with the continuing migration of players and coaches. Like it or not, the Rooney family sets the tone. If you're one of those fans who longs to see a different face on the Steelers sidelines, you may consider moving … to Detroit, or Buffalo.

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