Monday, January 22, 2007

Expecting the Unexpected -- UPDATE

Update -- January 22, 2007 (11:30 PST) will be streaming the Mike Tomlin press conference online.

Update -- January 22, 2007 (8:45 PST)
A press conference is to be held this afternoon at 330PM (EST) to announce the hiring of Mike Tomlin as the new head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Team Pass members can watch the press conference live. At this time none of the media outlets in Pittsburgh (e.g. WTAE-TV, KDKA-TV, KDKA 1020) have indicated whether or not they will stream the press conference on their respective websites.

Original Posting
After a long and distinguished career the head coach resigned.

The head coach's top assistant -- respected by the former coach, players, and the owners alike -- seemed to be a perfect fit to take over. All that was needed was the announcement to make it official, and the Steelers could enjoy some much desired continuity.

Only Joe Greene, Chuck Noll's valued assistant, never received that call. Instead the Rooney family went outside of the organization -- seemingly placing a value on a fresh perspective as much as coaching ability -- to hire a virtually unknown defensive coordinator, Bill Cowher.

With the departure of Ken Whisenhunt to Arizona many are now proclaiming Russ Grimm to be the heir apparent to Bill Cowher -- a trusted, respected assistant seemingly ready to assume the mantel of head coach. But such assumptions ignore the deliberative quality of the interviewing process (according to a statement by Art Rooney II the organization is trying "to determine which one is the best candidate for the Pittsburgh Steelers at this point in time." If Russ Grimm was the obvious choice then why the second round of interviews?), and the prediction here is that by the end of January Mike Tomlin is going to be the new head coach, and first African-American head coach, of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Dan Rooney was the owner who pushed hardest for minority candidates to be included in all head coach searches by all teams, and the guess here is that the Steelers current patriarch is preparing to put some action behind his words.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Arizona Head Coach Seeking Steelers Assistants

Despite the fact that they are under contract to the Steelers for the 2007 regular season, Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt sought permission from the Steelers to speak to Pittsburgh assistants Bruce Arians (wide receiver coach), Keith Butler (linebackers coach), and Kevin Spencer (special teams coach) about positions on the staff in Arizona. According to a report on only Mr. Spencer was permitted to speak with the Cardinals head coach about a position on that staff.

In a related story (at least tangentally), the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting that San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron -- the same person who kept the ball out of LaDanian Tomlinson's hands in the second half of the Chargers vs. Patriots game -- has emerged as the leading candidate for the Miami Dolphins job. According to the report Mr. Cameron "kept his hotel room near the Dolphins' complex Thursday night after a second day of interviewing with team officials. A Dolphins spokesman said management was still weighing the candidates.

'I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that no decision will be made today,' Dolphins senior vice president Harvey Greene said last night. 'We hope to finish the process by tomorrow or Saturday at the latest'

So it appears that, for reasons that are not immediately evident, Russ Grimm's last chance for a head coaching position this offseason is also his first choice -- the Pittsburgh Steelers

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Would Change Be a Good Thing?

One of the reasons many in the media have identified Russ Grimm as the leading candidate for the Steelers' head coaching job is the belief that there would be relatively few changes -- in personnel and/or scheme(s) -- if Mr. Grimm was hired. Conversely, it seems reasonable to believe that if either Mike Tomlin or Ron Rivera, both of whom coach a 4-3/cover 2 defensive scheme (and to learn more about that check-out this item from Football Outsiders) -- is hired there would be some significant changes.

Along those line, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has written an article discussing that very topic:

"Tony Dungy learned his craft playing for the Steelers in the 1970s and as the NFL's youngest defensive coordinator in the 1980s. What developed from that was the famed Tampa Bay Cover-2 defense, which right now has helped Dungy's Indianapolis Colts reach the AFC championship game.

Yesterday, Steelers officials interviewed a devotee of that defense who possibly could be their next head coach. Mike Tomlin learned it at the knee of Dungy, who learned it at the knee of Chuck Noll and his defensive staff.

'If you listen to coach Dungy, he'll remind you of that,' Tomlin said after he finished his second interview with the Steelers, which lasted about 3 1/2 hours and stretched into the early evening. 'A lot of people refer to it as Tampa 2, and he's always one to cite his sources. He reminds you of that.'

Tomlin was the first of three finalists interviewed for the second time. Next up: Russ Grimm, the Steelers' assistant head coach and offensive line coach. He will have his second interview today. Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, the other finalist, cannot be interviewed again until his team's season ends, either Sunday or in the Super Bowl Feb. 4.

Wholesale changes could be made to a team 11 months removed from a Super Bowl championship if Tomlin is hired as its head coach.

Tomlin has coached the 4-3 defense in Minnesota, relying heavily on that Cover-2 philosophy he learned under Dungy at Tampa Bay. The Steelers have run the 3-4 defense since 1983, when Chuck Noll abandoned the four-man front that became famous as the Steel Curtain in the 1970s.

Bill Cowher kept the 3-4, although in a different form, after he was hired as coach in 1992.

'I think it would be premature for me to comment specifically on personnel or personnel issues. I'd like to get the job first,' Tomlin said.

But he did say he's not tied to one defense, that he prefers to put the players in whatever system he feels best suits them.

'I'm a fundamentalist as opposed to scheme. I think football is a tough-man's game, it's an attrition game. You win by stopping the run and being able to run the ball effectively-- and doing the things winners do, being a detailed-oriented football team, playing with great passion and executing.'

It's unknown what would become of someone such as defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the Steelers' zone-blitz impresario, under a Tomlin regime.

