Cowher countdown begins in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH -- The Bill Cowher countdown began Monday for the
Pittsburgh Steelers, who may soon be looking for a new coach for
only the second time since 1969.

"I think he's definitely leaning toward calling it a day. But you never know. He said he's going to step away,
let the emotions set and get back to his family and make a
-- Alan Faneca

The Steelers, the first Super Bowl winner in four years to miss
the playoffs the following season, held their final team meeting
with Cowher on Monday. Some players felt it was exactly that -- the
last time they will meet with Cowher, who is clearly leaning toward
resigning after 15 seasons in Pittsburgh.

"I didn't cry. I almost did, but I didn't," linebacker
Joey Porter said. "Yeah, it was emotional because that's my guy."

Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca sensed it was Cowher's goodbye,
saying it was evident during the Steelers' 23-17 overtime victory
Sunday at Cincinnati and again Monday that Cowher may be moving on.

"I think he's definitely leaning toward calling it a day,"
Faneca said. "But you never know. He said he's going to step away,
let the emotions set and get back to his family and make a

The Steelers don't expect Cowher to make a decision quickly,
even though any delay might cause them to fall behind teams such as
the Falcons and Cardinals that are already looking for a new coach.

"He's going to give some thought to it, but I think if he comes
to a point where he's at ease with himself and feels good about it,
a week from today or so, it will be clear cut on his decision,"
Porter said.

There are two possible replacements on Cowher's staff in offensive
coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and offensive line coach Russ Grimm,
each of whom has been a finalist for an NFL head coaching job.

The 49-year-old Cowher, whose tenure with the same team is the
longest of any current NFL coach, began weighing retirement shortly
after the Steelers won the Super Bowl in February. He is signed
through 2007 but, for the first time since being hired in January
1992, could not work out an extension.

Cowher has said several times recently he is not burned out, and
there is no indication he would retire if he quits now -- the
Steelers themselves anticipate he would be back on an NFL sideline
as early as 2008.

Cowher's decision appears tied to family and money. He would
like to spend more time at home since his youngest daughter,
Lindsay, has only 2½ years of high school remaining. His two oldest
daughters, Meagan and Laura, attend Princeton.

The problem: Cowher's wife, Kaye, and Lindsay are now living in
a new home in Raleigh, N.C., where Cowher attended North Carolina
State and the family has many friends. But the Steelers aren't
interested in having Cowher significantly reduce his presence in
Pittsburgh by constantly shuttling back and forth to North
Carolina, where he also owns a summer home.

Another problem: Cowher, for the first time, seems focused on
being one of the NFL's highest-paid coaches in his next contract.

Cowher made about $4 million this season, or about half of what
Seattle coach Mike Holmgren is making. The Steelers are giving no
indication they are willing to pay any coach $8 million a year.

However, there seems little doubt Cowher could make that kind of
money should he retire, work next season as an NFL analyst for a TV
network, then sign with another team in 2008 or 2009 after all of
his daughters have left home.

"Obviously, he knows we love and respect him, and we hope he's
going to be here because we all love playing for the guy,"
defensive end Brett Keisel said. "But we understand he has the
freedom to do what he wants and he's going to do what he wants. If
he goes, we're going to miss him and move forward."

Porter said, "What people don't understand is when you're the
head coach, you deal with all the stressful hours of being the
coach. You come to the point, where do you let football be your
life, your whole life? He just can't go to a restaurant and have
dinner with his family. At some point in time, you do want that

The Steelers have never had a coach leave, either by firing or
resignation, and go on to coach another team since Bill Austin
coached the Redskins in 1970. Austin was the Steelers' coach from
1966-68 before Chuck Noll was hired.

Cowher has a 149-90-1 regular-season record and a 12-9
postseason mark since succeeding four-time Super Bowl winner Noll
in 1992. The Steelers have won eight division titles, two AFC
championships and a Super Bowl while making 10 playoff appearances
under Cowher.

Cowher was the NFL coach of the year in 1992, after taking over
a team that had missed the playoffs for six of the previous seven
seasons and leading them to a 11-5 record.

If Cowher leaves, Keisel is certain Steelers chairman Dan Rooney
and president Art Rooney II will find an excellent replacement. Dan
Rooney's last two hires, Noll and Cowher, couldn't have worked out
much better.

"The Rooneys know how to find good coaches," Keisel said. "If
he does go, they know how to pick winners and I'm not worried about
that at all."

The Steelers will announce a coach's resignation on Tuesday.
Dick Hoak, a Steelers player or assistant coach for all but one
season since 1961, is retiring. The only assistant to work for Noll
and Cowher, he has been the Steelers running backs or offensive
backfield coach since 1972.

Cowher met individually with every player on the team Monday,
but did not speak with reporters.