NFL Nation: Bill Cowher

PITTSBURGH -- It is no coincidence that Ben Roethlisberger's relationship with Tennessee Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt improved as the Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback got older.

Roethlisberger and Whisenhunt each learned on the job in 2004, with the former starting as a rookie following an early injury to Tommy Maddox and the latter serving as an offensive coordinator for the first time.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
Elsa/Getty ImagesBen Roethlisberger still keeps in touch with Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt, who was his offensive coordinator for three seasons in Pittsburgh.
The difference is that Roethlisberger was just 22 years old when he entered the NFL and only played three seasons at Miami (Ohio) after redshirting as a freshman before bypassing a fifth season to enter the draft. Whisenhunt, meanwhile, had been in the NFL for 16 seasons as a player and a coach before becoming the Steelers’ offensive coordinator.

That gulf between their respective NFL experiences sometimes led to Whisenhunt playing the role of father who had to reign in the willful teenager who yearned for more freedom. That dynamic inevitably led to some disagreements during the three seasons Roethlisberger and Whisenhunt worked together.

"It’s simple now looking back on it, but things he would (do) -- something that I’m sure every coordinator and quarterback do -- is they go through the plays [and] if I say I don’t like a play, usually coordinators take it out," said Roethlisberger, who will lead the Steelers against Whisenhunt’s Titans on Monday night. "He would kind of try to convince me that it was a good play. And he probably knew better, because I was a young guy and didn’t know much about the NFL at the time. But if you want to call that butting heads, I guess that’s what you would call it."

The two were perceived to have a strained relationship when Whisenhunt left the Steelers in 2007 to become the Arizona Cardinals’ head coach. Even if that was the case, there is mutual respect and admiration between the two, and they still stay in touch via text messages.

Roethlisberger would be the first to admit that the older he has gotten, the smarter Whisenhunt has become.

The 11th-year veteran also understands, in retrospect, why the Steelers were committed to running the ball and playing good defense his first three seasons in the league.

"I think some of that, too, with Coach Whiz was because of the Chin (former Steelers coach Bill Cowher) he had looking down on him," Roethlisberger said. "He had to kind of run it a certain way, and that’s just the way it goes."

Bruce Arians, who succeeded Whisenhunt as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator and later as the Cardinals’ head coach, gave Roethlisberger more freedom and input in the offense. Roethlisberger said that had as much to do with his "growth and maturity" after three NFL seasons.

And, Roethlisberger added, "B.A. and I butted heads, too, and people thought we were too close."

Whisenhunt said he only has fond memories of coaching Roethlisberger, no matter what bumps popped up along the way.

"I was very lucky to have an opportunity to work with Ben," Whisenhunt said. "I admire the fact that he’s been such a good player for so long now. I’m not excited about facing him, because of the way he’s playing right now, but I certainly have a great deal of respect for the pro that he’s become."
PITTSBURGH -- Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has generally refrained from commenting on criticism of the Pittsburgh Steelers by former coach Bill Cowher and Hines Ward, the organization's all-time leading receiver.

Roethlisberger
He did fire back a bit at Steelers' critics in a one-on-one interview with ESPN's Lisa Salters, who will be a sideline reporter for tonight's Houston Texans-Steelers game.

"They don't know what they're talking about because they're not here so we kind of just laugh it off," Roethlisberger said. "A lot of people outside of this locker room are going to talk, are going to point fingers. We don't have time for that."

Ward leveled the strongest criticism against Roethlisberger last week, placing blame for the Steelers' offensive struggles on the veteran quarterback.

Ward said Roethlisberger's play-calling is the biggest reason why the Steelers are No. 31 in the NFL in red zone efficiency. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said last week that Roethlisberger has called less than 30 percent of the plays this season.

Roethlisberger declined to comment directly on Ward's criticism to ESPN.com last week.

He told Salters that he looks at criticism from Ward and Cowher as coming from the media -- even with their deep ties to the Steelers' organization.

"A lot of the media likes to point fingers," Roethlisberger said, "and a lot of times they don't know what they're talking about."
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he respects that Bill Cowher and Hines Ward have jobs to do as NFL analysts, but he shrugged off criticism of their former team after a 31-10 loss in Cleveland.

“I don’t worry about that. That’s elevator music as far as I’m concerned,” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “I’m concerned about the things that are significant and that’s the men inside this organization right now and how they prepare and how they play. Love those guys, but those guys are on the outside looking in.”