All the Steelers' assistant coaches are under contract, and many of them likely would remain in place if Grimm were hired. Tomlin, though, might want to bring his own coaches with him.

'I think regardless of who they hire to be head coach they expect him to lead, and part of leading is being prepared to do things that you feel strongly about,' Tomlin said. 'I'm no different than anyone else in that regard.'

All the Vikings' assistants also are under contract through next season, so Tomlin could not offer them jobs without Minnesota releasing them.

Tomlin, 34, is the same age as Bill Cowher was when he was hired as the coach in 1992, and, like Cowher, would be 35 before the next season started. Chuck Noll had just turned 37 when the Steelers hired him in 1969.

'Those that support me make sure that I understand that,' Tomlin said. 'But they're looking for a football coach. That's what I consider myself. My age is my age. They don't put an asterisk by the wins or loses on Sunday. You play to win.'

Tomlin, who was born in Hampton, Va., and played wide receiver at William & Mary, began his coaching career at VMI in 1995. He coached at Memphis, Arkansas State and Cincinnati before joining the pro ranks in 2001 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under Dungy, then Jon Gruden. He left the Buccaneers as their secondary coach last year to become the defensive coordinator of the Vikings under new coach Brad Childress.

His first defense in Minnesota ranked eighth overall -- No. 1 in the league against the run but tied for last against the pass as the Vikings went 6-10. Their 30 sacks ranked below the league average of 36.4

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Quiet Before the Storm

Update -- January 11, 2007 5:10PST
The NFL Network is reporting that Ken Whisenhunt is scheduled for a second interview in Phoenix on Friday.

Update -- January 11, 2007 1:10PST
The experts at Pro Football Weekly are reporting that Mike Sherman is the choice for the head coaching position at Arizona.

While not going quite that far, ESPN's John Clayton describes Mr. Sherman's return to the desert, accompanied by his wife, as a "most interesting development."

Original Posting
The candidates have been interviewed, and now Steelers fans have . . . to . . . just . . . wait.

According to an article by Mike Prisuta in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review the Steelers "are expected to conduct one or more follow-up interviews." Of the four candidates the Rooneys are known to have interviewed only one, Ron Rivera, is with a team that is still in the playoffs. If a second interview is to be conducted with Mr. Rivera it will have to wait until the Bears are eliminated from the playoffs (leave that to Rex Grossman).

In the same article Russ Grimm is described as having "emerged as one of the leading candidates -- if not the leading candidate -- to succeed Dennis Green." However, according to an article by Kent Somers for the Arizona Republic, there "are indications that [Mike] Sherman, who spent last season as the Texans' assistant head coach, has emerged as the leading candidate." The article goes on to report that Mr. Sherman, formerly the head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers, and his wife flew to Phoenix on Wednesday.

As for Russ Grimm and/or Ken Whisenhunt, the Arizona Republic article has this to say:
"The Cardinals interviewed eight candidates in eight days, concluding Tuesday with Russ Grimm, assistant head coach of the Steelers. Grimm and fellow Steelers assistant Ken Whisenhunt, also a Cardinals candidate, have interviewed for the Steelers job, which opened last week when Bill Cowher resigned.

That position would be their first choice, and the Cardinals might be delaying until the Steelers make a decision, perhaps in the next few days

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Well This is Unexpected: Gailey to be Interviewed

ESPN and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are reporting that Georgia Tech head coach, and former Steelers offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey will be interviewed this weekend for the Steelers head coaching position.

It had been widely speculated that the Rooneys would announce their choice for the position as soon as Monday, however the Post-Gazette is reporting that the organization has "no immediate timetable to name a succesor (sic) to [Bill] Cowher."

Adding some intrigue to the entire situation is the fact that according to an report Mr. Gailey is being interviewed at the recommendation of Bill Cowher.

Of course one has to wonder what this means for Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhunt. Though they have each interviewed for multiple head coaching positions, and have scored high marks throughout the league for their abilities (both as coaches and head coaching candidates), neither has received any offer(s) this offseason (i.e. it is believed that Mr. Whisenhunt was offered the head coaching position in Oakland last season, but that he turned that offer down). What, if anything, observers can infer from this latest turn of events is -- as always -- open to interpretation.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Mike Tomlin Meets with the Pittsburgh Press

Only in Pittsburgh is the fact that a head coaching candidate spoke with the media "Breaking News."

WPXI channel 11 in Pittsburgh is making a brief clip available at (copy & paste):

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Cam Cameron Off Steelers' List - UPDATE

UPDATE - January 10, 2006 10:00AM PST is reporting that Tom Coughlin is staying put in New York.

Additionally, in brief comments with Los Angeles media outlets, Pete Carrol confirmed that he spoke with Wayne Huizenga about the Miami Dolphins' head coaching position, but expects to return to USC for the 2007 season.

Original Posting
In our recent Mike Tomlin posting we pointed out that it was beginning to appear that Chargers Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron was no longer on the Steelers' list of potential head coaching candidates. Now comes pseudo-confirmation of as much from ESPN's John Clayton.

In an "ESPN Insider" article (i.e. premium content) Mr. Clayton indicates that the "Steelers didn't have enough time" to interview both Mr. Cameron and Bears Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera. Inferred in Mr. Clayton's article, and speculated upon on Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic, is the belief that Steelers perceive Ken Whisenhunt to be (at a minimum) Mr. Cameron's equal.

An email from Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic to San Diego's Communication Director Bill Johnston seeking information as to whether or not the Steelers had sought permission to speak with Mr. Cameron was not immediately answered.

The Steelers organization (along with Miami and Arizona -- the Raiders? Who knows what they're doing) are no doubt moving quickly in an effort to stay ahead of the Giants who are likely to axe Tom Coughlin, with a decision expected to be announced publicly later this week.

