A Look Back At Cowher Power: Right Place, Right Organization

By L.A. Batchelor
Updated: January 26, 2007

SteelersNORTH CAROLINA— When most people analyze, appraise, and appreciate Bill Cowher, the former coach of the five time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, a few things come to mind.

“The Jaw”, The Stare”, “enthusiam”, “steadiness”, “resolve” and the discharge of saliva expelled out of his mouth when he is happy or angry with a player, official or play call.

When I think of Cowher, one word comes into my mind and that word is “fortunate”. Some of you, mainly Steeler fans or fans of Cowher, would ponder my definition and dismiss it as ludicrous, idiotic and even non-factual and I respect your opinion.

But in my opinion, no coach was allowed so many failures with so little successes in between yet remained employed by an NFL team then Cowher. None.

Which leads me to the conclusion Cowher was not only fortunate to coach the “Black and Gold”, but he was also an overrated coach in the right place with the right organization.

Throughout Cowher’s 15 years as Steelers head coach, many coaches have come and gone and some of them were fired after a winning season or two.

Tony Dungy led the Bucs to winning seasons and playoff appearances and the Bucs organization decided “Chucky” (John Gruden) was the answer and with respect to Mr. Gruden, the championship he won was a product of the hard work, dedication and players drafted and signed by Dungy and his staff prior to Gruden’s arrival.

To Gruden’s credit, he gave credit to Dungy after the Bucs routing of the Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl.

Dick Vermiel led the Eagles to the Super Bowl and lost and soon retired due to coaching fatigue later to rejoined the NFL coaching fraternity many years later to lead the St. Louis Rams to his and the franchise first and only Super Bowl victory.

He then took the Chiefs over and proceeded to rebuild them into a playoff caliber team year after year.Vermiel’s last two coaching positions were mired in criticism of his age and philosophy and he was subsequently politely encouraged to resign in St. Louis and retire with the Chiefs.

Jimmy Johnson led the Cowboys to back to back Super Bbowl championships(including a victory over my beloved Steelers) only to resign because of a public feud with owner Jerry Jones.

The same could be said about John Gruden. After leading the Raiders to the Super Bowl, Gruden was subsuquently traded to the Bucs for draft picks and cash because of a disagreement with the ageless owner of the Silver and Black, Al Davis.

Mike Shanahan has two Super Bowl championships as a head coach but has been rumored to be fired or rumored to resign recently because of some failures in the playoffs recently by the Broncos.

Even Shanahan’s predecessor, Dan Reeves took the Broncos to Super Bowls and took the Falcons to one only to be questioned, critcizized and outsted.

How many Super Bowl championships would the Cleveland Browns have now if they didnt fire Bill Belichick almost a decade ago?

These are just some of the few examples of some NFL franchises getting in the way of winning Superbowls because of the lack of patience, ego’s, the lack of a “game plan” or making coaches decisions based on the media and fan criticism.

Which brings us back to Bill Cowher. How long would he have lasted in Dallas, Denver, Chicago, Green Bay, Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles with the monumental losses in the playoffs he’s had in his coaching career?

Not very long at all which is why I believe it’s Cowher who should thank the Rooney’s until the day he dies for the opportunity because their are very few NFL teams that would have accepted such mediocrity in the post season.

Yes, he won a Super Bowl last year but in my opinion, Cowher came along for the ride. The coaches show the will, determination and heart to win a Super Bowl for everyone’s favorite Steeler, Jerome Bettis.

The Steelers won inspite of Cowher. I mean this is a coach who lost the team’s other Superbowl under his watch. The only blemish on the Iron City’s resume when it comes to the ultimate football game.

Moreover, the coach he lost to for the Dallas Cowboys was no other than Mr. “4th and 1” (Remember the Philly game in 1995 where he called the same offensive play on back to back 4th downs) himself, Barry Switzer. Barry Switzer?? Come on!!

I know fans of Cowher alike will say, look at his winning coaching record and playoff record which makes him a great coach, but I strongly disagree. Cowher reminds me of someone who manages a store, is always there on time, you can count on there to be there when you need them and keeps everything managable.

A great coach would have all those attributes and would have the ability to take your business, your store to the next level and keep it there for his or her duration.

Cowher is not in the class of Belichick or Parcells, but is not as bad as Marty Shottenheimer (as witnessed in this year’s playoffs) but “middle of the road” or a solid coach will not bring championships.

Playoffs? Playoffs? Words expelled from 11 other teams every year in the NFL. It’s almost like a running back gaining 1,000 yards in a season. It’s not a big deal.

Admirers of coach Cowher would insist his winning overall record including a winning record in the playoffs and his accomplishment of taking the team to the playoffs 10 of 15 seasons would cement his place in Steeler/NFL football immortality.

I disagree. I firmly believe most of the true elite coaches, both before, during and even after Cowher’s tenure would have won more championships if placed in a similar plight.