Cowher, who coached the Steelers for 15 seasons before Tomlin succeeded him, said on CBS’ NFL Today on Sunday that Pittsburgh is “soft” on defense and too “finesse” on offense. Ward, the Steelers’ all-time leading receiver, said on NBC that “I look at their personnel; they can’t cover anybody in the secondary. Offensively, I thought I’d never say it, but the Steelers are a finesse offense right now. I don’t even know who these guys are.”

Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley have endured criticism from a number of different fronts with the Steelers 3-3 following consecutive 8-8 seasons.

Tomlin said he will look at making some changes in personnel but that the Steelers will largely stay the course as far as what they are doing on offense and defense from a schematic standpoint.

The Steelers are fourth in the NFL in total offense (396.5 yards per game) but just 23rd in scoring (20.7 points per game) largely because they have the second-worst red-zone offense in the league.

“Right now it’s not sweeping or drastic changes as far as who and what we are schematically,” Tomlin said. “I will look at who we utilize and where in all three phases.”

Among those players who could see increased roles Monday night against the Houston Texans are cornerback Brice McCain and rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant.

Bryant has yet to dress for a game but the 6-4, 210-pounder has the size that could help the Steelers’ passing game when they get close to the end zone.

The Steelers have scored touchdowns just 36.8 percent of the time that they have been inside their opponents’ 20-yard line.

“We’ve got to score when we put the ball in scoring position, and we haven’t done it consistently enough and we better fix it,” Tomlin said.
PITTSBURGH – NFL analyst Bill Cowher did not opt for subtlety or discretion in leveling his harshest criticism of the Pittsburgh Steelers since stepping down as the organization’s head coach following the 2006 season.

Cowher questioned the Steelers’ toughness on defense following Pittsburgh’s 31-10 loss at Cleveland on Sunday, and he did it on a national platform.

“I think they’re finesse on offense and soft on defense,” Cowher said late Sunday afternoon on CBS’ postgame show.

Cowher
Cowher’s critique should resonate for several reasons.

It is all but impossible to refute after the Steelers were embarrassed by the Browns and lost by at least 20 points for the second time this season. And this is not the case of a former head coach looking over his successor’s shoulder or angling for a job.

Cowher has been out of coaching for almost a decade and has shown no inclination to return to the sidelines. The Pittsburgh area native has generally refrained from criticizing Mike Tomlin, and Cowher has done anything but hover over the organization he guided on the field from 1992-2006.

Cowher went 161-99-1 in 15 seasons as the Steelers’ head coach, and he led the team to its fifth Super Bowl title in 2005.

Like Tomlin, Cowher was just 34 years old when the Steelers hired him as their head coach.

Cowher’s most trying stretch came from 1998-2000 when the Steelers missed the playoffs three consecutive seasons. The Steelers are in danger of matching that after going 8-8 in 2012-13 and starting 3-3 this season.

The Steelers stuck with Cowher and he rewarded their patience by leading them to the playoffs in four of the next five seasons as well as the Super Bowl win.

Seven of Tomlin’s assistants either coached with Cowher or played for him in Pittsburgh, including defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Seven current Steelers players also suited up for Cowher, including strong safety Troy Polamalu, outside linebacker James Harrison and defensive end Brett Keisel.

Cowher has been an analyst for CBS since leaving the Steelers.

Big Ben says he may be underappreciated

September, 13, 2014
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The timing of former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher's interview with Ben Roethlisberger was not ideal since the veteran quarterback did not play particularly well in a 26-6 loss at the Baltimore Ravens.

But Roethlisberger had some interesting things to say in the NFL Network interview that aired prior to the Steelers-Ravens game Thursday night.

Cowher
Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger told Cowher that he does not feel as if he has gotten the recognition he deserves for playing in three Super Bowls and winning two in his first 10 years in the NFL.

"But I think the Pittsburghers appreciate me. I think that it's going to be one of those things when I'm done playing people will look back and say, 'Wow, he was a lot better than we gave him credit for,'" Roethlisberger said. "I've won two Super Bowls, I've been to three. There are a lot of greats that have never been and have never won. I'm just going to continue giving everything I have and try and get back and when another one."

The Steelers are coming off consecutive 8-8 seasons and have looked like anything but a playoff team through the first two weeks of the season.

Roethlisberger represents the biggest hope the Steelers have of re-establishing themselves as Super Bowl contenders. If that doesn't happen it won't be because of a perception of a strained relationship with offensive coordinator Todd Haley, the veteran quarterback said.

