Cowher steps down as coach of the Steelers

Bill Cowher has stepped down as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers after 15 seasons.

Cowher informed his assistant coaches he was stepping down on thursday, and after talking over the situation with the family and the Steelers, decided to move up his announcement until Friday.

Cowher built a home in North Carolina and wanted to spend more time with his family there. Though the Steelers wanted him back, Cowher was looking for the chance to get away from the game for an indefinite period. Even though he could get his name in some of the job currently open, Cowher will not coach in 2007.

First, the Steelers control his contractual rights through the 2007 season. Any team wanting him to coach would have to offer the Steelers a bounty of draft choices to get the rights to talk to him.

Second, Cowher doesn't want to coach in 2007. Apparently, his decision doesn't have much to do with money. He is indeed going to take this season off and relax although it's not out of the question for him to do some television work. Cowher is expected to be working this weekend for a network, an arrangement he made several weeks ago.

Cowher finished 161-99-1 in his 15 seasons with the Steelers. Thanks to Cowher and Chuck Noll, the Steelers have had one of the most stable coaching situations in the NFL.

Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and assistant head coach Russ Grimm are among the leading candidates for the Steelers job.

By making his decision known Friday, Cowher gives the Steelers the ability to talk to some of the assistant coaches currently in the playoffs. The NFL gives teams looking for head coaches until Sunday night to set up and conduct interviews with coaches currently in the playoffs. That could put the Steelers in position to talk to Cam Cameron of the Chargers and Ron Rivera of the Bears among other assistants.

The Steelers will meet Friday morning to discuss replacements.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this story.