While it would be unfair to characterize the Steelers as cheap the Rooneys do understand the importance of bargaining leverage, and it appears that Steelers Assistant Head Coach Russ Grimm has very little. Additionally, Mr. Tomlin would also be a low-cost, big potential candidate. Finally, unless Wayne Huizenga plans on hiring Ken Whisenhunt (and in the same article Mr. Clayton indicates that the Dolphins' owner is looking for a "big name" candidate, hence the flight to Costa Rica to meet with USC head coach Pete Carroll) the price for the Steelers' Offensive Coordinator may be falling as well.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Steelers Fans, Meet Mike Tomlin - UPDATE

Update - January 8, 2007 2:47PM (PST)
Wayne Huzenga's plan is in the air, on its way to Minnesota. For a look at where Mr. Huizenga's been recently click here to look at The fine folks at Pro Football Talk found this information -- ahh, the miracle of the internet!

Update - January 8, 2007 10:35AM (PST)
The NFL Network is reporting that Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga is travelling to Minnesota to interview Mike Tomlin for the head coaching position there.

Additionally, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that Mr. Huizenga travelled to Costa Rica over the weekend to interview USC head coach Pete Carroll who is vacationing with his family there. The NFL Network is also reporting that Mr. Huizenga's private jet stopped in Jacksonville, where Mike Tice was interviewed, before continuing to Minnesota.

Original Posting
Both the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (see below) are reporting that the Rooneys are planning to interview Minnesota Vikings Defensive Coordinator Mike Tomlin -- who replaced Herm Edwards as the Tampa Bay defensive backs coach in 2001 -- for the Steelers' head coaching position.

In 2006 the Vikings' defensive unit finished 1st in average rushing yards allowed per game (61.6), 8th in the NFL in average yards allowed per game (300.2 -- .1 yard less than the Steelers' defense), 14th in average points allowed per game (20.4), and 32nd against the pass.

One of the best things about making Mike Tomlin head coach would be the opportunity to bring Vikings' running backs coach Eric Bieniemy to Pittsburgh to replace Dick Hoak. Mr. Bieniemy, who did an amazing job at my alma mater, UCLA, is one of the most intelligent and enthusiastic position coaches in the all of football.

"The Steelers have received permission to interview Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin for their head coaching position.

Tomlin, 34, finished his first season directing the Vikings' defense. He joined them last year after coaching the defensive backs at Tampa Bay the previous five years. He also coached the Cincinnati Bengals' defensive backs in 1999 and 2000.

Before he became an NFL assistant, he was an assistant coach at three different colleges from 1995 through 1998. He played wide receiver at William & Mary.

Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga met in Pittsburgh last night with Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt to talk about the head coaching job in Miami. Huizenga was joined by Joe Bailey, the Dolphins' chief executive officer, and club president Bryan Wiedmeier

Additionally, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting that Bears' Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera will be interviewed in Chicago on Sunday, then back in Pittsburgh Russ Grimm is scheduled to be interviewed Monday and Ken Whisenhunt on Tuesday.

Not mentioned in this article is Chargers' Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, which would seem to indicate that the Steelers' braintrust is confident that if they decide to go with an offensive coach the in-house candidates are the best of that group.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Ken Whisenhunt Not Going to Atlanta? - UPDATE

The Atlanta Falcons have hired Louisville's Bobby Petrino as their head coach.

According to the Falcons' website a press conference will be held on Monday at 2:00 PM (EST) to officially announce the hiring, however in that some posting Falcons owner Arthur Blank is quoted as saying that the hiring of Mr. Petrino represents "an exciting day for the Atlanta Falcons franchise."

Original Posting
According to a report from Len Pasquarelli at the Atlanta Falcons have identified University of Louisville head football coach Bobby Petrino has their new coach.

Furthermore, the report indicates that the team and Mr. Petrino are "moving toward an agreement."

Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is still believed to be a candidate in Miami (along with former Steelers offensive coordinator and Georgia Tech head coach Chan Gailey) and Arizona.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Who are the REAL Candidates? Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic Gets Serious

Now that Bill Cowher has made his departure from the Steelers official, it's time to look carefully at the gentlemen who will by vying to take over as head coach. So without further adieu, here is a "power ranking" of the candidates.

The Leaders
The following three coaches are candidates for all the NFL jobs currently open, and the the two external candidates will be in Pittsburgh over the weekend.

Ken Whisenhunt (44 years old) - Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Coordinator (2004-Current)
  • Tight ends coach - Pittsburgh Steelers (2001-2003)
  • Tight ends coach - New York Jets (2000)
  • Special teams coach - Cleveland Browns (1999)
  • Tight ends coach - Baltimore Ravens (1997-1998)
  • Special teams, Tight ends & H-backs coach - Vanderbilt University (1995-1996)
Mr. Whisenhunt received serious consideration for the Oakland position last year, that combined with the fact that several of the current Steelers players have expressed a desire to have one of the current Steelers' assistant coaches elevated to the head coach position would seem to make Mr. Whisenhunt the leading candidate. However as my great friend Big Dan the 'Burgh Man asked during a recent conversation is making the players comfortable a good thing? After all, it's a thin line between comfort and complacency.