Coaches who establish themselves in the elite class, strive to be the best when everything is on the line under, stressful circumstances and when the players who compete on behalf of them and their organization are placed in the best position to win.

Their proverbial “finger print” or coaching philosophy is well known, documented, implemented and successful. They “take care of home”(home field advantage) more than lose and win half of the time in enemy territory. In my assesstment, Cowher does not belong in this grouping.

Let’s examine some coaches in the Hall of Fame and some seemingly on the brink:

Vince Lombardi: His name graces the Super Bowl trophy. His likeness can be seen in a 14-foot statue at Lambeau Field. In his nine-year career as head coach in Green Bay — part of an 11-year NFL career — Lombardi coached the Packers to five NFL Championships and victories in Super Bowls I and II. He tallied a career coaching record of 105-35-6 (regular and postseason combined), including a 98-30-4 record in Green Bay.

Chuck Noll: Chuck Noll was named the 14th head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 27, 1969. He’s the only head coach to win four Super Bowls, coaching the Steelers to victory in IX (1975), X (1976), XIII (1979), and XIV (1980).Noll retired as Steelers head coach in 1991 after a record of 209-156-1. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993 and never lost a Conference Championship at home.

John Madden: The Hall of Fame coach was hired by the AFL’s Oakland Raiders as an assistant in 1967. The Raiders won seven Western Division titles during his ten seasons. They won 13 of 14 regular season games in 1976, beat the Pittsburgh Steelers for the AFC title, and won Super Bowl XI 32-14 against the Minnesota Vikings. He retired from coaching after the 1978 season with a 112-39-7 record, a .731 winning percentage. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this season.

Bill Walsh: In 1969, Walsh was appointed head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, and under him the 49ers won three Super Bowl championships in 1981, 1984, and 1988. Walsh served as 49ers head coach for 10 years and during his tenure he and his coaching staff perfected the style of play known popularly as the West Coast offense. He was responsible for drafting Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott, and future Hall of Famer Jerry Rice. His successes with the 49ers were rewarded when he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.

Bill Parcells: Parcells is one of only five coaches (Shula, Vermeil, Reeves, Holmgren being the others), that’s taken two different franchises to the Super Bowl and is generally regarded among the finest coaches in NFL history. In 1986, he led the Giants to the first of two Super Bowls. In the 1986 season, the Giants compiled a franchise best 14-2 record and the first of three division titles. During his tenure, the Giants had secured three division titles (1986, 1989, 1990), had only two losing seasons (the Giants went 6-9 during the strike year of 1987) and tallied an 8-3 playoff record. He announced his fourth retirement from football on January 22, 2007, finishing his coaching career with a 183-138-1 record.

Bill Belichick: Belichick just concluded his 32nd season as an NFL coach and is the only head coach in league history to win three Super Bowl championships in a four-year span. Coach Belichick’s Patriots teams own all of the major winning streaks in NFL history: consecutive overall wins (21 from 2003-04), consecutive regular season wins (18 from 2003-04), and consecutive playoff wins (10 from 2001-05).

Belichick’s accomplishments have placed him among the NFL’s elite coaches. Only one coach (Noll) has won more Super Bowls than Belichick, and his three Super Bowl titles tie Washington’s Joe Gibbs and San Francisco’s Bill Walsh for second place on the NFL’s all-time list.

Including regular season and playoff games, Belichick is the winningest head coach in the NFL over the last five seasons and is also the Patriots’ all-time leader in victories and winning percentage.

Now I can continue to give you coaches from the past like Hall of Famers George Halas, Don Shula, Joe Gibbs and Hank Stram or coaches of the present with impressive resumes who seem to be on their way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame such as Mike Shanahan and Mike Holmgrem all of which have as many if not more Super Bowl championships as Cowher.

What is the common denominator of all of these coaches? Longevity, but even with lasting tenures for these great coaches, most of them had big exceptions, had to endure heavy criticism from their perspective organizations and fans and some also resigned, retired or were dismissed due to the pressure of winning. Cowher however, never had the pressure of management to win, win now and win every year. Pressure from fans yes, from the Rooney’s no.

Was Cowher a good coach? Yes. Was he consistent in getting the team to the playoffs, winning regular season games, winning divisional championships, reloading coaches and players after they depart the Steelers, a man of passion for the game, the answer is yes, but does that make you great, no.

Greatness in life is always debatable and define and determined by many factors left for many historians to examine and conclude, greatness in football is about winning Super Bowls and one’s performance under tough circumstances at the highest level. It defines a player, coach, owner or franchise’s legacy in history.

A legacy I feel Cowher’s will be defined as a coach that was more a product of patience and professionalism from a franchise who believed in longevity relationships and the fans of the team not only in Pittsburgh but all around the world.

Something Cowher believed and gave to the Steelers off the field. He just fell short of the championship winning on the field.