"People made a big deal about us not liking each other or getting along -- that wasn't it at all. It's just a new transition thing," Roethlisberger said. "Now I think that we're starting to really understand each other. I think that things are going well."

Here are a few odds and ends with the Steelers off until Monday:
  • The Steelers were determined not to give up the deep ball against the Ravens, but at what cost? The Steelers held Ravens deep threat Torrey Smith to one catch for 10 yards last Thursday night and Joe Flacco's longest completion was 24 yards. That came on a pass to tight end Dennis Pitta in the middle of the field where the Ravens exploited a defense that wanted to keep everything in front of it. "I know I worked hard this week staying deep," Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell said. "Coach [Carnell] Lake worked with me a lot playing everything top down so we had a lot of great coverages. Our corners did a great job of staying on top. We forced [the Ravens] to check it down."
  • The Steelers came out of the Ravens game in relatively good shape from an injury standpoint. Nose tackle Steve McLendon hurt his shoulder but coach Mike Tomlin said that was the only the potentially significant injury that the Steelers sustained.
  • Tomlin did not buy into the thinking that a lost fumble by wide receiver Justin Brown on the opening possession set the tone for the mistake-prone Steelers against the Ravens. "It's a game of 60 minutes," Tomlin said. "The outcome of the game's not going to be defined in the initial moments of the game, whether it's positive or negative."

Joey Porter will turn up the volume

February, 11, 2014
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PITTSBURGH -- The volume just got turned up at Steelers headquarters, and that can only be a good thing for a team that has missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.

Joey Porter is returning to the organization as an entry-level assistant coach whose responsibilities have not been defined -- at least publicly -- by the Steelers.

It doesn’t matter.

Just having Porter in the building should restore some swagger and attitude to a defense that could use a little of both after giving up too many big plays in 2013 and recording too few sacks, Porter’s specialty when he played for the Steelers from 1999 to 2006.

Porter, only two seasons removed from his playing career, has relatively little coaching experience. His hiring is a curious one considering Mike Tomlin had a voice in the organization releasing Porter in 2007, less than two months after the Steelers hired Tomlin to succeed Bill Cowher.

The Steelers saved $6 million by releasing Porter, and they had James Harrison ready to play right outside linebacker at a significantly lower price. But what also sealed Porter’s playing fate in Pittsburgh is that a 34-year-old first-time head coach probably needed to get Porter out of the Steelers’ locker room to make it his own.

That is how dominant of a personality Porter was when he played for the Steelers.

Loud, profane, sometimes politically incorrect, Porter’s was the mouth that roared and stirred a defense that helped the Steelers win a fifth Super Bowl title in 2005.

Teammates fell in line behind him like no other player with maybe the exception of James Farrior, who was ice to Porter’s raging fire.

Porter will now be on a different side than the players, some of whom were his teammates and know him as "J Peezy."

But his fierce will to win should serve him as well as a coach, and Porter will add raw emotion to a veteran coaching staff that could use a little of it.

Turning up the volume a little could be just what the Steelers need following back-to-back 8-8 seasons.
PITTSBURGH -- Art Rooney II said it succinctly.

The Steelers president also said it best in regard to Jerome Bettis' fourth bid to gain entrance into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It's time.

Amen to that.

It can be argued that the more pertinent question when it comes to Bettis and the Hall of Fame is this: Why hasn't “The Bus” pulled into Canton, Ohio, already?

Bettis retired after the 2005 season as the fifth-leading rusher in NFL history with 13,662 yards. He is now sixth on that list, and all of the players in front of him who are eligible for the Hall of Fame are in it.

This should be the year that Bettis, one of 15 modern-day finalists for the Hall of Fame, joins them in football immortality.

Full disclosure: Bettis, who will be among those voted on Saturday, is an NFL analyst for ESPN. However, I was given the freedom to make a case for or against him getting into the Hall of Fame.

I frankly don't know of a credible argument I could make against Bettis.

He was one of the most productive running backs in NFL history. He was also unique.

Bettis may have been the best big back of all-time, and he was anything but a plodding, pile pusher.

Bettis' quick feet were as critical to his success as his sheer bulk -- his playing weight was listed at 255 pounds -- and power. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry, which is just a tick below what Hall of Famer Curtis Martin averaged during his career.

Bettis' value transcended the six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons he posted after the Steelers heisted him from the Rams in the greatest trade in franchise history. It also went beyond his ability to grind out the clock when the Steelers were protecting a fourth-quarter lead.

Bettis made those around him better because of the respect he garnered for playing through the pain that is a daily companion for a workhorse back -- and doing so with a smile.

Bettis was also so beloved by teammates that they wanted to win for him as much as for themselves, particularly at the end of his career.

The desire to get Bettis to the Super Bowl in 2005 helped fuel a stirring postseason run that the Steelers capped by beating the Seahawks for their first world championship since 1979.

Bettis called it a career after getting the one thing that had eluded him -- in his hometown of Detroit, no less -- and now it's time for him to receive an honor that has been equally as elusive as a Super Bowl title.

There are plenty of other people stating his case -- from Rooney, who is anything but prone to hyperbole, to Bill Cowher, who coached him, and Mike Tomlin, who coached against him.

Typical of the support Bettis' latest Hall of Fame bid has received is what Franco Harris said.

“Why he isn't in there, I have no clue,” Harris told Steelers.com. “Should he be in there this year? Absolutely. You are talking about a great football player. I am hoping that he will be able to join me in the Hall of Fame this year.”

Bettis has been gracious about his omission from the Hall of Fame, and he is at peace with the argument he made for inclusion in it during a career that spanned from 1993-2005.

“The way I look at it is I can't be selfish in that why am I not in now?” Bettis said. “I think when my timing is there I'll be in.”

As Rooney said, it's time.

New TE coach must develop Escobar

January, 18, 2014
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IRVING, Texas – With the Dallas Cowboys heading to the Senior Bowl on Monday, coach Jason Garrett knows he has at least one vacancy to fill with the departure of tight ends coach Wes Phillips to the Washington Redskins.

The No. 1 task of the next tight ends coach has to be the development of Gavin Escobar.

Escobar
Witten
The new tight ends coach will inherit future Hall of Famer Jason Witten, who will be entering his 12th season in 2014. He is the franchise’s all-time leading receiver. He is coming off a 73-catch, 851-yard, eight-touchdown season. If the Denver Broncos or San Francisco 49ers make it to the Super Bowl, Witten will play in his ninth Bowl.

It’s not that coaching Witten is easy. It might be more challenging. On the CBS pregame show last week Bill Cowher interviewed New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who had this to say about Tom Brady:

"[Tom and I] have had a weekly meeting the entire time we've been together,'' Belichick said. “Tom is one of the toughest players I've ever had to coach, because when you walk into a meeting with Tom, he's already seen every game. Like the Colts. He's already seen every game the Colts have played defensively. So you can't go in there unprepared, you can't go in there saying, 'Well, I don't know if they're going to do this,' because he'll say, 'Did you see the Tennessee game? That's what they did.'

"You have to be as well-prepared as he is. And that's a good thing but it's also a hard thing. You can't throw the curveball by him. You better know what you're talking about, because he does.''

That’s the challenge for a coach with Witten. He knows everything inside and out. The coach has to challenge him in different ways.

But the Cowboys know what they are going to get in Witten.

They don’t know what they are going to get out of Escobar, their second-round pick in 2013. He had nine catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. He needs to improve greatly as a blocker and it’s more than just getting stronger. He has to work at it, learn the technique, know all three positions the tight end has to play in this offense. Escobar can’t be a one-trick pony (or two tricks) of running the seams in the middle of the field and fades in the red zone.

The new coach has to get more out of Escobar than what the Cowboys got out of their other second-round tight ends in Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett.

Cowher dismisses impact of 'Spygate'

January, 15, 2014
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PITTSBURGH -- Bill Cowher has a message for Pittsburgh Steelers fans who think their team was cheated out of a trip to the Super Bowl 10 years ago: Get over it.

The Steelers were drummed by New England, 41-27, in the 2004 AFC Championship Game at Heinz field, a loss that came under suspicion a couple of years later when the Patriots were caught trying to steal signals and formations by illegally videotaping opposing teams.

“We didn’t lose the game because of any 'Spygate,' because of them having any additional things,” Cowher told 93.7 The Fan on Wednesday. “[If] they’re guilty of anything they’re guilty of arrogance because they were told not to do something but it was something everybody does. They got caught doing it with a camera.”

Cowher, who coached the Steelers from 1992-2006, said what the Patriots did happened regularly in the NFL before the league allowed coordinators to relay plays to their quarterback and defensive signal-caller via a helmet radio.

“Stealing someone’s signals was a part of the game and everybody attempted to do that. We had people that always tried to steal signals,” said Cowher, whose 2004 team won 16 consecutive games before losing to the Patriots in the AFC title game. “What happened when we lost that game is they outplayed us. It had nothing to do with stealing signals or cheating or anything else.”

Cowher, an NFL studio analyst for CBS, interviewed Patriots coach Bill Belichick last week, and he said the two talked extensively afterward, the first time they had done so since they were both NFL assistant coaches.

Cowher professed his admiration for Belichick and the sustained success he has enjoyed in the salary-cap era.

The Pittsburgh native also made it clear on Wednesday that he won’t be matching wits against Belichick -- or any other NFL head coach -- anytime soon.

Cowher reiterated that he has “no interest” in returning to the sideline even though his name has been linked to head-coaching vacancies every year since he retired from the Steelers in January 2007.

Cowher, who went 149-90-1 and won a Super Bowl in 15 seasons with the Steelers, acknowledged that he has received his share of inquiries about returning to coaching.

“It’s flattering but it never gets very far,” Cowher said. “If I ever want to get back into coaching I should be calling teams they shouldn’t be calling me. That’s when you know you really want to do it.”

Jay Gruden offers hope and concern

January, 9, 2014
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This is the best hire the Washington Redskins could have made. That’s what some who know Jay Gruden say. He’s reserved and bright, they say. He’s an excellent motivator, others say. His relationship with general manager Bruce Allen will soften any tension that could arise with owner Dan Snyder. Look what he did with Andy Dalton, they say.

“I would have hired him,” one former general manager said.

This is not nearly the best hire the Washington Redskins could have made. That's what the skeptics say: There’s nothing special about him; his last name paved the way. Look what he did with Andy Dalton in the playoffs, they say.

“I like him, but his offense wasn’t more creative than any other coordinator out there,” one NFL defensive coach said. “If his last name wasn’t Gruden, we wouldn’t be talking about him.”

When it comes to the Redskins’ new coach, there’s a split opinion, and it makes this one of the more unusual hires they have made. Yes, he has a last name everyone knows. But it was his brother Jon Gruden’s success that made it a big name, not Jay's own success. In the past, all but one of the coaches hired by owner Dan Snyder was a big name.

But when it came to this coaching search, there was no big name left to hire. Bill Cowher wasn’t coming out of retirement. Nor was Jon Gruden. And no coach in this field had that wow factor the Redskins often gravitate toward (with the exception of Jim Zorn).

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad hire. We also don’t know if it’s a good one. There’s a chance it could be excellent. But one coach said several days ago that Jay Gruden does an excellent job of getting players to buy into his system. If that’s the case, it will be welcomed. While quarterback Robert Griffin III might have run the last system, it’s clear he did not buy into it. Others did, but if Gruden can sell this to them, as well, that will be a good start.

His Bengals offense sputtered in the playoffs, averaging 11 points per game the past three years -- all one-and-done showings. That’s not good. Nor is the fact that he was knocked for getting away from the run each time. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is not to judge a potential head coach by what his offense did when he was a coordinator.

Being a head coach incorporates so much more. It’s about leadership and command of the room much more than system. It’s about hiring the right people on your staff, and promoting tight ends coach Sean McVay to offensive coordinator will be viewed by many on the roster as the right move. We’ll see where Gruden goes defensively, and that will be worth watching.

It was telling this morning that retired linebacker London Fletcher, knowing Jim Haslett was still around, tweeted this: “Defensive struggles where not solely on salary cap #excuses #blahblahblah” and this: “I think [Raheem] Morris as DC would be great choice! Brings energy & excitement! Would feel pretty good about HC, DC, & OC then!”

I’ve seen too many Redskins hires under Snyder to fully know if this one will work. There are parts to like and wonder about. Marty Schottenheimer, Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan -- three of the all-time winningest coaches in NFL history -- all have failed to build consistent winners.

I know the opinions on Gruden from the people I spoke to throughout this search were as diverse as any.

But I also know of the candidates available, perhaps Gruden was the best fit. To have the familiarity he does with Allen and others on the staff will help. Gruden knows what he’s getting into, not just with Snyder but with the market and the entire organization. The fact that a relationship already exists will matter; Gruden needs to trust whatever he’s been told and to know how he must operate in regards to ownership. Here’s a tip: Keep Snyder involved -- and that doesn't always mean allowing him to meddle -- and win. Then he will be happy.

It will also help the Redskins and Gruden to avoid the leaking of stories that hurt the franchise since early December -- and in past years. The organization needs to rebuild a trust, not only with certain players (Griffin), but with the fans. As tired as everyone at Redskins Park was about the leaks, it’s probably quadruple for the fans, who thought that two decades of mediocre to bad football -- and needless drama under Snyder -- had finally ended after last year’s playoff run. A low-key guy has to help here, right? You would think.

Gruden is also tight with the Redskins’ director of football operations Paul Kelly, an understated but important aspect because of how closely the two must work.

There are a lot of reasons this has to work, for many people -- including Allen (who was at the forefront of this hire) and Griffin (who clashed with Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan). It's their jobs, their reputations on the line here.

What I also know is that this hire will shape the franchise for a long time. That’s obviously the case whenever you hire a coach. But it’s even more true now because of Griffin. They have a young head coach; they have a young quarterback. It’s boom-or-bust time.

Quick Takes: Coaching search

January, 3, 2014
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  • I’ve been told several times that Bill Cowher is not returning to coaching. But to think that Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder hasn’t at least reached out to him is insane. Snyder has lured Marty Schottenheimer, Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan to his organization. You don’t think he’s at attempted to get Cowher -- one of two big names still on the sidelines (Jon Gruden being the other)? Don’t forget, Snyder heard “no” from Gibbs a couple times over several years before snagging him. Of course, Snyder has hired three of the all-time winningest coaches -- and in their nine combined seasons they produced three winning records and one NFC East title in Washington. Not a great track record. Cowher is smart and would have to know the issues involved, and past obstacles, in coaching here.
  • Cowher
    The CBSThisMorning twitter feed sent this out this morning: Bill Cowher (@CowherCBS) says there is “nothing to” the rumor he’ll return to coaching, but the “door is never closed."
  • That’s why, when I hear that they haven’t talked, I laugh. Any team that doesn’t reach out to Cowher to gauge his interest is not doing its job. And no owner is more attracted to star power than Snyder. Cowher exudes the power and confidence any owner would love, especially Snyder. If he thinks that door is "never closed" of course he'd pursue him.
  • Having said that, even if that door is closed here, if I’m Snyder and Bruce Allen I’m tapping into all my resources to find the right coach. Snyder has a relationship with Cowher, so there’s just as strong a chance that if they have talked, it’s also to run names by him and pick the brain of a Super Bowl coach. Just like Allen would be doing with Gruden. They might not be interested in coming to Washington -- at all -- but they can still help in the search. It’s what I’d do as well. It’s smart. My guess is they'll pick the brain of many others about the job.
  • I also remember when Gibbs was hired, there was a spotting of Snyder’s plane in Charlotte several days earlier. A reporter, Len Pasquarelli, asked Snyder about it -- and about Gibbs -- and was pretty much told nothing was going on. He was hired a few days later. Snyder’s plane was in Denver early in the 2009 season, and again we were told it had nothing to do with a meeting between the owner and Mike Shanahan; instead the plane was there for someone else's use on business. That was the line. Later we found out differently. Point is, believe nothing and consider everything until it’s over.
  • Gruden
    And I’m not saying I think Cowher is coming. At this point I have zero evidence to the contrary, and people I respect and trust say it's not happening, so that’s what I stick with. But I’ve learned not to fully believe certain denials by the organization.
  • The Redskins face an uphill battle in some ways with their search. Yes, there are attractive parts to the job -- young offensive nucleus, cap space -- but the reality is a 15-year record of mostly losing and chaos every few years. That will scare some candidates off and make others leery. So find out from experts such as Gruden and Cowher what they need to do -- and who they need to interview.
  • And just because they interview someone, it does not mean they have a strong interest in them. It’s good to interview coaches with various backgrounds to see how they assess your team and organization. If you limited your search to just, say, offensive-minded coaches, you would not learn all you need to know. It would be quite dumb to operate that way.
  • From what I’ve been told, they have not yet reached out to Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
  • San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, an intriguing candidate for any opening, was teammates with Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew from 1989-90 in Washington. I heard that they’ve maintained a friendship, which could help lure him to the Lions. But if the Chargers win this weekend, would the Lions wait just for him? Not sure about that. One potential drawback to the Lions job: I’ve heard they want to maintain the defensive staff. If another coach wants to hire all of his coaches, that could be an issue.

Allen keeps open mind for next coach

December, 31, 2013
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ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins general manager Bruce Allen called the coaching list an open one, saying there’s a spot for all sorts of backgrounds. Allen said they will talk to people who have no head coaching experience, who are currently college coaches and some whom he’s never met.

“I want to hear what their dreams are, what they can do, the fire in their belly to coach the Washington Redskins, to inspire the kids on this football team,” Allen said.

Among the names that likely will be on their list, as well as other teams: ex-Chicago coach Lovie Smith, Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, and Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Former Green Bay coach Mike Sherman, currently the offensive coordinator in Miami, was a possibility, but a bad finish with the Dolphins might have changed that as his job is reportedly in jeopardy. The Redskins would be interested in Jon Gruden, too, though it does not sound as if he shares that interest. Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is another name who will surface for most vacancies.

One note: Being on a list and being a strong candidate are two different things. They likely will have 10 to 12 names on the list before it gets pared down.

Other names that could surface: Baylor’s Art Briles, for the obvious connection to quarterback Robert Griffin III – which could keep him off the list as well --and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin. They’ve also talked to Bill Cowher, but, that too does not appear to be of mutual interest.

Allen said he has no blueprint for what systems he wants the coach to run. Defensively that could mean a return to the 4-3. Offensively it could mean going to a different blocking scheme.

“It’s the person who has the understanding and the knowledge of what he wants to teach the players,” Allen said. “As I said at the beginning, we’re going to look for someone who is a leader first and it could be on the offensive side of the ball, defense or special teams. There have been a couple special teams coaches who have made great head coaches. We’re going to keep an open mind.”

This will be the sixth head coach hired under owner Dan Snyder. None have lasted more than four years and none have finished better than .500. Allen tried to play down the lack of success in Snyder’s ownership.

“I can’t speak for the prior years. I can speak for Mike’s years, and Dan was very supportive of all of Mike’s wishes and ideas,” Allen said. “This is the Washington Redskins. This is a very high-profile team. When the Dallas Cowboys or the Washington Redskins are in first place it’s a lot of news, and when they’re in last place it’s a lot of news. I think coming into this environment, knowing that there is a nucleus, I think it will be a very attractive position to coaches.”
Any ranking for the 20 greatest coaches in NFL history would leave off at least two of the 22 enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The ballot I submitted for our "Greatest Coaches" project left off eight of them: Guy Chamberlin, Jimmy Conzelman, Weeb Ewbank, Ray Flaherty, Sid Gillman, Bud Grant, Greasy Neale and Hank Stram.



That seems outrageous. However, there were only 20 spots available, and many coaches appeared interchangeable to me outside the top 10 or 12. Current or recently retired head coaches such as Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher and Marty Schottenheimer deserved consideration, in my view, but including them meant leaving out others. I also thought Chuck Knox should be in the discussion even though he's long retired and not a Hall of Famer.

Putting together a ballot was difficult. There's really no way to fully analyze the jobs head coaches have done. We must consider won-lost records over time, of course, but little separates some of the coaches further down the list. I figured most panelists would go with Lombardi in the No. 1 spot, but I'm not sure whether that was the case.

Herm Edwards revealed his ballot Insider previously. We agreed on George Halas at No. 1. He put Lombardi second. I went with Paul Brown and Curly Lambeau after Halas, followed by Lombardi, Tom Landry, Bill Walsh, Don Shula, Joe Gibbs, Belichick and Chuck Noll to round out the top 10. The choices got tougher from there.

Edwards had Bud Grant, Dick Vermeil and Marty Schottenheimer in his top 20. He did not have Steve Owen, Holmgren or Cowher. I easily could have justified swapping out some of the coaches toward the bottom of my ballot for others not listed. Edwards and I both had Coughlin at No. 15. Our rankings for Lombardi, Landry, Walsh, Shula, Gibbs, Belichick, Madden and George Allen were within three spots one way or the other. I had Brown and Lambeau quite a bit higher than Edwards had them.

I tried to balance factors such as winning percentage, longevity, championships, team-building and impact on the game. The coaches I listed near the top of my ballot were strong in all those areas. There was room lower on my ballot for coaches whose achievements in some areas offset deficiencies in others.

Halas was a straightforward choice at No. 1 for me. He coached the Chicago Bears for 40 seasons, won six championships and had only six losing seasons. The Hall of Fame credits him as the first coach to use game films for preparation.

"Along with Ralph Jones, his coach from 1930 through 1932, and consultant Clark Shaughnessy, Halas perfected the T-formation attack with the man in motion," Halas' Hall of Fame bio reads. "It was this destructive force that propelled the Bears to their stunning 73-0 NFL title win over Washington in the 1940 NFL Championship Game and sent every other league team scurrying to copy the Halas system."

Brown was my choice at No. 2 because he won seven titles, four of them before the Cleveland Browns joined the NFL in 1950, and he revolutionized strategy while planting a massive coaching tree. Lambeau edged Lombardi in the No. 3 spot on my ballot. He founded the franchise and won with a prolific passing game before it was popular. His teams won six titles during his 31 seasons as coach.

ESPN has revealed the coaches ranking 13th through 20th based on ballots submitted by Chris Berman, Jeffri Chadiha, John Clayton, Colin Cowherd, Mike Ditka, Gregg Easterbrook, Edwards, David Fleming, Ashley Fox, Greg Garber, Mike Golic, Suzy Kolber, Eric Mangini, Chris Mortensen, Sal Paolantonio, Bill Polian, Rick Reilly, Adam Schefter, Ed Werder, Seth Wickersham, Trey Wingo and me.

The eight coaches, beginning at No. 13: Jimmy Johnson, Coughlin, Grant, Stram, Levy, Gillman, Shanahan and Dungy.

Gillman was an interesting one. He spent 10 of his 18 seasons in the AFL and had a 1-5 record in postseason, but there is no denying his impact on the passing game. Like other coaches rounding out the top 20, his case for inclusion was strong, but open for debate.
Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe has never been one to hold his tongue. Now an NFL analyst for CBS, Sharpe had a lot to say after New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick shunned the network for a postgame interview following a 28-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

"There is something to be said about being gracious in defeat," Sharpe said. “We’ve seen the New England Patriots five times in the last 12 years be victorious [in the AFC title game]. And we’ve seen the opposing coaches that lost come out and talk to our [reporter] Steve Tasker. Coach [Bill] Cowher did it when he lost to them.

"Bill Belichick makes it real easy for you to root against the Patriots. You can’t be a poor sport all the time. You’re not going to win all the time, and he does this every time he loses. It is unacceptable."

Sharpe has a fair point. But for those like myself who regularly cover the Patriots, this is just Belichick being Belichick. He is tough with all media and doesn’t care for interviews whether in victory or defeat.

Belichick usually does the bare-bones minimum with media, although Sunday’s loss probably heightened his want to get out of Gillette Stadium more than usual. Belichick did go through the mandatory post-game news conference Sunday night. But it was clear that was probably the last thing he cared to do after another tough playoff defeat.

Before Saturday's playoff game in Denver, I told an old colleague at The Baltimore Sun that Brian Billick would probably never get another shot at coaching if he didn't get hired this year. A day later, news broke that the Eagles interviewed Billick for their head-coaching vacancy.

I've always been shocked that Billick has never gotten a second chance to be an NFL head coach. The knock on the former Ravens coach is that he's arrogant and he failed to develop an offense (and quarterback) in Baltimore. It also hasn't looked good for Billick's résumé that the Ravens have been to the playoffs every year since they fired him in 2007.

But Billick deserves another shot to be a head coach. He won a Super Bowl in 2000 by understanding how to handle veteran players and strong personalities. He turned a losing franchise into a perennial winner. In nine seasons, he had more playoff seasons (four) than losing ones (three).

For some reason, teams have never been interested in Billick. There have been 36 head-coaching jobs filled since Billick got fired, and he's never been a reported finalist for any of them. Don't feel too bad for Billick since he was getting paid by the Ravens up until 2010 and he's got a good gig as a television analyst.

Still, you get a sense that Billick is eager to show he can still coach. That was made clear in 2010, when he chided the Bills for not calling him (Buffalo settled on Chan Gailey).

"Why [Bills general manager Buddy Nix] had not called a coach with a Super Bowl ring, 10 wins a year for nine years, having orchestrated the highest-scoring offense and defense in the history of the league, is a question worth asking," Billick said at the time.

Billick is right. Whether you like him or not, there's no reasonable explanation why Billick hasn't received a second chance while the likes of Gailey, Mike Mularkey and Dick Jauron have.

In other news involving former AFC North coaches, Bill Cowher said he has no plans to coach in the NFL. This comes a few days after the former Steelers coach told Newsday that he probably would come back at some point. Call me crazy, but something tells me Cowher hasn't made up his mind about his future.

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