Cam Cameron (45 years old) - San Diego Chargers Offensive Coordinator (2002-Current)
  • Head coach - Indiana University (1997-2001)
  • Quarterback coach - Washington Redskins (1994-1996)
Mr. Cameron's Marty Schottenheimer pedigree must be attractive to the Rooneys -- given Bill Cowher's successful run as Steelers head coach -- not to mention his results in leading the Chargers' offense. In 2002 the Chargers finished the season with the 16th ranked offense in the NFL (the Steelers finished 5th). In 2003 the Chargers finished with the 14th ranked offense (Steelers: 22nd). In 2004 and 2005 the Chargers finished with the 10th ranked offense (Steelers: 16th and 15th). For the most recently completed season the Chargers finished with the 4th ranked offense (the Steelers offense finished 7th).

Ron Rivera (44 years old) - Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator (2004-Current)
  • Linebacker coach - Philadelphia Eagles (1999-2003)
  • Defensive quality control - Chicago Bears (1997-1998)
Under Mr. Rivera the Bears' defense has developed into the very best defense in the NFC, and one of the best in the entire league. During his first season as defensive coordinator the Bears defense ranked 21st in the NFL, however in 2005 that unit jumped to the #2 defense in average yardage allowed per game (281.8) and #1 in average points allowed per game (12.6). In 2006 the Bears defense "slipped" to #5 in average yards allowed per game (294.1) and #3 in points allowed (15.9).

They've Got a Shot

Russ Grimm (46 years old) - Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line Coach - Pittsburgh Steelers (2004-Current)
  • Offensive line coach - Pittsburgh Steelers (2001-2003)
  • Offensive line coach - Washington Redskins (1997-2000)
  • Tight ends coach - Washington Redskins (1992-1996)
One of the best, if not the best, offensive line coaches in the league, and the only coach to have the title of "Assistant Head Coach" during Bill Cowher's tenure in Pittsburgh..

Rex Ryan (44 years old) - Baltimore Ravens Defensive Coordinator (2005-Current)
  • Defensive line coach - Baltimore Ravens (1999-2004)
  • Defensive coordinator - Oklahoma University (1998)
  • Defensive coordinator - University of Cincinnati (1996-1997)
The latest in a line of very successful, skilled defensive coordinators in Baltimore. This past season the Ravens' defense was #1 in average yards allowed per game (264.1 -- more than 20 yards less than the #2 defense), #1 in average points allowed per game (12.6 -- more than two points less than the #2 team), #2 in sacks (60 -- San Diego had 61), #1 in sack yardage (418 -- 67 yards more than the #2 team), and #1 in interceptions (28).

Jim Caldwell (51 years old) - Colts Assistant Head Coach/QB Coach (2005-Current)
  • Quarterback coach - Indianapolis Colts (2002-2004)
  • Quarterback coach - Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2001)
  • Head Coach - Wake Forest University (1993-2000)
The Colts' offense ranked second in scoring in 2005 (439 points), third in yardage (5,799), and first in 3rd down effeciency (48.7%). In 2006 the Colts tied for second in scoring (427 points), third in yardage (6,070), and first in 3rd effeciency (56.1%). In addition to his jobs listed above, Mr. Caldwell was also an assistant coach at Penn State from 1986-1992.

Kirk Ferentz (51 years old) - University of Iowa Head Coach (1999-Current)

Served on Bill Belichick's staff at Cleveland in the early 1990s. Hails from Upper St. Clair, and this native son is getting attention amongst some of the media.

An Outside Chance at Best

Jim Haslett (51 years old) - St. Louis Rams Defensive Coordinator (2006-Current)
  • Head coach - New Orleans Saints (2000-2005, 45 wins-51 losses)
  • Defensive coordinator - Pittsburgh (1997-1999)
  • Defensive coordinator - New Orleans (1996)
  • Pittsburgh native
My personal favorite in this group. He would continue the use of the 3-4 defense, cut his teeth as a head coach in New Orleans -- and had what might go down as the worst experience of any head coach in the post-Katrina travelling show that the Saints suffered through in 2005 -- and is a native of the Pittsburgh area.

Bob Bratkowski (51 years old) - Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Coordinator (2001-Current)
  • Wide receiver coach - Pittsburgh Steelers (1999-2000)
  • Offensive Coordinator - Seattle Seahawks (1995-1998)
One of the more experienced candidates in this list. In his first season as Cincinnati's Offensive Coordinator the Bengals' had the 23rd best offense in the NFL, by 2005 they had moved up to sxith, and finished 8th this past season.

Rick Dennison (48 years old) - Denver Broncos Offensive Coordinator (2006-Current)
  • Offensive line coach - Denver (2001-2005)
  • Special teams coach - Denver (1997-2000)
  • Offensive assistant coach - Denver (1995-1996)
Mr. Dennison just completed his first season as the Broncos' Offensive Coordinator, a season in which that unit finished 21st in the NFL, but he has a good breadth of experience and is worthy of an interview.

Pete Carroll (55 years old) - University of Southern California Head Coach (2001-Current)
  • Head Coach - New England Patriots (1997-1999)
  • Defensive Coordinator - San Francisco 49ers (1995-1996)
The question is this: Is Pete Carroll interested in the NFL?


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Breaking News -- Cowher to Resign Friday

In a story that is as fluid as the cnfluence of the Allegheny, Monogahela, and Ohio rivers, Gerry Dulac of thePittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that Bill Cowher is set to resign as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers at a 1:00PM (EST) news conference in Pittsburgh.

According to Mr. Dulac's report Mr. Cowher "said last week he still loves to coach and is not 'burned out' from being the longest-tenured head coach in the National Football League. However, he wants to take at least a one-year break from coaching and is not thinking about joining any other team in 2007, whether in the NFL or college football, sources said.

Those same sources have also said Cowher's decision to retire has nothing to do with money and that he is committed to spending the next year with his wife, Kaye, and youngest daughter, Lindsay, in Raleigh, N.C.

