The Steelers will travel to Chicago to interview Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera this weekend, then turn their attention to candidates in their own house to replace Bill Cowher as head coach.
Two Steelers offensive assistants, coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm, line coach and assistant head coach, are at the top of the list of candidates. The Steelers will interview Grimm Monday and Whisenhunt Tuesday. They are the only candidates on the Steelers' staff, said team president Art Rooney II.
"I think our existing coaches and the fact that we feel that we have a good staff could be considered positives in their regard," Rooney said.
Whisenhunt and Grimm also are candidates elsewhere. Whisenhunt interviewed yesterday for the Arizona Cardinals' head-coaching job, after he interviewed Thursday for the Atlanta Falcons' job. He will interview with the Miami Dolphins today. Grimm also will interview for the Cardinals' job.
That could complicate matters for them and the Steelers, who prefer to go through a process in which they interview a number of candidates for the job and not rush to pick someone.
"As I stand here today, we have to go through our process," Rooney said, "and, if something happens and we can't move that quickly, we'll just have to live with that. As time goes on, that may become more relevant."
Art Rooney, his father Dan, the team's chairman, and Kevin Colbert, the club's director of football operations, will interview candidates.Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
With Bill Cowher's departure, Art, left, and Dan Rooney will get a chance to search for a new coach for the first time in 38 years.
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Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette talks to online sports editor Dan Gigler:
Finding a successor for Cowher, and remembering "The Jaw"
Steelers president Art Rooney II talks to the media about the coaching search:
"My dad and I will certainly make the final decision," Art Rooney said.
It's not a process often traversed by the Steelers, and for Colbert it's a first. The two Rooneys were involved in picking Cowher from a list of about a dozen candidates in 1992. Their previous search occurred 38 years ago when Chuck Noll was hired. Back then, Art Rooney was a teenage ball boy for the team and his dad conducted virtually a one-man show.
It took about three weeks for the Steelers to hire Cowher after Noll retired Dec. 26, 1991. Rooney would not say how long it might take this time.
"Our only goal is to find the best person for the job. The timetable will simply relate to when we feel that we have reached that goal."
Rivera, 44, will be the first coach interviewed. Because the Chicago Bears have a bye through the first weekend of the playoffs, it's the only chance the Steelers or anyone else can interview him until the Bears' playoff run ends. They could not hire him until after that playoff run is over.
Rivera's defense ranked fifth in the NFL this season and No. 2 in 2005.
The Steelers must interview at least one minority candidate -- called the Rooney Rule because Dan Rooney is the one who pushed for it. Rivera, who is Hispanic, qualifies as a minority and he may not be the only one interviewed. Another possibility is Indianapolis Colts assistant head coach Jim Caldwell, who turns 52 Jan. 16. Caldwell, a former Penn State assistant, can't be interviewed until the Colts play today in the first round of the playoffs.
Another obvious candidate the Steelers have on their list is Kirk Ferentz, the head coach at the University of Iowa since the 1999 season. He is a graduate of Upper St. Clair High School. Ferentz, 51, has turned down other opportunities to talk about NFL coaching vacancies. He coached six years in the league. There has been speculation that he would leave Iowa for one of only two jobs -- coaching the Steelers or coaching Penn State.
As of yesterday, the Steelers had not requested permission from Iowa officials to talk to Ferentz, but they may soon do so.
"We are still in the process of forming the list and investigating people that we would like to have on the list," Art Rooney said. "It will be an ongoing process."
Rooney virtually uttered the same words his father said when they began the coaching search 15 years ago that landed Cowher: They're not looking for a savior because they don't believe they need to be saved.
"I think we said to Bill at the time and Bill agreed coming in, we have a good core group of players and we can win right away," Art Rooney said. "We're in a similar situation this time."
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org