Ridiculous as it might seem, here are some things to consider about why replacing Tony Sparano with Bill Cowher might not be the tonic to slake our thirst for a Super Bowl a lot of people seem to think it could be. My own opinion is we should keep Sparano, but I’m probably beyond help. Consider the following and feel free to weigh in.
(This is a Dan Henning - free post. I'm assuming for the purposes of this discussion he's not coming back.)
First the Tale of the Tape:
Bill (Iron Jaw) Cowher
Tony (Shades) Sparano
Born: May 8, 1957 – (53)
Born: Oct 7, 1961 – (49)
· University of New Haven 1984–1987
· Boston University 1988
· Boston University 1989–1993
· New Haven 1994–1998
· Cleveland Browns 1999
· Washington Redskins 2001
· Jacksonville Jaguars 2002
· Dallas Cowboys 2003–2007
· Miami Dolphins 2008
Win Loss 149-90-1
Winning % .623
Win Loss 25-21
Winning % .571
· 11-5 record in first year as head coach. Tied record for greatest single season turn around in NFL history.
· 0-1 playoff record
· 25-22 overall record
The arguments for hiring Cowher include: he’s a proven winner, he’s taken teams to the Super Bowl and won, he has won a lot over a long period of time; he’s a "name" coach.
The most obvious Bill Cowher question is: Will he come?
As Matty and others have pointed out - we're operating on "sources close-to" so it's not a given that he will coach next year.
From Cowher’s perspective Miami is apparently one of the three (four) teams he’d consider, at least according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen:
Reasons he might:
· Marquee franchise with an owner who has demonstrated a willingness to fund a winner. (That’s not always a plus when you consider that both Dallas and Washington fall into that category.)
· Roster has a lot of young talent, especially on defence.
· The Dolphins are essentially built to be the same kind of team his Steelers were – blue collar, ground oriented, and physical. He would not have to "rebuild the culture" as much as jump start it.
· Working as a studio analyst is becoming less of a challenge after four years and he’s looking for something to get his legendary blood pressure going again.
· His wife, Kaye, died of skin cancer this summer and the youngest of his three daughters is off at university (albeit just down the road at Elon University in NC where she is a sophomore) He’s home alone for the first time this fall.
· He’s made it clear a return would have to be on his terms. If Ross was prepared to meet his terms then, obviously he’d be able to tailor the job to suit.
· Although an AFC team, the Dolphins are not an obvious rival of the Steelers…one suspects it would be harder to accept a job in Cincinnati, Oakland or even Dallas.
Reasons he might not:
· No franchise QB. After years of magic acts with Neil O’Donnell, Mike Tomczak, Kordell Stewart, and Tommy Maddox he finally landed Ben Roethlisberger. He’s proven he can win without a franchise QB, but given the choice why would he want to?
· Cowher coached his entire career for the same ownership. He’s used to stability, patience and loyalty…three things that firing Sparano to create a job for him would not demonstrate. After going 11-5 in 1997 and losing to Denver in the AFC championship game, Cowher went 7-9, 6-10 and 9-7 the next three seasons, missing the playoffs all three years. The Rooneys stuck by him and he rewarded them with four winning seasons, four trips to the playoffs and a Super Bowl over the next six years. Sparano’s current record is significantly better than Cowher’s was from 1998-2000; if Ross fires him he’s demonstrating he’s not likely to be as patient as the Rooneys were.
· He might not want to coach in a theme park (although Sparano probably doesn’t either). Celebrity appearances at Three Rivers Stadium were limited to ex-Steelers like Mean Joe Green, Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann…and maybe Mario Lemeaux..not recording artists and tennis players.
· Apparently he retired at the urging of his wife and they moved to NC so they could finally spend time as a family. By all reports this is exactly what happened. (I can’t imagine being Lindsay Cowher’s high school bb coach and seeing him in the stands every game.) Lindsay plays basketball for Elon and he might want to spend the next two years close to her.
Reasons I’d oppose hiring Cowher.
