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Steelers say Kordell's absence not that unusual

Kordell Stewart hasn't shown his face in Pittsburgh since the season ended. He hasn't met his new (and first-ever) quarterback coach, Tom Clements. When many of his teammates reported this week to begin the strength and conditioning program, there was no Kordell.

Kordell Stewart
Kordell Stewart, benched by Bill Cowher in 1999, started the 2000 season as the backup QB.

The Steelers insist there is nothing wrong or even odd about Stewart's invisibility this offseason.

"I think that's typical of quarterbacks," said team president Dan Rooney, who remembers that Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw did not always offer a smooth ride, either.

Stewart's acquaintances interpret his posture differently. One source insists that Stewart is still unhappy with coach Bill Cowher and is uncertain whether he will participate in the offseason program, even when the team hits the field next month. But another source close to the quarterback said, "There's smoke, but no fire. ... Kordell will be there Monday."

Stewart, who apparently is on a golf vacation with his father, might need to show his face to kill the suspicion. If he does not show, do the Steelers have to give serious thought to using their first-round draft pick (No. 16) this month on Purdue quarterback Drew Brees? Not so, according to Kevin Colbert, the team's personnel boss.

"We have no concerns whatsoever about Kordell," said Colbert. "The coach has been in contact with him. He knows his whereabouts. He knows his schedule. A lot of guys who live out of town like Kordell aren't necessarily here right now. And I don't think it's all that unusual that he wouldn't meet with his position coach."

Sources say the quarterback still has a lack of trust in Cowher, who opened the 2000 season with Kent Graham at quarterback. Stewart also was benched during the 1999 season, relegated to a receiver spot and banished from quarterback meetings. The quarterback has not forgiven the coach for making him a "scapegoat" for the team's failings during that 6-10 season in '99 season, according to the sources.

Stewart has made known his feelings to Cowher in a lengthy postseason meeting between the two men, sources said. Cowher has only acknowledged that there was a meeting, as is his custom with every player, and that many of these meetings are "emotional" in nature. Privately, sources say Cowher has explained to Stewart, among others, that he deliberately started 2000 with Graham in order to change the attitude among Steeler fans who had turned against the quarterback.

Steelers brass believe Bradshaw has not helped the situation by telling Stewart that Pittsburgh can be an unforgiving city.

Hey, Kordell has done as much as a lot of these [other QBs] have done. He's in the prime of his career. I like the way he started to play the second half of last year.
Steelers coach Bill Cowher

However, Stewart has not demanded a trade or release, according to Rooney and Colbert. Logic supports that contention. If Stewart truly wanted out of Pittsburgh, he could have publicly forced their hand prior to the March 1 free-agency date when a handful of clubs were seeking quarterbacks. That never happened, and most of those jobs are gone.

Through a team spokesman, Cowher expressed "surprise" that Stewart might still be restless about his future in Pittsburgh. Stewart has not responded to interview requests.

Last week at the NFL owners meetings, Cowher reaffirmed his confidence in Stewart by indicating he would not pursue another quarterback.

"Hey, Kordell has done as much as a lot of these guys have done," said Cowher. "He's in the prime of his career. I like the way he started to play the second half of last year. He really started to revert back to what you wanted him to do."

Cowher did fire offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, whom Stewart despised. He promoted tight end coach Mike Mularkey to the coordinator's position, a move that has been embraced by Stewart, sources said.

"Mularkey might have salvaged this whole situation," a source close to Stewart said. "He's made a couple of visits to see Kordell. That's been a big plus."

Stewart is scheduled to make $4.4 million in 2001 as the team's highest-paid player. It also is difficult to imagine him getting more money to play elsewhere, although nobody has ever mentioned that money is the issue.

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