The money question: It's not everything, but it is something
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Bill Cowher's impending announcement about his future may not be as much about money as his desire to take a hiatus from coaching and spend more time with his family.
But money has been a factor in what will ultimately transpire in the next week or two, helping to fuel his thoughts of early retirement and perhaps reducing his days as Steelers coach -- a position he has held for 15 years -- to a precious few.
Sometime after the Steelers won Super Bowl XL in February, Cowher revealed to some in the organization he was entertaining thoughts of retiring. But those sentiments were heightened when he apparently balked at a contract extension he was offered by team president Art Rooney II, a deal that would have paid Cowher between $6 million and $6.5 million annually in the final years of the contract, according to several people who have knowledge of the situation.
It is difficult to determine where the contract would have put Cowher among the National Football League's top-paid coaches because such salary information is not made available by NFL teams or agents. Unlike player salaries, which are compiled by the NFL Players Association and shared among NFL teams, coaches salaries are closely guarded secrets.
But, it is likely the deal would have made Cowher one of the top five paid coaches in the league, and perhaps made him among the top two or three. It is believed Cowher will earn approximately $4.5 million this year, which would place him, by most estimates, among the top eight paid coaches in the league.
Seattle's Mike Holmgren is believed to be the highest-paid coach in the NFL, making $7 million this season, $8 million in 2007 and $9 million in 2008. And Denver's Mike Shanahan, Washington's Joe Gibbs and Miami's Nick Saban are thought to make approximately $5 million annually, though such figures cannot be accurately substantiated.
To that end, nobody is sure what Bill Belichick is being paid on a new contract after winning three Super Bowls in four years with the New England Patriots. When Bill Parcells returned to coaching with the Dallas Cowboys, he signed a four-year contract worth an estimated $17.5 million.
But, after winning the Super Bowl -- and beating Holmgren in the process -- Cowher thought his next contract should be closer to the top coaching salary in the league, especially if he was to be dissuaded from thoughts of retirement after the 2006 season. It became a matter of principle to him, and, eventually, a contentious divide in contract negotiations.
Forbes Magazine recenly rated the top 10 NFL coaches worth their financial investment, and Cowher was No. 1 on the list based on his 10 playoff appearances, eight division titles, six AFC title game appearances and one Super Bowl victory in 14 seasons. The magazine estimated Cowher's salary at $4 million annually in 2006. Forbes also said Cowher's average yearly salary since becoming head coach in 1992 is $2 million, which is lower than the NFL's median salary for head coaches ($2.9 million). That made him the coach who brought the greatest return on a team's investment, according to the magazine.
In 2003, Forbes Magazine conducted a survey of coaching salaries in the NFL, though most of the figures obtained were listed as estimates. At the time, Cowher was listed as the eighth-highest paid coach in the league, at an estimated $3 million annually. The magazine listed Parcells and former Redskins coach Steve Spurrier as the highest-paid coaches, at an estimated $5 million annually. But that was before Holmgren, Shanahan and Belichick received contract extensions, and before Gibbs and Saban were hired by their respective teams.
Speculation about Cowher's future was heightened when it was learned he and his wife, Kaye, had purchased a $2.5 million home in Raleigh, N.C. And it was fueled even more when the Steelers announced during training camp they would discontinue negotiations and would not discuss a contract extention with Cowher until after the season -- a discussion, perhaps, that may no longer take place.
Cowher's wife and youngest daughter, Lindsay, have been living in Raleigh since late summer because their daughter wanted to play basketball in North Carolina this year. Like he did with his other two daughters, Meagan and Lauren, who are enrolled at Princeton, Cowher has a desire to spend as much time as possible with Lindsay, 15, while she is in high school.
According to people familiar with the situation, it is one of the reasons he wanted to talk to the Rooney family -- Art II and his father, Dan, the team chairman -- about spending more time in North Carolina in the offseason, even if he agreed to remain as coach.
Cowher, who has the league's longest tenure with one team, said last week he is not burned out from coaching. He said he still loves to coach. But other factors are involved in his decision to return to the Steelers, and it has become difficult to determine which is fueling the other.
Those who know Cowher, 49, say he is too competitive and loves coaching too much to stay away from the game for very long. Once his contract with the Steelers expires after the 2007 season, he will immediately become the top candidate for just about any coaching job that opens in the NFL, fetching a salary that could make him the highest-paid coach in the league.
This much is known:
Cowher's decision to retire, albeit for maybe a year or two, is not based solely on money. But the principle of money -- being paid what he believes he deserves -- appears to be the only way to dissuade him from heading to North Carolina.
Active NFL coaches who have been with their teams the longest and their records (including playoffs):Coach, teamYrs.Bill Cowher, Steelers
Record: 160-99-115Jeff Fisher, Titans
Record: 110-9613Mike Shanahan, Broncos
Record: 131-7312Brian Billick, Ravens
Record: 79-658Mike Holmgren, Seahawks
Record: 73-608Bill Belichick, Patriots
Record: 84-387Andy Reid, Eagles
Record: 86-537Tony Dungy, Colts
Record: 62-245John Fox, Panthers
Record: 48-385Jon Gruden, Buccaneers
Record: 42-415M. Schottenheimer, Chargers
First Published December 31, 2006 12:00 am