Ed Driscoll

Steelers: Continuity After Cowher

As Ed Morrissey notes, Bill Cowher is stepping down after 15 years as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and deliverer of the fabled “One For The Thumb”–their fifth Super Bowl ring. Ed writes:

As a lifelong Steeler fan, this comes as an expected but still tough blow. Cowher embodied the Steelers persona: tough, tenacious, and smart. Few coaches fit their teams as well as Cowher did, which is why he lasted 15 years after getting the job when most coaches are still carrying Gatorade bottles for the players.

At 49, he’s much too young to hang up his clipboard. He wants to spend time with his family before time runs out, and he’s close to being too late for that. No one could blame him; the head coaching position has become a 24/7/365 job during the time Cowher has coached the Steelers. After 15 years of that kind of grind, a couple of years as a sabbatical seems reasonable enough.

I expect that Cowher will not retreat from football entirely, though. He will probably find work as an analyst with one of the networks, a job that will take significantly less of his time. He will need to stay connected if he plans to return to coaching at some point, and given his consistent success in Pittsburgh and his youth, that seems assured. It probably won’t be with Pittsburgh, though, unless Cowher’s replacement bombs — and you can bet that whoever succeeds him will feel that pressure from the fans, the players, and the head office.

This fan will miss The Jaw on Sunday afternoons, stalking the sidelines. I’ll miss the passion that Cowher always has for the game, and the obvious joy he took in it. Thanks for 15 great seasons, Mr. Cowher, and we hope you enjoy the time off.

Don Banks of Sports Illustrated believes that the Rooney family may have their successor to Cowher–only their second head coach since 1969–already lined up:

But when the news of [Cowher’s ] departure from the Steel City fully sets in, and we wrap our brains around the idea that he has coached his last game for Pittsburgh, it’s going to become quickly apparent that the future of the Steelers has been right there alongside Cowher for some time now. And that future is either going to look a lot like Cowher, as Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt uncannily does, or it’s going to coach a lot like him, as no-nonsense assistant head coach/offensive line coach Russ Grimm does.

I’m not basing this on anything other than my gut and a little early tea-leaf reading, but my money is on the Steelers having a Grimm future. And by that I mean anything but gloom and doom.

In an organization that values continuity and consistency, and in a city where it has always been important to remember who you are and stick to that identity, Grimm offers the Steelers the most seamless transition to the post-Cowher era. The Rooney family doesn’t have to wonder if Grimm would continue the commitment to the power-running game that has been the calling card of Cowher’s 15-year tenure, and the connecting strand that has run through nearly all of Pittsburgh’s successful teams in the past 30-plus seasons. That style suits Grimm from head to toe.

With Grimm, an old offensive guard who thinks like an offensive guard, what you see is what you get. He’s about as fancy as a thumbtack, and about as likely to fall for the next offensive fad as he is to shave his bushy mustache and streak his hair pink. He’s as straight forward as a drive block, and almost as subtle.

Grimm’s football principles are rock-solid: Winning and an emphasis on running the ball go hand in glove. With Grimm in charge, there wouldn’t be any need to refashion the Steelers roster to fit a new system, or wholesale changes on his coaching staff. It would be let’s buckle it up and keep on going. I’m fairly sure he’d keep Dick LeBeau in place as the team’s defensive coordinator, and keep right on playing the 3-4 defense that Pittsburgh has featured for years.

While Grimm might look like one of those Chicago fans from ‘Da Bears skit of Saturday Night Live fame, he’s a Pittsburgh guy, through and through. You might think that doesn’t matter in this case, but you’d be wrong. It does in that town (How else do you think Dave Wannstedt got the Pitt job?) Grimm was an All-America center at Pitt, and was born in Scottsdale, Pa.

More even than most NFL club owners, the Rooney family is very conscious of what the Steelers mean to their city and the surrounding area. They like a head coach who reflects the image and toughness of their city and their blue-collar fans. Grimm isn’t slick or particularly savvy in the way that some head coaching candidates package themselves. But he’s a known quantity in Pittsburgh, and that’s going to count for an awful lot in this case.

Whoever ultimately replaces Cowher, I’m assuming the Rooneys will be as patient with him as they’ve been with Chuck Noll and Cowher through the decades. In an era where the coach is usually immediately yanked if his team delivers a sup-par season, that level of continuity is exceedingly rare, and it’s definitely paid dividends for the Steelers.