For those who will be at a computer, but not near a television, on Friday WTAE-TV is indicating on its website that they will webcast the news conference.

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Cowher to Miami? - UPDATE

Update - January 4, 2006 4:42PM PST
According to radio station "Double-X Sports" in San Diego (1090 AM on the radio dial) Dolphins' owner Wayne Huizenga is willing to offer the next coach, assuming he is one of a stature that warrants such a consideration, "full control" of the football operations (i.e. General Manager and Head Coach).

This might be the holy grail that Bill Cowher seeks -- the fact that others have tried before and failed be damned -- in leaving Pittsburgh. It still seems unlikely, after all Mr. Cowher was victorious in his well-chronicled power struggle with then General Manager Tom Donahoe, but it may be that the allure of such an opportunity would simply be too appealing to his ego to ignore.

If such a development would come to pass the question becomes what kind of compensation the Steelers could expect to receive in return -- after all a position of the kind possibly available in Miami would represent a promotion and that might lessen the obligation that the Dolphins would have to compensate the Steelers.

Additionally, wouldn't next season's matchup between the Steelers and Miami (at Heinz Field) be a hoot?

Original Posting
The hysteria surrounding the imminent departure of Bill Cowher is building to a crescendo, and more than one media outlet in Pittsburgh is speculating that Mr. Cowher may be headed to the rudderless Miami Dolphins.

Now comes an item from the Miami Herald which adds fuel to the fire. In the article, which discusses several of the leading candidates to replace Nick Saban, writer Armando Salguero offers this:

"The Dolphins will now start gauging their interest in candidates in earnest. The Steelers, Cowher and his agent might be among the first they contact. If Pittsburgh grants the Dolphins permission to speak with its coach, a person close to Cowher said Wednesday he would be willing to listen.

Although Cowher has a year remaining on his contract and is said to be on a family retreat in North Carolina to mull his future in Pittsburgh, the man who guided the Steelers to two Super Bowl trips and the title last season wants to coach again.

Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and defensive coordinator Dom Capers, both former head coaches, also coached under Cowher in Pittsburgh. Capers suggested he would like to be considered for the Miami opening; Mularkey would not say. It's not known if they would stay if Cowher were hired.

There are obstacles to Cowher joining the Dolphins. He reportedly wants a contract extension in Pittsburgh that would pay in excess of $7 million annually; the Steelers offered $6 million. And the Steelers would demand draft-choice compensation in return for releasing him from his contract.

The Dolphins also would have to gauge Cowher's personal situation to see if he indeed is willing to take on a job long-term rather than for a two- to five-year spurt.

But the obstacles are not insurmountable if Cowher is receptive. Huizenga has deep pockets and said Wednesday that he badly wants his team to win.

'I don't care what it takes, what it costs, or what's involved,' he said.

Miami's most successful coach, Don Shula, cost the Dolphins a first-round draft pick in 1970 after he was hired away from the Baltimore Colts

It is difficult -- no, impossible -- to believe that Bill Cowher would leave the friendly confines of the North Side of his hometown in order to coach a franchise that has become the Arizona Cardinals of the East, but then again he wouldn't be the first transplanted Pittsburgher to land in South Florida.

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Who's Taking Whom for Granted?

In a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette column, the venerable Bob Smizik poses the question "Is it possible we've taken [Bill] Cowher for granted?" There is no doubt that Steelers fans have had a love-hate relationship with Mr. Cowher but the argument here is that if Mr. Cowher believes he will have similar success, or similar longevity, with some other NFL organization it might be Mr. Cowher who is taking his current situation for granted.

Lest anyone begin thinking that this posting will be used to minimize Mr. Cowher's accomplishments please think again -- Bill Cowher is a Hall of Fame coach. Here is a look at Bill Cowher's won-lost records in five year increments:


But admist all the celebration of Mr. Cowher's excellence this question must be asked: How many other organizations would have stood by their coach if he had missed the playoffs three consecutive seasons? Bill Cowher's Steelers had a combined record of 22-26 from 1998-2000 (inclusive) and finished no better than third in their division during those seasons; and what of his playoff struggles? In his first six seasons with the Steelers the team's postseason record was 5-6.

Jerry Jones? Wayne Huizenga? Bill Bidwell? Would any of these owners stand by Bill Cowher during tough times? In the time that Mr. Cowher has coached in Pittsburgh the Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals, and Atlanta Falcons have each employed five head coaches.

The hope for a more lucrative contract, with another team, might be motivation enough for Bill Cowher to leave the Steelers' organization. However Coach Cowher would do well to be careful what he wishes for. Few, if any, other sports organizations would have allowed their head coach and team to work through their collective struggles together. So while all fans of the Black & Gold sould be grateful for all that Coach Cowher has accomplished in Pittsburgh, here's hoping that the coach appreciates just how special and unique his current situation is.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A Windy City View of Coaching Candidates

With Arizona and Atlanta having already fired their head coaches the rumors about who the hot names are as potential replacements are growing quickly. This article by John Mullin of the Chicago Tribune (with emphasis added) focuses primarily on Bears Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera, however -- in addition to the names already mentioned at Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic -- Mr. Mullin adds at least one name that hadn't previously been considered here: Colts Assistant Head Coach/QB Coach, Jim Caldwell.

Mr. Caldwell was the Head Coach at Wake Forest University from 1993-2000, was the Quarterbacks coach in Tampa Bay in 2001, and joined the Indianapolis coaching staff in 2002.

Another point raised in this article that is relevant to the Steelers coaching search is the fact that assistants on playoff teams can only be interviewed "in the week before the first playoff game." So while Bill Cowher wants to be certain of his decision, it does delay the Steelers search.

