With the Steelers off to their worst start in the past 45 years, Bill Cowher will look over Mike Tomlin's shoulder Sunday when they play the New York Jets.
The Steelers no longer are must-see TV at 0-4, but, with their former coach in the CBS broadcast booth commenting on possibly a fifth loss, that could provide more entertainment than what the Steelers have produced on the football field this season.
Might Cowher need to be a little sensitive because of the situation?
"There's no need to be sensitive about anything," Cowher said in an interview Wednesday from New York. "Mike's a proven coach, he's very good at what he does. I have great respect for him and great respect for that organization.
"I'm a professional doing what I do. I love it, it's challenging. I'm going to be objective. I'll call it like it see it. I'll give a perspective from a guy who coached the game before."
Cowher and three other analysts on CBS' "The NFL Today" will leave the studio and join broadcasts on site where their former teams are playing. Cowher will join Jim Nantz and Phil Simms to work the Steelers-Jets. Former Cincinnati quarterback Boomer Esiason will broadcast the Bengals-Buffalo Bills game, and former Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe will do the Broncos-Jacksonville Jaguars.
The other two studio hosts, though, are not in the unique position Cowher finds himself -- as the previous, successful coach of the now-winless Steelers, whose current coach has become more embattled because of it.
"It was like, OK, we're going to do this, three of us are going out," Cowher said of the network's decision to try something different. "And then you look at this game, it's like, wow, suddenly the Jets these last couple of weeks look very impressive. This game takes on a pretty significant meaning for both these football teams in terms of how the rest of the season turns out."
Steelers fans won't have to wait until Sunday to hear some of Cowher's opinions. He offered a few early thoughts Wednesday.
Cowher's 2000 team lost its first three games -- after going through two losing seasons in 1998 and 1999 -- so he knows what Tomlin and his team might be going through.
"You listen to Ryan Clark talking about still making the playoffs, you have to think that way," Cowher said. "The one thing you don't want to do is get to a point where losing becomes a habit.
"When you're losing like that, the biggest thing to do is make sure your team doesn't lose confidence, that they still think they can go out there and win. Keep things real -- accountable, yes, but upbeat as well. You don't want to go out there and the first time something happens, say, 'Here we go again.'
"Go out, not carefree, but with a loose feeling, a confident feeling. Manufacture that mindset. Work off the positive."
Cowher's 2000 team rebounded to win nine of its final 13 games to go 9-7 and just missed making the playoffs. He believes the current Steelers have enough talent to turn this season around. He said he sees things on offense that are starting to click and on defense the need to create some turnovers and concentrate on the basics.
"You go back to fundamentals when things start to go awry," Cowher said. "Don't give up big plays on defense, don't turn it over on offense."
Attitude, though, will have a lot to do with whether they can pull it off.
"You dig a hole at 0-4, whatever the odds are against you, when people say you can't do something, that's the fuel you use to say, 'OK, we'll do it.'
No team had ever won a Super Bowl as the sixth playoff seed until Cowher's Steelers did it in the 2005 season.
"We said someone has to do it, someone has to be first, why can't we do it?" Cowher said, comparing that to the Steelers' odds to make the playoffs from their 0-4 start. "Embrace the process. Take it one step at a time, and everything else will take care of itself.''
Cowher noted the changes that Tomlin made in his lineup at offensive tackle and defensive end this week, saying "I think Mike's trying to push some buttons and make some changes and, hopefully, they show up on Sunday."
Cowher was never shy about making a change. He benched his starting quarterback, Jim Miller, after just the first half of the season opener in 1996 and replaced him with Mike Tomczak. In just the third game of the 2002 season, he benched quarterback Kordell Stewart, the team's MVP in 2001, in favor of Tommy Maddox.
"The biggest thing as a head coach, you want to make sure you exhaust every option," Cowher said. "You also have to consider the alternative. You can't make changes for the sense of making changes. But, if you have the potential to produce results, you don't want to wait too long. You don't want to wait too late in the season.
"I never wanted to sit back and say 'what if?' I would prefer to say I tried this, I tried that. Then, you could live with yourself."
Cowher does not believe lack of talent is an issue.
"I think they do have talent, it's getting the first win and going from there. It's tough, they dug a hole, and there is very little margin for error. Everyone else in their division is 3-2. But they have to think, get this win, they're still only two out and they have chance to play all those division teams again."
Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published October 9, 2013 11:51 AM