Ron Cook: Money is the root of Cowher's decision
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Can you blame Bill Cowher?
Can you blame him if he wants more money?
Isn't that the American way?
Money has to be the primary reason Cowher is on the verge of leaving the Steelers after 15 seasons. It's a bit hard to believe family concerns are the main issue. Cowher's wife and youngest daughter didn't have to move to the family's $2.5 million dream home in North Carolina last summer. He could have spent a lot more time with them this season if they had stayed in Fox Chapel.
But so what if it's about the money?
There's absolutely nothing wrong with that in Cowher's case.
Cowher said a couple of telling things after the Steelers' 23-17 overtime win Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals that made it pretty clear his uncertain future here is the result of a money issue. He went out of his way to say he's not burned out after so many years in his high-profile, high-pressure job and that he didn't need to step away, even briefly, from the game. He also said he needed to talk to "some people" before making a final decision about quitting the Steelers. Sure, he'll hash it out with his wife and daughter. Of course, he will. But he'll also talk this week with Steelers owner Dan Rooney and his son, Art II. You bet he'll talk to them.
Without coming out and saying it Sunday, Cowher made it seem obvious that he'll give the Rooneys one final chance to meet his price.
Hey, there's no harm in asking, is there?
Certainly, Cowher has the leverage to do it even if he's under contract to the Steelers for next season. He knows if he sits out the year that he can come back in 2008 as a much-coveted free agent. Considering his track record, more than one NFL team will rush to pay him the kind of money he wants, somewhere in the $8 million-a-year range that Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren makes, which is significantly more than the $6 million-to-$6.5 million-a-year deal the Steelers are believed to have offered.
Tell the truth.
You'd go for it, too.
Some, of course, will argue that Cowher owes the Steelers better than that.
I beg to differ.
Yes, the Rooneys are the best owners in sports. Any coach would love working for them. It's no accident they've had just two head coaches in 38 years.
It's also true the Steelers gave Cowher his big break, hiring him in 1992 when he was a young, little-known defensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs. They were patient with him when he failed to win a Super Bowl for so long, losing four AFC championship games at home and Super Bowl XXX after the 1995 season. More significant, they stuck with him after his teams went 7-9, 6-10 and 9-7 and failed to make the playoffs from 1998-2000. A lot of other NFL owners -- maybe all of them -- would have fired him.
But Cowher also has been good for the Steelers. No, this season didn't go the way anyone would have liked -- 8-8 and no playoffs -- but Cowher is far from the No. 1 villain there. The Steelers turned the ball over 37 times. Cowher was responsible for one -- the Ricardo Colclough fumbled punt return in the first game against the Bengals. It's not as if he threw 23 interceptions the way Ben Roethlisberger did.
Even taking this disappointing season into account, Cowher's work was largely terrific. His teams averaged 10 wins a year for 15 seasons, the best winning percentage in the NFL during that period. They won eight division titles and two AFC championships. And there was that win in Super Bowl XL after the 2005 season.
I'm not entirely convinced Cowher would be playing the same contract hardball if he hadn't won that championship for Dan Rooney. When asked after the win in Denver in the AFC championship game last season what it would mean to him to give Rooney the Vince Lombardi Trophy, he gushed, "Nothing would make me more satisfied. Nothing drives me more."
In Cowher's mind, he has to believe he has repaid his debt to the Steelers.
That doesn't mean the Rooneys should be blamed if they don't give in and pay Cowher what he wants. They have a right to run their business the way they see fit. One of the big reasons they've been so successful is that they don't panic in any situation and overpay anyone. Beyond that, they have a right to be concerned about Cowher's focus with his family in Raleigh. The guess here is they'll find another good coach.
Cowher shouldn't be blamed if he leaves.
His debt to the Steelers, to the Rooneys and to Pittsburgh really has been paid in full.
First Published January 2, 2007 12:00 am