NEW ORLEANS -- Bill Cowher knows all about what it's like to go 8-8 as the Steelers did last season. Worse, he knows what 7-9 and 6-10 feel like, and the panic that can go with records like those no matter how successful his teams were previously.
That panic, however, never came from within, and he predicts it won't occur this time, either, after the Steelers' worst record since Cowher's last team went 8-8 in 2006.
"No. 1, there's a history with this organization; they don't panic," said Cowher, who is in town for his duties for CBS, which will broadcast the Super Bowl. "You sit back, reassess, make some hard decisions."
Among those tough decisions could be to let some aging veterans go. Cowher had to do it with Hall of Famers like Rod Woodson and Dermontti Dawson, and other stars like Greg Lloyd, Carnell Lake and more. Mike Tomlin had to do it last season, and there will be more in the weeks ahead.
"It's the hardest thing in coaching," Cowher said. "I know Mike, how much he appreciates the guys who are out there battling, and the Rooneys appreciate that. But you know the hardest thing in the world sometimes is making sure that you assess a player for where he's at, not for where he's been. Sometimes, we get caught up remembering how they were and not how they are. In assessing that, those are the toughest decisions you have to make."
Cowher suggested players such as outside linebacker James Harrison, nose tackle Casey Hampton, inside linebacker Larry Foote and even safety Troy Polamalu could fall under that umbrella, and that wide receiver Mike Wallace and running back Rashard Mendenhall would leave as free agents.
"You're going to come up with a couple guys right now with Wallace and Mendenhall moving forward. There are some situations on defense with age issues, whether it's Casey or James, Foote, maybe Troy. One thing is, that's always going to come up with every team.
"You still have some veterans and youth, and I think they've always done a good job of that. You go back, there was such a fine line this year. Those games they won in the past they lost this year."
What should the Steelers do?
"Just don't overanalyze," said Cowher, whose Steelers teams went 149-90-1 over his 15 regular seasons, won two AFC championships and one Super Bowl. "That offensive line, you were starting two rookies at the end of the season, right guard and right tackle.
"There's a lot of reasons why they were 8-8. I don't think you have to totally restructure everything you're doing. Just sit back and reassess and kind of refocus on doing things more consistently, and I think they'll do that."
Cowher sounded as if he were reassessing his own situation three weeks ago when he was quoted as saying he would "probably" get back into coaching. He quickly debunked that idea publicly and emphasized Tuesday he has no plans to do so.
"I said what I said. But I had just gotten up to talk about the Super Bowl for CBS. I was involved in my kind of coaching mindset -- 'this is a journey, you never remember who loses this game.' That was the mantra we had in 2006 when we won the championship.
"When I got done, first question was, 'You've been out for six years, do you think you can still win in this league?' "
Answer: "Yeah, I think I can win. It's not like I forgot coaching after 27 years.
"Next question was, 'Don't you think it would be a challenge?' "
Answer: "Yes, it would be a challenge, and that may be the ultimate challenge that brings me back."
He hasn't ruled out a return to coaching at some point. "I'm 55, I'm healthy, I feel really good. I do love my job. To sit there and say 'never' is a long time, but I really don't have any intentions at this point. I'm really happy at CBS. My intentions are not to come back."
He recently purchased a multimillion dollar condo in New York City and still has the house in Raleigh, N.C. Some more good fortune came his way 21/2 weeks ago, when the NHL Los Angeles Kings traded his son-in-law, Kevin Westgarth, to the Carolina Hurricanes, who play in Raleigh. Westgarth, an enforcer on the ice, is married to Cowher's eldest daughter, Meagan. The couple moved from Los Angeles and into Cowher's home in Raleigh.
As for Sundays' game, Cowher likes the matchup and is pulling for the Ravens, his old bitter rivals.
"I root for John Harbaugh, I root for the players. Even when you were playing against them, you respected them. To me, they represent the AFC North. It's like, if you're not going to win it, you want them to, and the way they're going about doing it. There are amazing storylines. It's got the making of a really good game."
Cowher might wish he could prowl the sideline one more time for this one, then reality sets in.
"You miss coaching," he said, "but I don't miss the lifestyle."
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