I've previously done previews for Rob Chudzinski and Marty Mornhinweg, but their previews were met with resistance because many prefer an experienced coach. Given the recent comments made by Bill Cowher, I figured this would be a great time to discuss him.
Bill Cowher was a linebacker and captain at North Carolina State when he graduated with a degree in education in 1979. He signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent that same year. In 1980, he signed with the Cleveland Browns where he spent three years. The Browns traded him back to the Eagles in 1983 and he spent his final two seasons there, primarily serving on special teams. During Cowher's career, he was best known for ending a young player's career prematurely due to an ankle injury. Coincidentally enough, that young player happened to be former Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher.
Cowher started his coaching career with the Cleveland Browns in 1985 under Marty Schottenheimer. He served two years as a special teams coach before being promoted to secondary coach. He served two more years in the same position and then followed Schottenheimer to the Kansas City Chiefs in 1989 to serve as defensive coordinator.
Cowher was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 21, 1992 and succeeded Pittsburgh legend Chuck Noll. The Steelers were coming off a 7-9 season and made the playoffs only once in seven seasons prior to Cowher's arrival. In Cowher's first season, Pittsburgh went 11-5 and earned home field advantage. The Steelers defense ranked 2nd in the NFL, up from 22, in Cowher's first season under the direction of Dom Capers. Pittsburgh went to the postseason in each of Cowher's first six seasons and in 1995, at age 38, he became the youngest coach to lead his team to the Super Bowl.
In Cowher's 15 years in Pittsburgh, he won 8 division titles, 10 postseason berths, 2 AFC Championships, and 1 Super Bowl. He's coached 21 postseason games and played in the AFC Championship six times. Think about that number for a moment. Six AFC Championship games in 15 seasons. Cowher has played in the AFC Championship game in 40% of his seasons. That is an outstanding number.
The common perception is Cowher is a defensive oriented coach and prefers a power run game. While Cowher does love tough and great defenses, he's done a very good job on the offensive side as well. Cowher's offense has ranked in the top half of the NFL in 11 of 15 seasons and has been in the top 10 in 6 seasons. Cowher has used a power run game for plenty of seasons, but that is what you do with Jerome Bettis. Cowher has also had many years where his offense threw the ball over 50% of the time, including unleashing Pittsburgh's pass heavy offense when Ben Roethlisberger entered his third season. Cowher also brought in home run threats like Willie Parker and Santonio Holmes, breaking the mantra of power RBs complimented by possession WRs. On top of a successful offense, Pittsburgh's defense ranked in the top ten 10 times in Cowher's 15 years.
Besides the misconception of Cowher's style of coaching, he's not perceived as a QB friendly coach. Consider the following before you judge how Cowher works with his QBs. Neil O'Donnell and Roethlisberger both earned Pro Bowl berths in only their second season. Kordell Stewart, O'Donnell, and Roethlisberger all went to the Pro Bowl as Cowher's QBs. Cowher has sent three QBs to the Pro Bowl over his 15 year tenure. That is more Pro Bowl QBs than Miami has in their history.
Beyond Cowher's success in assembling teams and winning, he has quietly put together a heck of a staff throughout his career. Cowher immediately hired Dom Capers as his defensive coordinator in 1992 when he arrived, providing Capers his first chance as defensive coordinator. Capers was so successful he was hired by the Carolina Panthers as their head coach in 1995 and also earned another head coach position for the Houston Texans. Capers serves today as defensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers. To replace Capers, Cowher promoted Dick LeBeau from secondary coach to defensive coordinator. LeBeau went on to earn a head coach position with the Cincinnati Bengals before he returned to Pittsburgh as their defensive coordinator, a position he still serves in today. To replace LeBeau, Cowher hired Jim Haslett who served as defensive coordinator for three years before being hired by the New Orleans Saints for their head coach position. Other notable coaches to serve under Cowher include Marvin Lewis, Kevin Gilbride, Mike Mularkey, Chan Gailey, and Ken Whisenhunt.
Among a successful coaching tree, Bill Cowher worked in tandem with Kevin Colbert since 2000 when Colbert was hired as the Steelers' GM. Cowher and Colbert had a very good relationship and was one of the best, if not the best, teams at assembling rosters. Prior to Colbert being hired as GM, he served as an advance scout for the Miami Dolphins. That stings a little, doesn't it?
Some think Cowher is of the "old" coaching tree and is outdated in today's NFL, but people seem to forget many of his former staff still serve in the NFL and would readily return to him if he came back. Cowher coached in today's NFL and is familiar with today's game. The coordinators he'd bring in/back are also familiar with the game and won't be outdated coaches like Dan Henning. Coaching is only half of Cowher's success. Assembling a great front office and coaching staff is the other half of his success.
Cowher may be the hottest commodity on the coaching market, but his latest comments have saddened many around the country. Cowher's comments shouldn't be taken as gospel, especially because it was brought up to dispel rumors about him being contacted by Miami and other clubs. Among the gray area in Cowher's comments, he said he wasn't "planning" on coaching in 2012 and said "as of today," meaning there is always wiggle room to change his mind. Cowher has a deep respect for coaches and doesn't want to interfere with speculation, a thing he's been fighting since he retired after 2006. Cowher saying he doesn't plan on coaching in 2012 is like Landry Jones saying he's not planning to enter the 2012 NFL Draft. Why won't Jones say that? Because it is a distraction. Cowher is simply playing the politically correct game, but teams should and will still contact him in January. Could he return to CBS? Yes, absolutely. Don't be shocked though to see him on the sidelines next year with a pair of headsets on though.
Finally, many people like to point out that a coach has never won a Super Bowl with two teams. A total of 28 coaches have won at least one Super Bowl. Mike Ditka, George Seifert, Jimmy Johnson, Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, Dick Vermeil are the only six coaches to have coached another team after winning a Super Bowl. Seifert served three years with the Panthers, Ditka served three years with the Saints, and Shanahan currently coaches the Washington Redskins. Jimmy Johnson coached the Dolphins for four years Coaches have only had 11 opportunities to win multiple Super Bowls with four of the six coaches mentioned above. That's not exactly a huge number given that we're talking from 1967 until today and there are 32 teams now fighting for the Super Bowl. Holmgren and Parcells, the other two coaches, have both taken a second team to a Super Bowl. Instead of thinking no coach has ever won with two teams, just think that 33% of them have taken their second team to the Super Bowl. That's better than where Miami is at today, right?