NFL coaches, Cowher in Iraq
Bill Cowher, the former head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, poses with U.S. Air Force SRA Jonathan Echevarria at Forward Operating Base Warrior near Kirkuk, Iraq, Thursday.
Bill Cowher, the former head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, poses with U.S. Air Force SRA Jonathan Echevarria at Forward Operating Base Warrior near Kirkuk, Iraq, Thursday. Echevarria is flashing Cowher's Super Bowl ring at a USO appearance at Forward Operating Base Warrior near Kirkuk, Iraq, Thursday. Cowher is one of a team of NFL coaches, wearing the colors of the U.S. Army's First Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, are part of a week-long USO tour to bring troops a touch of home during the July 4th holiday.
U.S. Army CSM Larry Wilson (L) joins hands with NFL coaching legends (L-R) Jon Gruden (formerly Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders), Tom Coughlin (NY Giants), John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens), Jeff Fisher (Tennessee Titans) and former Steelers Coach Bill Cowher prior to a USO appearance at Forward Operating Base Warrior near Kirkuk, Iraq, Thursday.
Former Pittsburgh Steeler head coach Bill Cowher poses for a photo as dozens of U.S. troops gather during a USO appearance at Forward Operating Base Maraz in Mosul, Iraq, Thurday.
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The soldiers expressed their gratitude over and over to the NFL coaches who made the trip to Iraq.
"They kept thanking us," said the Tennessee Titans' Jeff Fisher. "We kept thanking them."
Fisher, the New York Giants' Tom Coughlin, the Baltimore Ravens' John Harbaugh, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden are taking part in the first NFL-USO coaches tour over the Fourth of July weekend.
A world they knew only through the distant glimpses on news reports turned very real for the coaches as they met with hundreds of soldiers in three cities in a long first day Thursday. In a phone interview from Baghdad, Cowher recalled talking to military members on their second or third deployment who described how much the bombs and casualties have decreased from several years ago.
The coaches wanted to know about the troops' lives; the soldiers wanted to know about their favorite NFL teams. The coaches began the day meeting for about an hour with Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. They all talked about the similarities between football and the military.
"The whole concept is about trying to build a team based on trust, camaraderie, sacrifice," Cowher said. "They can identify with our game."
Fisher was impressed by soldiers asking about some of the Titans' backups and wondering how the draft picks are doing. He signed one servicewoman's Mother's Day present from her husband: a Titans jersey with the name "Mom" and the No. 1.
There were so many Terrible Towels being waved that Cowher declared Iraq to be "Steelers Nation."
After two days of travel, the coaches arrived in Iraq late Wednesday night. Thursday, they met with soldiers in Mosul, Kirkuk and Baghdad.
The NFL has been working with the USO to send players to visit troops overseas since 1966. Last year, commissioner Roger Goodell joined players on a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. In March, Jared Allen, Danny Clark, Larry Fitzgerald and Will Witherspoon spent 10 days traveling through Iraq and Kuwait. But this is the first coaches trip.
Fisher frequently has taken his players to meet with soldiers from Fort Campbell, about an hour north of Nashville. When the commissioner's office asked him to participate, he was told to think about it for a couple of weeks and get back to them.
"I didn't think about it for more than a couple hours," he said.
Cowher fielded plenty of questions from troops about whether he'll coach again. But his thoughts were far from football at the end of the first three days.
"Sometimes, we worry too much about ourselves," he said, "instead of about what kind of difference we can make in the big picture for other people."
First Published July 4, 2009 12:00 am