"For at least the rest of this week the Bears may be dealing with another distraction. Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera is in play as a leading candidate for one of the vacant head-coaching jobs in the NFL.

The Arizona Cardinals ran out of patience with Dennis Green after three successive losing seasons, the latest a 5-11 stumble in 2006, and immediately had Rivera on their list of six prospects to succeed Green.

The Atlanta Falcons, who fired coach Jim Mora on Monday, also are expected to contact the Bears for the required permission to talk with Rivera.

Former Bears personnel chief Rod Graves, given a three-year extension last week as the Cardinals' vice president of operations, contacted the Bears regarding Rivera, who played for the Bears when Graves was in the personnel department.

Also on the Cardinals' list are Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow; Texans assistant head coach/offense Mike Sherman; Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt; Steelers assistant head coach/offensive line coach Russ Grimm; and Colts assistant head coach/QBs coach Jim Caldwell.

Sherman is confirmed for a Thursday interview. Grimm interviewed for the Bears' head-coaching job in 2004 before Lovie Smith was hired.

NFL rules stipulate that teams can interview candidates on playoff teams only in the week before the first playoff game, which comes Saturday. Rivera interviewed for the Packers' job that went to Mike McCarthy and was a finalist in St. Louis, losing out to Scott Linehan in a split vote after Rams management chose to stay with a coach from an offensive background instead of Rivera.

Rivera interviewed with the Rams on a Friday and with the Packers on a Saturday morning, ahead of the noon deadline last year. In Pittsburgh, the top job may open if Bill Cowher opts to end his reign as the NFL's most tenured coach.

Cowher was among nine new head coaches hired in 1992 and won last year's Super Bowl. If Cowher leaves, Grimm and Whisenhunt are expected to head the Steelers' list of candidates. But Pittsburgh has been very successful with a head coach (Cowher) from the defensive side of the ball and Rivera is a proven leader of defenses.

Rivera has been a winner at every stop. Besides playing for the Mike Ditka Bears, Rivera coached linebackers for the Eagles in their run of three consecutive NFC championship appearances and has kept the Bears among the NFL's elite defenses this season


Monday, January 01, 2007

Coaching Search Just Got Complicated

Bad news for the Steelers -- the Atlanta Falcons have fired head coach Jim Mora Jr.

Atlanta owner Arthur Blank, one of the co-founder's of Home Depot, will no doubt be most aggressive in getting the coach he wants (i.e. will outbid other team's who are suitors for the coach he wants). Additionally, Steelers Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt was born in Atlanta, is a graduate of Georgia Tech, and played for the Falcons from 1985-1988.

Of course the significance of this turn of events depends upon whether or not the Steelers have an interest in elevating Mr. Whisenhunt to their head coaching position -- and the feeling here is that as good as he is as an Offensive Coordinator he is not someone worth overpaying (after all, San Diego Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron is still out there, and given his Marty Schottenheimer "roots" one would have to believe that his philosophy of coaching is at least similar to Bill Cowher's).

In other head coaching news Arizona fired Dennis Green today, and the only way that will make a difference to the Steelers is if they actually have an interest in USC head coach Pete Carroll.

Finally, in reviewing the list of external candidates that was compiled here, based on some team peformances late in the season a couple of names can probably be removed from consideration -- namely Cincinnati's Defensive Coordinator Chuck Bresnahan and Dallas Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer.

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Little Prespective on a Steelers Coaching Candidate

The name of Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was included on the list of external candidates for the Steelers' head coaching position generated by Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic. Now comes this article by Jamison Hensley of the Baltimore Sun in which Ray Lewis insinuates that Mr. Ryan is the best coordinator he has ever played for (and he has played for Marvin Lewis, Jack Del Rio, and Mike Nolan). Mr. Lewis goes on to describe Mr. Ryan as "the ultimate players' coach."

"Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis concedes he has a fear for the next couple of months, and it has nothing to do with LaDainian Tomlinson or Peyton Manning.

It's the prospect of losing defensive coordinator Rex Ryan after the season.

When teams begin their search for a new head coach after this weekend's final regular-season games, Ryan could be the next in a line of Ravens defensive assistants to leave.

'I've lost Marvin [Lewis], I've lost Jack [Del Rio], I've lost Mike Nolan. ... I ain't losing Rex,' Lewis said while shaking his head.

Lewis might not have a choice.

In Ryan's second season as coordinator, the Ravens rank atop half of the NFL's 12 major defensive categories, including fewest yards per game (264.8) and fewest points (12.9).

This is the first Ravens defense to rival the team's historic 2000 group in dominance, which is why Ryan's name is beginning to circulate throughout the league as a potential head-coaching candidate.

'You know how long I thought about it? Not for five seconds,' Ryan said. 'I signed up to do the best job possible and my focus is on the next opponent. When it's all said and done, the teams that win, their coaches move on.'

After having 10 new hires last season, the NFL is expected to have more coaching upheaval this year.

The list of potential openings at the end of the season could include: the Cleveland Browns (Romeo Crennel has 10 wins in two seasons), Miami Dolphins (constant rumors of Nick Saban leaving), Oakland Raiders (team hasn't responded to Art Shell), New York Giants (late-season collapse could be costly for Tom Coughlin), Atlanta Falcons (continue to regress under Jim Mora) and Arizona Cardinals (Dennis Green has not lived up to expectations).

Under NFL rules, assistants on teams in the playoffs can interview once with each club interested in them for a head coaching job but cannot participate in a second interview or be hired until their season is over.

'I think Rex is as ready to be a head coach as anybody I've been around,' Ravens coach Brian Billick said. 'We'll do everything we can to help him through that process.'

In some ways, Billick has already helped Ryan by association.

Billick's first defensive coordinator, Marvin Lewis, has turned around the Cincinnati Bengals. His second one, Mike Nolan, has improved the San Francisco 49ers in his second season. And former Ravens linebackers coach Jack Del Rio has led the Jacksonville Jaguars to the playoffs.

Ryan, 44, is the last of the Ravens' defensive coaches left from the Super Bowl team.

'Obviously, you want that opportunity, especially if you believe in yourself,' Ryan said. 'And people want that Brian Billick tree. They know the organization part of it. The things you learn from him, it gives you an advantage over other possible candidates.'

Ryan could also draw interest for being the son of former NFL coach Buddy Ryan, although they are much different coaches.

Buddy Ryan had a brash, in-your-face approach that sometimes rubbed people the wrong way. Rex Ryan is the exact opposite, an affable coach who is considered one of the most popular people on the Ravens' staff.

'He's the ultimate players' coach,' Lewis said.

Ryan frequently laughs and jokes with players during practice. He even allows them to have input on game plans, discussing which calls work best with them throughout the week.

'He's on our side. He's not your typical coach,' defensive end Trevor Pryce said. 'When Rex starts talking, everyone is quiet because what's going to come out of his mouth is going to help you. And it's not going to come out as typical coachspeak. You want to hear what he has to say. It is a breath of fresh air.'

Asked whether he thought Ryan would make it as a head coach, Pryce said, 'If he becomes a head coach, I'm going to find out and I'm going with him.'

The defense also carries a chip on its shoulder, which Ryan has been known to do.

Early in the season, Ryan was quick to defend a defense that was allowing some big plays. Now, despite playing six games against top-10 offenses, the Ravens have separated themselves as the NFL's elite defense.

"I told everyone to wait until the end of the season before they make any judgments," Ryan said, "because I knew I wasn't going to be the one looking stupid.'

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Rumor Mill Begins to Churn

Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic was out early with its conjecture of who the leading candidates will be for the Steelers' head coaching position if, and when, Bill Cowher steps aside. However, the mainstream media is now getting into things and the name of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is being mentioned as a possible replacement.

Certainly Mr. Ferentz is a quality football coach who has experience at both the NFL and college levels. However choosing him as the head coach for the Steelers would be something of a surprise given the team's modus operandi.

Specifically, the Steelers have not had a head coach who came directly from a college campus since John Michelson was hired -- in 1948!

Obviously the Rooney family will, as always, seek to do what is best for the franchise. Despite Mr. Ferentz's qualifications he is not a candidate who distinguishes himself from those already coaching at the coordinator level in the National Football League.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Cowher Watch

Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic has outlined just who can be expected to compete for the head coaching job of the Pittsburgh Steelers --both internal candidates and the external candidates -- assuming that Bill Cowher steps down.

Now comes this tidbit from Pro Football Weekly:
'It does not look like many jobs are going to open this year. After having so many (10) turn over a year ago, there might be only one or two this year. That's a good thing if you are an owner. It becomes a buyer's market. You're not competing with other teams for the best coach. The hot prospects are always the guys who got shut out of jobs the previous year because of the playofffs -- the Ron Riveras and Ken Whisenhunts.' "

Both of those coaches are included in our list of names with which Steelers fans should become familiar.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Bill Cowher's Replacement: The Internal Candidates

Sunday may be Bill Cowher's last game at Heinz Field (or maybe it won't be), and the rumors are already swirling as to who will be the next head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic has already provided a snapshot (both figuratively and literally) of the leading external candidates, now it's time to do the same for a couple of the Steelers coaches who will also be seriously considered.

Ken Whisenhunt (44 years old) - Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Coordinator (2004-Current)
  • Tight ends coach - Pittsburgh Steelers (2001-2003)
  • Tight ends coach - New York Jets (2000)
  • Special teams coach - Cleveland Browns (1999)
  • Tight ends coach - Baltimore Ravens (1997-1998)
  • Special teams, Tight ends & H-backs coach - Vanderbilt University (1995-1996)
Was all but hired for the Oakland Raiders' head coaching position after Super Bowl XL before unexpectedly pulling out of consideration. Before the disaster that was the first half of the 2006 season the Steelers' offense had steadily improved under Whisenhunt -- who picked up where Mike Mularkey left off -- becoming more diverse and dynamic (i.e. they could run and pass with equal effectiveness).

Russ Grimm (46 years old) - Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line Coach - Pittsburgh Steelers (2004-Current)
  • Offensive line coach - Pittsburgh Steelers (2001-2003)
  • Offensive line coach - Washington Redskins (1997-2000)
  • Tight ends coach - Washington Redskins (1992-1996)
The only assistant coach under Bill Cowher to ever have been given the "Assistant Head Coach" title, which he received after nearly getting the head coaching position in Chicago -- that went instead to Lovie Smith. Was seriously considered for the head coach position in Detroit this past offseason, but was reportedly not one of the finalists for the job (it came down to Jim Haslett and Rod Marinelli). Under Mr. Grimm's leadership the Steelers offensive line has -- except for this season -- been one of the very best in the NFL.

Darren Perry (38 years old) - Pittsburgh Steelers Defensive backs coach (2004-2006)
  • Assistant defensive backs coach -- Pittsburgh Steelers (2003)
  • Safeties coach - Cincinnati Bengals (2002)
There is no way Darren Perry is going to be hired as the next head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, the next head coach should choose Mr. Perry as the next Defensive Coordinator for the team. His work with the secondary, especially with the injuries suffered this season to Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, and the free agent loss of Chris Hope, has been outstanding.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Cowher on the Way Out? Who Will Replace Him? Let the Rumors Begin!

