From the PG Archives: Steelers select Cowher

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This story from the Post-Gazette archives was first published on January 20, 1992.

Bill Cowher, 34, will be named the new head coach of the Steelers at a press conference tomorrow, becoming the second-youngest coach in the National Football League.

Cowher, a native of Crafton, was selected by Steelers President Dan Rooney yesterday over Baldwin native Dave Wannstedt, 39.

Cowher is the defensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs and is only two years older than David Shula, 32, who recently became coach of the Steelers' AFC Central Division-rival Cincinnati Bengals.

Rooney declined comment last night, and Cowher could not be reached at his home in Leawood, Kan. He and his wife, Kaye, spent the weekend here talking to the Steelers hierarchy and returned home yesterday.

Wannstedt, the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys, was informed yesterday of Rooney's decision, as was Kevin Gilbride, the offensive coordinator of the Houston Oilers. Gilbride was a finalist, but the decision came down to the other two.

"Like I told my wife, if I'm dreaming don't wake me up," Laird Cowher, Bill's father, said last night. "It's a hell of an honor for a young guy to come home and become coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. To think it could happen to a kid from Crafton is something out of a storybook."

He will suceed Chuck Noll, who retired Dec. 26 after 23 years and four Super Bowl championships. Noll was 37 when he became the Steelers' coach in 1969.

The Steelers interviewed a dozen coaches for the job, all but one of them assistants in the NFL. They cut that to four finalists, including Steelers defensive line coach Joe Greene.

But, in reality, it was down to Cowher and Wannstedt, who played at Pitt and began his coaching career there. Tom Donahoe, the Steelers' new director of football operations and himself a Pittsburgh native, led the search for a coach. Rooney, Donahoe and Rooney's son, Art II, met to pick the coach.

Rooney had favored Cowher for at least the past week, sources said, but allowed the process to continue as both candidates were evaluated. Rooney called both Cowher and Wannstedt Thursday night to speak with them again.

It was a dream job for both of them.

"That's the way it goes," Wannstedt said last night from Dallas. "I was excited about the opportunity but, as I said before, I've got the best assistant-coaching job in the NFL, and I'm looking forward to taking greater strides in Dallas.

"I respect Mr. Rooney's decision and wish the Steelers and Bill Cowher the best. I know Bill, and he's a class guy."

Rooney had said it would be unfair to say the Steelers were searching for another Noll, but Cowher's background is similar to Noll's. Both were considered overachievers as NFL players, both retired at an early age to begin their coaching careers in the NFL, both coached for two NFL teams before they became the Steelers' head coach at a young age and both played for the Cleveland Browns.

Cowher is a Carlynton High School graduate who was a starting linebacker for three years at North Carolina State.

He played five years in the NFL with Cleveland and Philadelphia before a knee injury and an offer to become the Browns' special teams coach prompted him to retire as a player.

He went straight into coaching under Marty Schottenheimer at Cleveland as special teams coach in 1985. He became secondary coach in 1987 and moved with Schottenheimer to Kansas City in 1989, where he was named defensive coordinator.

The Browns thought so highly of him last year that he was a finalist for their coaching job before they picked Bill Belichick.

Schottenheimer, a Canonsburg native, has been among Cowher's biggest boosters.

"I think he's extremely bright, well organized, highly motivated, an excellent teacher and very demanding," Schottenheimer said in an interview last week. "There are no free lunches where he's concerned.

"It would be a great situation for Bill to come home and coach. We all cut our teeth on the Steelers."

Cowher has said he would have no problem putting together a coaching staff, even though he has never coach for anyone else but Schottenheimer. He may keep two Steelers assistants, Dick Hoak and George Stewart.

Ted Tollner has been mentioned by Cowher as a possibility for offensive coordinator. Tollner, a former head coach at Southern Cal, was assistant head coach of the San Diego Chargers before he was fired after the opening game of the 1991 season, a loss to the Steelers in Three Rivers Stadium.

"I think he can put together a pretty good staff," Schottenheimer said. "I know him; he'll have his hands in the middle of everything. He knows what he wants to do and he'll do a fine job.

"Nobody knows if a guy will be a good head coach or not until he does it, but this guy's got the qualities you look for."

Gilbride felt his experience operating the run-and-shoot passing offense hurt him.

"I think they were a little afraid of what I might do with the offense," he said. "So they decided to go with a more conservative approach, which they will get with Bill."

William Laird Cowher was born May 8, 1957, here. He and his wife have three daughters, Meagan Lyn, Lauren Marie and Lindsay Morgan. Kaye Cowher, a North Carolina native, was an honorable mention All-American basketball player at North Carolina State. She played for the New York Stars in the fledgling Women's Professional Basketball League. Cowher's parents, Laird (also known as Bill to his friends) and Dorothy, live in Crafton and have two other sons, Dale, 40, and Doug, 33.


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