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Old 11-26-2006, 06:26 AM   #1
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Default Bouchette on the Steelers: Team, Issues, Questions

Bouchette on the Steelers: A weekly look inside the team, issues and questions
Sunday, November 26, 2006

If Bill Cowher does throw in the towel, what happens next ... and how fast?

This bad season could be good for the coaching prospects of Steelers assistants Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhunt, and it should prompt an early decision by coach Bill Cowher and Art Rooney on Cowher's future.

Grimm and Whisenhunt might each be head coaches in the NFL today if the Steelers had not gone to the Super Bowl last season. Owners did not want to wait until February for either of them, mainly because putting together a staff is more difficult for a coach that late in the year. Whisenhunt also turned down the chance by the one team willing to wait for him, the Oakland Raiders.

If, as it looks, the Steelers do not make the playoffs, it will help both men land jobs, and one of them could be with the Steelers. Even a losing season should not hurt either coach's prospects for landing a job as a head coach next year.

Cowher and Art Rooney, the team's president, are expected to come to a quick decision after the season ends about the coach's future. Cowher must decide if he will coach through the final year of his contract in 2007. If so, the team will begin negotiations on an extension for a new contract if Cowher wants to do that.

But if Cowher wants to step down, he will have to make that decision quickly. The Steelers cannot wait long for their coach to make up his mind because they would risk losing their top two candidates for the job from their own staff.

Cowher likely would make that decision shortly after the season ends. If he steps down, then the Steelers could hire Grimm or Whisenhunt and make a smooth transition for the rest of the staff and players. There would be no overhaul as there is when most head coaches are hired. Players have to get used to new staffs, new ways of doing things and new systems on offense and defense. That would not occur if Grimm or Whisenhunt ascended.

If Cowher steps down, he could not coach elsewhere in 2007 unless the Steelers allowed it, and they would not do that unless they were compensated with draft picks and/or players. If Cowher steps down and sits out the season at his new home in Raleigh, N.C., the Steelers would not have to pay him another cent, but he also would be free to shop his services in 2008.

Many owners would be interested in such a 51-year-old free agent and, depending on their coaching situation, would line up to sign Cowher. Dan Snyder in Washington has been the one rumored most, one that surfaced on ProFootballTalk.com the past week.

Snyder has the money, and he has a coach in Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs who could step aside at any moment on his own. Or Snyder might convince Gibbs to give it one more season while he waits for Cowher to be free and clear.

There is also Randy Lerner in Cleveland. If Romeo Crennel does not produce a winner there in his third season next year, Cowher would be a perfect candidate in 2008.

Other situations are bound to develop between now and then, and there might even be owners willing to fire a coach he otherwise was not ready to do so if Cowher were available. Cowher could command anywhere between $8 million and $10 million annually. He's not going to make that kind of money with the Steelers, who pay him an estimated $4 million.

Even in contract extension talks, sources say, the annual salary offer did not go much above $6 million, and that was at the end of the contract.

Owners such as Snyder or Paul Allen in Seattle do not blink at passing out big contracts to their coaches. The Rooneys can't afford to pay their coach $8 million. If they paid Cowher that much, they would have to carry a smaller payroll, costing them talent on the field.

They could have Grimm or Whisenhunt for $8 million total over four years. That's $6 million annually in difference, a major disparity for a team such as the Steelers.

Cowher's future as the Steelers' coach will come to a head shortly after New Year's Eve, when his team ends its regular season in Cincinnati. If they do not make the playoffs, he could ring out not just the year that night, but his 15 years as Steelers coach.

The new NFL: Game times for sale, game times for sale

Fans upset by the NFL's new flex scheduling, which already has prompted two changes in times in Steelers home games, might as well get used to it. What they've done in college football for nearly 30 years has finally hit the pros and, if anything, the practice could expand.

Moving the Steelers' game against the Saints to a national spot at 4:15 p.m. gave Fox such a hit show that the network will do it again Sunday with the Steelers and Buccaneers. Usually, the networks want nothing to do with teams that are 4-6 and 3-7 and almost out of the playoff race. But when Saints-Steelers came home as the No. 3-rated program of any on network television that entire week, Fox jumped at putting the Steelers on nationally again.

Next up? Flex scheduling for Monday night football games. In this first year of flex scheduling, only Sunday game times can be switched, either from early afternoon to late or to the NBC-TV night game.

But ESPN won't sit quietly and watch as it gets stuck with some games that looked good before the season and terrible today, such as Green Bay-Seattle tomorrow night and Carolina-Philadelphia Dec. 4.

Look for ESPN to demand some flex scheduling of its own next season. Then that 1 p.m. Steelers game set for Sunday won't be delayed merely three hours to inconvenience fans, it could be put back 311/2 hours.Look for ESPN to demand some flex scheduling of its own next season.

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