In 1969, 36-year old Chuck Noll was chosen to serve as head coach of the moribund Pittsburgh Steelers and the rest was history. Twenty-three years later, in December of 1991, Mr. Noll announced that he would be stepping down at the end of that season; and the conjecture as to who would replace the greatest NFL coach of the 1970s began almost immediately.

The list of candidates, according to media reports at the time, was pretty impressive even in hindsight: Mike Holmgren (San Francisco Offensive Coordinator at the time), Vince Tobin (Chicago Defensive Coordinator), Dave Wannstedt (Dallas Defensive Coordinator), Richie Petitbone (Washington Defensive Coordinator), Pete Carroll (years away from his success at USC, he was the Defensive Coordinator for the New York Jets), Joe Green (who was on Chuck Noll's staff at the time), and Bill Cowher (Defensive Coordinator at Kansas City).

As everyone knows 34-year old Bill Cowher was tabbed to be Mr. Noll's replacement, and the rest has been history.

Is Bill Cowher going to be coaching his final home game in Pittsburgh this Sunday? Only time will tell, but if that turns out to be the case here are the resumes of some of the coaches (listed alphabetically) all of us are going to be hearing about as possible, external candidates (along with their respective ages) to serve as the Steelers' third head coach in thirty-eight years:

Bob Bratkowski (51 years old) - Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Coordinator (2001-Current)
  • Wide receiver coach - Pittsburgh Steelers (1999-2000)
  • Offensive Coordinator - Seattle Seahawks (1995-1998)

Chuck Bresnahan (46 years old) - Cincinnati Bengals Defensive Coordinator (2005-Current)
  • Assistant coach - Cincinnati Bengals (2004)
  • Defensive Coordinator - Oakland Raiders (2000-20003)
  • Defensive back coach - Oakland Raiders (1998-1999)
  • Linebacker coach - Indianapolis Colts (1996-1997)

Cam Cameron (45 years old) - San Diego Chargers Offensive Coordinator (2002-Current)
  • Head coach - Indiana University (1997-2001)
  • Quarterback coach - Washington Redskins (1994-1996)

Pete Carroll (55 years old) - University of Southern California Head Coach (2001-Current)
  • Head Coach - New England Patriots (1997-1999)
  • Defensive Coordinator - San Francisco 49ers (1995-1996)

Rick Dennison (48 years old) - Denver Broncos Offensive Coordinator (2006-Current)
  • Offensive line coach - Denver (2001-2005)
  • Special teams coach - Denver (1997-2000)
  • Offensive assistant coach - Denver (1995-1996)

Steve Fairchild (47 years old) - Buffalo Bills Offensive Coordinator (2006-Current)
  • Offensive Coordinator - St. Louis Rams (2004-2005)
  • Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks coach - St. Louis Rams (2003)
  • Running backs coach - Buffalo Bills (2001-2002)
  • Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks coach - Colorado State University (1997-2000)
  • Quarterbacks coach - Colorado State University (1993-1996)

Jim Haslett (51 years old) - St. Louis Rams Defensive Coordinator (2006-Current)
  • Head coach - New Orleans Saints (2000-2005, 45 wins-51 losses)
  • Defensive coordinator - Pittsburgh (1997-1999)
  • Defensive coordinator - New Orleans (1996)
  • Pittsburgh native

Donnie Henderson (49 years old) - Detroit Lions Defensive Coordinator (2006-Current)
  • Defensive coordinator - New York Jets (2004-2005)
  • Defensive backs coach - Baltimore Ravens (2000-2003)
  • Assistant defensive backs coach - Baltimore Ravens (1999)
  • Assistant head coach/Defensive backs coach - University of Houston (1998)
  • Defensive backs coach - Arizona State University (1995-1997)

Tim Lewis (45 years old) - New York Giants Defensive Coordinator (2004-Current)
  • Defensive coordinator - Pittsburgh Steelers (2000-2003)
  • Secondary coach - Pittsburgh Steelers (1995-1999)

Mike Mularkey - Miami Dolphins Offensive Coordinator (2006-Current)
  • Head coach - Buffalo Bills (2004-2005)
  • Offensive Coordinator - Pittsburgh Steelers (2001-2003)
  • Tight ends coach - Pittsburgh Steelers (1996-2000)

Ron Rivera (44 years old) - Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator (2004-Current)
  • Linebacker coach - Philadelphia Eagles (1999-2003)
  • Defensive quality control - Chicago Bears (1997-1998)

Rex Ryan (44 years old) - Baltimore Ravens Defensive Coordinator (2005-Current)
  • Defensive line coach - Baltimore Ravens (1999-2004)
  • Defensive coordinator - Oklahoma University (1998)
  • Defensive coordinator - University of Cincinnati (1996-1997)

Mike Zimmer (50 years old) - Dallas Cowboys Defensive Coordinator (2000-Current)
  • Secondary coach - Dallas Cowboys (1995-1999)

From this list Tim Lewis is a lock to get an interview, after all he is a legitimate minority candidate. Meanwhile the inclusion here of Pete Carrol is, of course, the worst kind of rumor mongering (and the fact that it is included in a posting that is built upon unsustantiated supposition -- i.e. that Bill Cowher is leaving Pittsburgh at the end of this season -- makes it all the worse), but there have been rumors off-and-on for the last three years that Mr. Carroll could be lured back to the NFL. Of course, he might have to take a pay cut to get the Steelers' job.

We'll take a look at the internal candidates next time.

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