Speculation 101 Course Calendar
As much as it might seem like a step forward bringing in a new head coach is almost always a step back. Hiring Cowher likely means Ireland is out along with Sparano…possibly Nolan as well? And while they might no longer be in the building Ross will have to pay them – He’s still paying Parcells BTW.
Armando Salguero’s column Tuesday -Wise player moves -- not new coach, GM -- needed for Miami Dolphins – makes an awful lot of sense to me. In short he’s suggesting ditching Sparano will cost both time and money in the Miami’s quest for a return to greatness.
In the piece Salguero estimates replacing Sparano and Ireland with Cowher and a new GM would cost about $18 to $20 million….sure it’s Ross’s money but that’s $20 million that won’t go to a free agent – Logan Mankins - or a first round quarterback in the draft. It’s widely held that Parcells went Long and not Ryan in 2008 because he knew they could sign Long. $20 million would be much better spend on Jake Locker or Ryan Mallette than on two people no longer in the building.
This is interesting. Did you know that: If Bill Cowher were to sign on and lead the Phish to a Super Bowl win, he would become the first coach in NFL history to win a Super Bowl with two different teams? None of the 26 men who have won a Super Bowl have ever managed to do it again with a different team.
In fact only Bill Parcells (Giants– Patriots) and Mike Holmgren (Packers– Seahawks) have even managed to get a second team to the Super Bowl after they won one. Don Shula (Colts– Dolphins) and Dick Vermeil (Eagles– Rams) have lost a Super Bowl and then returned with another team to win won. Only Dan Reeves has managed to take two different teams to the Super Bowl without winning either.
Further, of the 46 men who have coached in a Super Bowl 40 of them were coaching the NFL team that gave them their first shot at being a head coach…from Vince Lombardi and Hank Stram to Sean Payton and Jim Caldwell.
History, from a purely statistical stand point, actually favours Sparano over Cowher.
This is not the AFC central/AFC North. It’s the AFC East. Cowher has 149 regular season wins. 40 of them came vs. the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals. Cowher was .582 against the rest of the league. Against the contenders in his division – the Houston/Tennessee Oilers/Titans and the Baltimore Ravens Cowher was 23-19 (.547)
Interestingly Sparano is 4-2 vs. Buffalo, but also 4-2 vs. The Jets and 2-3 vs. the Pats with one game to come.
4: Human Resources
Two words – Dick LeBeau.
While Cowher is renowned as a defensive coach, most of the Steeler’s defensive dominance (and their Super Bowl win) occurred while LeBeau was DC. Interestingly the slump in Cowher’s record from 1997- 2000 occurred when LeBeau left for Cincinnati. Would Cowher be able to convince LeBeau to leave Pittsburgh? Unlikely as he’s won another Super Bowl with Mike Tomlin and is a cult hero there. Another coach probably unavailable to Cowher is his old OC Ken Whisenhunt. So while we might land Cowher, we won’t get the same staff he had in Pittsburgh.
Sparano doesn’t deserve to be fired.
If we use Cowher as an exampleof what we want, rather than actually being what we want, Sparano deserves the same chance Cowher got in Pittsburgh. In a way Sparano is the victim of 2008. If his record read 7-9, 8-8, 11-5 they’d be naming a street after him….but 11-5, 7-9 – 8-8 (7-9, 9-7?) has the peasants firing up the torches and sharpening the pitchforks. What we really need is not Bill Cowher, but the Rooney family – an ownership that’s prepared to stand by a coach through thick and thin and let him develop. Is Ross capable of doing that? If he hires Cowher now the answer is no.
6: Home Economics
Sparano is a younger, less experienced version of….well, Bill Cowher. They’re both blue-collar hard-working, no-nonsense, emotional "players’ coaches." Cowher and Sparano have the same overall philosophy, attitude and approach. Would the team really improve when the new coach is "more of the same?"
All of the factors above combine to suggest we have a better chance of improving if we retain Sparano, Ireland and Nolan than if we replace them with Cowher and two other yet to-be named people.
One final note: Sparano has one year left on his contract. If Cowher doesn't return to the sidelines in 2011 then I suspect next year will either be Sparano's last or the one that sets him up for a long-term deal.