Looking relaxed and sounding like a man comfortable with his decision, Bill Cowher said today he is resigning after 15 seasons as head coach of the Steelers because of his desire to spend more time with his family.
Cowher, 49, made the announcement today at a news conference at the team's UPMC South Side facility, joined by his wife, Kaye, and flanked by team chairman Dan Rooney and president Art Rooney II.
"I've given this a lot of thought and it's in the best interest of my family and myself at this time," Cowher said. "I'll be honest, I'm looking forward to it."
Standing in the room where he held his weekly televised news conference and facing more than 70 members of the media, Cowher said he will not coach in the National Football League in 2007 and said there was no timetable when, or even if, he will return to the sidelines as a head coach.
"There is no timetable or plan for that," Cowher said. "The only thing I'm looking forward to is spending time with my family. And I'm really looking forward to that."
Cowher went through a checklist of people he wanted to thank, starting with San Diego Chargers Coach Marty Schottenheimer, who gave him his start in coaching in Cleveland; and including Dan Rooney, the players and coaches with whom he worked with the Steelers, and director of football operations Kevin Colbert, whom he joked, "officially today gets the No. 1 ranking in racquetball [among the organization]."
But Cowher, a Crafton native who attended Carlynton High School, saved his most heart-felt thanks to the people in Pittsburgh and Steelers fans all across the country.
"You are second to none," Cowher said. "I'm part of you. You can take the people out of Pittsburgh, but you can't take the Pittsburgh out of me. I'm one of you." Then with a smile, he added, "Yinz know what I mean."
Cowher had one year remaining on a contract that paid him between $4.5 million and $4.7 million. He leaves behind a legacy that includes 10 playoff appearances, eight division titles, six appearances in the AFC Championship game and -- his biggest prize of all -- a fifth Super Bowl title in franchise history.
"I want to thank Bill for 15 great years," said Art Rooney II. "It's been a great ride. I want to thank Bill and Kaye for having their family be a part of ours."
After Dan Rooney spoke about the coach he hired in 1992 to replace Chuck Noll, he turned and presented Cowher with a miniature replica of the Super Bowl trophy.
"After the Super Bowl you gave me the trophy," the elder Rooney said. "I wish you will accept this trophy."
Cowher then hugged Rooney.
"Coaching in the NFL and winning the Super Bowl have been a lifelong dream for me," Cowher said. "To realize that in the city where I was born and raised, this Crafton boy lived a dream. You don't know how special that was to me."
Those who know Cowher wonder how long he will stay in "retirement" because he is an intense competitor who loves to coach. When his contract with the Steelers expires after 2007, he will be free to sign with another team, without compensation to the Steelers, and likely will attract offers that make him the highest-paid coach in the NFL.
Seattle's Mike Holmgren is believed to be the league's highest-paid coach, making $7 million this season and $8 million in 2007.
The Steelers immediately will begin the search to find his successor.
Cowher's decision does not come as a surprise because speculation about his future has existed since it was learned in March that he and his wife had purchased a $2.5 million home in Raleigh. The speculation was fueled more when the Steelers announced during training camp they would discontinue negotiations and would not discuss a contract extension with Cowher until after the season -- a discussion that never had to take place.
Cowher's wife and youngest daughter, Lindsay, have been living in Raleigh since late summer because their daughter wanted to play basketball in North Carolina this year. Like he did with his other two daughters, Meagan and Lauren, who are enrolled at Princeton, Cowher has a desire to spend as much time as possible with Lindsay, 15, while she is in high school.
Sometime after the Steelers won Super Bowl XL, Cowher revealed to some in the organization he was entertaining thoughts of retiring. But those sentiments were heightened when he turned down a contract extension he was offered by team president Art Rooney II, a deal that apparently would have paid Cowher between $6 million and $6.5 million annually in the final years of the contract, according to several people with knowledge of the situation.
Nearly three years ago, Cowher talked about coaching nearly forever. He said he didn't even want to think about stepping down at least until Lindsay graduated from high school. But, he changed his mind quickly in the past year or two.
Cowher, perhaps let on more of his growing feeling about resigning at the NFL meetings in Orlando, Fla., in March.
Asked how long he might coach, Cowher said he wasn't sure. "We tried to just take it one year at a time, and I think at the end of each year you have to sit back and reassess where you are and just make sure you still have the passion for doing it. That's the most important thing.
"You want to be fair to the football team to make sure I can make the fullest commitment to giving everything I have."
Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Bill Cowher talks about his decision to resign as coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers at a press conference today.