Cowher staying mum on coaching future

PITTSBURGH -- Bill Cowher apparently won't make anyone wait
to learn if he will return as the Pittsburgh Steelers' coach next

Cowher is expected to announce his future plans within a few
days of Sunday's season-ending game at Cincinnati, one that is
without playoff implications for the no-longer-defending Super Bowl
champion Steelers (7-8).

ESPN.com senior NFL writer Len Pasquarelli thinks the Steelers' subpar campaign has to be one of the top stories of 2006.

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"That's for next week," Cowher said Tuesday when asked if he
would return next season. "We'll talk about that next week. It
won't go long. I'm not sure what the time frame is. But I think the
most important thing is to be focused on this game."

That he appears ready to announce his decision quickly could be
a sign the Steelers may soon be looking for a new coach for only
the second time since 1969. Chuck Noll (1969-91) and Cowher
(1992-present) have been their only coaches since then.

If Cowher decides to retire -- if only briefly -- and not finish
out a contract that expires after the 2007 season, the Steelers
want to begin searching for a new coach as soon as possible since
three or four other NFL teams also could be in the market for a

Two Steelers assistants, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt
and offensive line coach Russ Grimm, are seen as viable candidates
-- even though the Steelers haven't promoted a coach from within
since Mike Nixon in 1965. And he lasted only one season.

Several players, including Joey Porter, said recently they
expect Cowher to return for a 16th season. Only last week, Cowher
laughed at suggestions that he is tired of coaching at age 49,
saying, "Do I look burned out?"

Cowher's tenure is the longest with his current team of any NFL
coach, and a season or two away from the game watching his three
daughters play basketball might increase Cowher's already-high
market value.

Cowher is making $4 million-plus under his current contract,
which he signed in 2004. If he were to sign a new deal with the
Steelers, he likely would make in the $5.5 million-$6 million

But Cowher -- who would be a highly attractive candidate for any
NFL owner desperate to win quickly -- conceivably could make more on
the open market, perhaps even more than Mike Holmgren's estimated
$8 million with Seattle.

When Cowher signed his latest Steelers extension in 2004, he
emphasized money wasn't a motivating factor.

"You couldn't have a better job," he said. "It's not about
the market or the money, it's about the winning."

Right now, it appears the market has become an issue.

Cowher's wife and youngest daughter moved to the family's new
home in Raleigh, N.C., earlier this year, and Cowher made several
trips there during the season. Being an absentee father no doubt
doesn't appeal to Cowher, but an NFL coach's job has become all
encompassing with offseason workouts, minicamps, coaching sessions
and the draft.

The Steelers aren't interested in a part-time head coach, even
one who has been as successful as Cowher.

Cowher declined Tuesday to discuss his situation in detail,
saying the Steelers need to concentrate on beating the Bengals
(8-7) and finishing at .500, even though a 31-7 loss to Baltimore
on Sunday ended their playoff chances.

"Our goal is to go down there and get this taste out of our
mouth and, more importantly, finish the season at 8-8," Cowher
said. "We'll do that. Playing Cincinnati with a game like that,
there's a lot at stake, just pride-wise. It's always been like

With the playoffs no longer a possibility, does it really make
that much difference if the Steelers wind up 8-8 rather than 7-9?

"Finishing strong is very important because that's what you
take into next year," Cowher said.

The Steelers also wouldn't mind ending Cincinnati's season, just
as they did in the playoffs last January. The Bengals, who won in
Pittsburgh 28-20 on Sept. 24, must win to retain any playoff hopes,
though the Jets and Broncos can secure the two AFC wild-card spots
by winning Sunday.

"Misery loves company," Cowher said. "And we're looking for