Former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher, left, and special teams coach Kevin Spencer during a 2002 Steelers training camp session at St. Vincent's College in Latrobe.
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Kevin Spencer likely will become the first Steelers assistant coach to join the new staff of Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona after the Steelers gave the Cardinals permission to talk to their special teams coach.
At the same time, the Steelers denied Whisenhunt's request to talk to two other assistants, wide receivers coach Bruce Arians and linebackers coach Keith Butler.
Spencer, 53, has coached the Steelers special teams since 2002 and was selected as the NFL's special teams coach of the year in 2003 in a vote by his peers.
All of the Steelers' remaining assistant coaches are under contract through at least 2007 and are tied to them until they are released.
If Russ Grimm, the Steelers' offensive line coach and assistant head coach, becomes the next head coach he likely will keep many from the current staff. Even if one of the other two finalists for the job, defensive coordinators Mike Tomlin of the Vikings and Ron Rivera of the Bears, are hired, some of the assistants could stay.
Arians likely would become the next offensive coordinator under Grimm. He also could get that job if either of the two defensive coaches becomes the head coach.
Spencer coached 16 years in the NFL with the Browns, Raiders and Colts before the Steelers. It's possible Whisenhunt will hire him to coach a position in Arizona rather than special teams. Besides special teams, Spencer was an assistant linebackers coach for a year in Oakland and spent another year there as a defensive assistant.
The Steelers paused yesterday in their search for a new head coach after the second round of interviews with Tomlin on Tuesday and Grimm on Wednesday. They could be excused if they root for the Chicago Bears to lose to the New Orleans Saints in the NFC championship game Sunday. If the Bears lose, Rivera could be interviewed Monday in Pittsburgh. If the Bears win, the Steelers would have to wait until Feb. 5 to interview him for the job.
Whisenhunt, speaking on Fox GameTime Live, endorsed Grimm for the Steelers' job, although he said he had no insight into who would be hired.
"Well, I know it's not me. I really don't know. I went through that process and I respect the Steelers and respect the Rooneys. They've hired two coaches in 38 years, so the process they go through works, and I know they have some good candidates. If you're asking me who I hope gets it, I hope Russ Grimm because he's a good football coach."
With the impending loss of Spencer to the Cardinals, the Steelers would have four current openings on their staff -- coaches of the special teams, running backs, offensive coordinator and head coach.
What's left of the staff is headed for Mobile, Ala., where Senior Bowl practices start Monday.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .