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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Steelers boast iron-clad method of trusting coaches

Tim Dahlberg Associated Press

Patience has never been highly rated as a virtue in the NFL. That’s especially true among owners, who tend to change coaches almost as often as they do underwear.

Dan Snyder, the current poster boy for panic hiring, has gone through five coaches in six years since he bought the Washington Redskins. Count Bill Belichick’s one day reign with New York, and the Jets have had seven coaches in a little more than a decade.

You would think Dan Rooney might want to brag a bit, then, about the way things are done in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers have had two coaches in the last 36 years yet somehow managed to go 15-1 this season.

He doesn’t, because he’s not that kind of guy. But he will let you in on the secret that kept Bill Cowher around after a few 6-10 seasons that would have doomed almost any other coach in the NFL.

“We believe you have to give someone an opportunity to show what he can do,” Rooney said. “The idea of just yanking somebody at the end of a dying season for us just doesn’t make sense. If you know you have the man you’re satisfied with and what he’s doing, we stick with them.”

That’s apparently a theory with which Snyder isn’t familiar. Of course, Snyder’s not familiar with the playoffs either, having missed them every year but the first since he started meddling with his $800 million playtoy in 1999.

He didn’t make the playoffs with Marty Schottenheimer, and never came close in two aborted seasons with Steve Spurrier. Even Joe Gibbs couldn’t recreate his magic this year, going 6-10 in his first comeback season.

Kind of makes you appreciate what’s going on in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers almost ran the table behind a rookie quarterback and the same coach they’ve had since Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992.

Cowher will roam the sideline today when the Steelers play the Jets, just as he has done 223 other times when it mattered since being hired to replace Chuck Noll in 1992. Noll wasn’t exactly a short-timer himself, winning four Super Bowls in 23 seasons with Pittsburgh.

They were both hired by Rooney, and between them have coached the last 589 regular season and playoff games for the Steelers. The chairman of the team has some longevity himself, starting out as a water boy before his dad, Art Rooney, put him to work full time a half century ago.

Put that kind of time in any job and you’re bound to gain some perspective about what works and what doesn’t. That’s why Cowher still coaches the Steelers, despite losing three AFC championship games the Steelers were supposed to win and going 6-10 twice, the last time just a season ago.

“The fans never really pressure us about coaches and they all really like Bill Cowher and identified with Chuck Noll,” Rooney said. “You have to have the talent, no question about that. But you have to keep everybody together and let the players be able to rise to their ability, and both coaches have done that for us.”

Noll did it better than anyone in the 1970s, with teams that played solid defense and talent like Terry Bradshaw at quarterback and Lynn Swann at receiver leading the Steelers to four Super Bowl titles in a span of six years.

Cowher hasn’t replicated that success, at least yet. He took the team to a Super Bowl in his fourth season, losing to the Dallas Cowboys, but hasn’t been back in almost a decade.

Unlike some other owners, though, Rooney understands parity in the NFL and the difficulties of keeping a team on top. That’s largely because he had a lot to do with setting up an NFL system that distributes money and talent so equally that any team should be able to contend.

Rooney knows the days of one team winning four Super Bowls in six years are likely gone. Conversely, he doesn’t panic over a losing season or two.

For that reason, while there have been 111 head coaches in the NFL since 1992, the Steelers have had one.

“It’s a tough league and that’s where coaching comes in so meaningful,” Rooney said. “There is parity and because of that you need to get the team together and playing together. The attitude is a key issue.”