Ed Bouchette on then Steelers: A weekly look inside the team, the issues, the questions

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Hall of Fame needs to recast its thoughts about 'retirement' when it comes to immortalizing coaches

Center Dermontti Dawson had to wait five years after his retirement from the Steelers in 2000 before he became eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Bill Cowher will be eligible for next year's class.

There's something wrong with that. Why should a player have to wait five years but a coach is eligible the year after he "retires?" If anything, it should be reversed because when a player retires, it's almost always for good; when a coach "retires" you can expect to see him on the sideline again.

When Canton adopted the policy in the 1960s, it was felt once a coach retired, he was done. Players often unretired. Now that the reverse is happening, the Hall of Fame should reconsider the policy and make players and coaches wait five years after they retire.

Cowher won't be elected to the Hall of Fame anytime soon, even if he had won four Super Bowls in his 15 seasons with the Steelers instead of just one. Most of the 40 Hall of Fame selectors -- including me, the Pittsburgh representative -- won't consider a coaching candidate if we don't think he's finished coaching. And it's clear Cowher isn't done or he would have used the word "retire" at his own news conference and not his chosen word, "resign.''

Supporters of Bill Parcells, after he "retired" from the New York Jets, claimed he would never coach again. Parcells became a finalist for the Hall of Fame but did not get enough votes, probably because people like myself expected him to coach again. Of course, he did.

So did Joe Gibbs, who is in the rare position of being a Hall of Fame member coaching the Washington Redskins. Gibbs, who won three Super Bowls, came out of retirement after 12 years. Dick Vermeil is in his third retirement.

Voters do not want to elect a coach into the Hall of Fame if they think he'll coach again, for one reason above all else: If he returns to coach, his record could be so bad in his second coming that it would ruin his Hall of Fame resume. Parcells and Gibbs certainly did not enhance their records in their latest comebacks, and it could ultimately hurt Parcells' bid.

Let's say Cowher, who had a great regular-season winning percentage of .623 with the Steelers, returns to coach the Cleveland Browns next season for $8 million annually. Let's say the Browns continue along their path and, in three seasons, go 5-11, 6-10, 5-11 before, by mutual agreement, Cowher leaves. A year later, he's hired by the Washington Redskins and his teams go 8-8, 7-9 and Daniel Snyder then buys out the remaining two years of his contract for $20 million.

Cowher will have enhanced his bank account for sure, but not his Hall of Fame resume. Would winning one Super Bowl in 20 years of coaching trump the final six years of his career (including his last one with the Steelers)? Probably not.

On the other hand, Cowher could return and coach the Browns to their first Super Bowl appearance and victory, and virtually punch his Hall of Fame ticket. But that is why we'll all wait awhile before we seriously consider Cowher for the Hall of Fame.

Things that went unsaid that January afternoon

Two leftover observations from Bill Cowher's final news conference in Pittsburgh Jan. 5:

He did not recommend his two assistants, Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhunt, as his successor. Not only that, he practically advised the Steelers to look elsewhere for their next head coach.

"There are a lot of really good coaches out there,'' Cowher said in an almost identical way three different times.

Maybe Cowher did not want to endorse one of his assistants over the other, but he might have recommended both of them over candidates from the outside.

Cowher did not go out of his way to thank Steelers president Art Rooney the way he did others. He thanked "Art and Dan" at the beginning of his resignation, but never mentioned Art again even though he went on about any number of other people in the organization, including trainers and doctors. He also never shook Art's hand, at least not in front of the public at the news conference. He gave Dan Rooney a big hug.

It only added credence to the fact that Cowher grew cold toward Art Rooney near the end of the season and barely talked to him. Perhaps it had something to do with contract negotiations, since Art conducted them for the club. It might also have had something to do with a close associate of Cowher saying, "It didn't have to end

like this.''

Missed opportunities in the hunt for a coach

The Steelers blew an early opportunity in their coaching search to interview some other good assistant coaches in the NFL. It's not so much that they might hire one of them -- it says here Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhunt are by far the best two candidates -- but they might have learned some things by looking elsewhere.

What's wrong, for instance, with interviewing one of Bill Belichick's top lieutenants. Here's a coach who won three of four Super Bowls and two of his three assistants have spun off into pretty good head coaches at Notre Dame and the New York Jets. Might they not have obtained some information on the inner workings of the Patriots by interviewing Josh Mc- Daniels, their young offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach?

Perhaps if the coach they hire does not work out and they're looking for another coach in three or four years, McDaniels or someone else they interviewed this time might have left the kind of impression they would remember.

The last time the Steelers went looking for a head coach, they interviewed 12 or 13 men. This time, it was two on their own staff, two minorities and, for some reason, a late addition of Chan Gailey.

Bringing in Gailey at the last minute also raises an issue. Were they not impressed with the interviews of Whisenhunt and Grimm? Gailey, if he were one of their prime candidates, should have been on their first list rather than as an afterthought.



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