Bouchette on the Steelers: Bill Cowher's brief flirtation with Browns a peek into future?

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Can we just attach Bill Cowher's name to every NFL coaching job that is open, that comes open or would come open if he were to indicate an interest?

Has he bought that house on Long Island yet? In Denver? Detroit? And has he sold his house in Northeast Ohio, the one he was rumored for the past two months to have bought in preparation for his new job with the Cleveland Browns?

If Cowher were waiting for the perfect job, he'd be coaching the Denver Broncos next season with Tom Modrak as his director of player personnel. If that does not happen, there may not be a job in the league that ever interests him.

Denver is the perfect spot for the next coach. Not only is Mike Shanahan out but so is his boss, Mike Shanahan. It's a hotbed for pro football, it has a good owner in Pat Bowlen, it has a good quarterback in Jay Cutler, a decent team around him and the Broncos play in the softest division.

Perhaps Cowher told everyone the truth all along, that he is not ready to coach again. He has left one clue that he still has a hankering, however, when he met with Cleveland owner Randy Lerner in New York last Saturday night -- while Romeo Crennel still had one game to go as coach of the Browns.

Former assistants worth look

Teams searching for a head coach should have interest in two former Steelers assistants -- Russ Grimm and Mike Mularkey.

Grimm came as close as possible to being the Steelers' coach before the Rooneys picked Mike Tomlin. He has been the assistant head coach to Ken Whisenhunt the past two years and helped build the Arizona Cardinals into a division winner with a home playoff game for the first time in 60 years.

Grimm was not a candidate for any jobs last season, perhaps because teams wondered why the Steelers did not hire him. They were ready to, but Tomlin earned that job by a hair. That should not be held against Grimm. He'd be perfect for Cleveland.

Mularkey got off to a good start in Buffalo, and then owner Ralph Wilson lost his patience, fired Tom Donahoe as president and general manager and hired Marv Levy. Mularkey resigned, and took a job as an assistant with the Miami Dolphins the past two seasons.

He became Atlanta's offensive coordinator this season and helped turn quarterback Matt Ryan into the NFL rookie of the year.

... And current assistants worth a next step

I'll offer some candidates for the many coordinator positions that follow head-coaching openings ... at least they should be candidates.

John Mitchell either has been wrongly overlooked to be a defensive coordinator or he does not want to be one and prefers to coach the Steelers' defensive line as long as Dick Hoak coached their running backs. Since he was hired in 1994, Mitch consistently turned out some of the best 3-4 lines in the league. Bill Cowher never promoted him, but shortly after Mike Tomlin retained him on his staff, he gave him Russ Grimm's old title of assistant head coach.

Ray Horton, who joined the Steelers as Darren Perry's assistant in the secondary, has coached that group by himself the past two seasons, and they've improved immensely, even unheralded young players such as William Gay and a veteran like Tyrone Carter, who was available for nothing.

Kirby Wilson would make someone a good offensive coordinator. He's worked for four different NFL teams, the past two with the Steelers' running backs, and started coaching in college in 1985. Their ground game is down this season, mostly because No. 1 pick Rashard Mendenhall was knocked out for the season in the fourth game and Willie Parker missed five games, much of two others and not been the same because of two separate injuries. Mewelde Moore has blossomed under Wilson, and last year Parker was leading the NFL in rushing when he broke his leg in the 15th game.

One more Steelers employee, Doug Whaley, works in their personnel department. He is their pro scouting coordinator, a position held by such men as Tom Donahoe and Tom Modrak before him. Both rose to become president and/or general manager in the NFL. Whaley has that kind of talent, yet to my knowledge has never been interviewed by another team since he left Seattle as a scout to join the Steelers in 1997. Whaley, an Upper St. Clair native who played at Pitt and graduated with a degree in business/finance, worked one year as a Wall Street stockbroker before he became a scouting intern with the Steelers in 1995.

All four men are African-American, which brings us to another point. The Rooney Rule, after some initial misgivings in the league and some teams' early attempts to circumvent it, has been successful in not only helping the hiring of minority coaches but in getting interviews to worthy men and getting names out that otherwise might have been overlooked.

The NFL now needs a Rooney Rule II that would require club owners to interview minorities for the executive positions of president, general manager or director of football operations, and for offensive and defensive coordinators.

When did the meaning of comeback change?

Once upon a time, the Comeback Player of the Year would go to a player who overcame some kind of injury. That's why I voted for Steelers safety Ryan Clark, who lost his spleen and gall bladder in the middle of last season. The perfect candidate next year would be New England's Tom Brady.

But that's not what the award has become. The Associated Press Comeback Player went to Miami quarterback Chad Pennington the past week.

I would have considered Pennington as MVP before I thought of him as a Comeback candidate. You know what he came back from? He had such a poor 2007 season that the New York Jets released him in August. He earned the same award in 2006.

The formula to win that award is to stink one season and play well the next. Does that mean Brett Favre will be a candidate if he returns to play in 2009?

Ed Bouchette can be reached at .


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