Derry: One Who Got Away

Frank Derry has been reporting on the Browns for nearly three decades now, and has a number of stories to tell. One of them should give fans insight into why the Steelers, not the Browns, have had consistent success and stability over the last 15 years, while the Browns... well... haven't.

It seems like only yesterday that Bill Cowher was running up and down the Browns' sideline as his special teams units performed on the field.

Heaven forbid anything or anybody get in his way because Cowher's attention was riveted on his players, who were playing with the same emotion on the field that the former Browns linebacker was exhibiting on the sideline.

Right then and there I knew that Cowher had the makings to one day move up the ranks and become a head coach in the NFL.

In fact, if David Modell, son of then-owner Art Modell, had listened to me, Cowher might very well have become the head coach of the Browns in 1991.

I'll never forget walking past his office at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium when he yelled, out, "Hey, Frank, come in here a minute. Who do you think should be the next head coach," he asked.

Even though David and I had developed a solid relationship during my nearly 10 years of working for the team, I was still somewhat surprised that he wanted my opinion. Still, I was more than happy to oblige.

The team was looking to replace Bud Carson, who had been fired with the few games to go in the 19990 season, replacing him with offensive coordinator Jim Shofner.

Carson was a genius when it came to defense, but he lacked organization. Nor did he bring a lot of emotion to the job.

That's why I thought the Browns needed someone like a Marty Schottenheimer, the man who Carson had replaced. Schottenheimer was a control freak who would shed a tear faster than Kevin Mack could shed a tackle. The Browns, in my opinion, needed a Marty Schottenheimer clone.

Thus, my answer to Modell was, "Bill Cowher."

Young David, puffing on one of his huge stogies, scoffed at the notion, saying the team wanted to hire a coach with Super Bowl experience. In particular, they were looking to hire an assistant coach who had a Championship ring.

A few weeks later, the New York Giants won the Super Bowl and shortly thereafter Giants defensive coordinator Bill Belichick was hired.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Belichick spent five tumultuous years as head coach of the Browns, taking the team to its last playoff appearance in 1994.

 There was never a doubt that he was an outstanding coach. The problem, at that time, was that he had no people skills. His relationship with the media was horrible and his unceremonious ouster of fan favorite Bernie Kosar made him the most hated man in Cleveland.

That was until Art Modell decided to move the team to Baltimore.

Cowher, meanwhile, got his opportunity to be a head coach when the Steelers hired their native son after Chuck Noll's resignation following the 1991 season. Ten playoff appearances, including one Super Bowl title later, Cowher has permanently etched his name among the most successful coaches in NFL history.

Belichick, meanwhile, has done likewise, thanks in part to the experience he gained while with the Browns.

Although still very stoic, Belichick is a far cry from the guy who totally lacked a personality while with Cleveland.

It was interesting to hear Cowher during his "resignation" press conference held Jan. 4. The very first man that he thanked was former Browns head coach Marty Schottenehimer, who had given Cowher his first coaching job and then took him along to Kansas City, where he moved from special teams coach to secondary coach.

Schottenheimer looked at Cowher as a reflection of himself, an over-achieving linebacker who played with a great deal of emotion.

It'll be very interesting to see how things play out over the next 12 months. Browns fans would love to see Cowher one day return to Cleveland and serve as the head coach.

And, based upon his ties to Northeast Ohio as a player and coach, it would seem to be a logical marriage if indeed the team has a tough year again in 2007.

There's no doubt in my mind that owner Randy Lerner would pay whatever was necessary to land Cowher, who will be free to sign with any team in 2008.

Cowher wouldn't talk about it, but there's little doubt that one reason he "resigned" as the Steelers' head coach was the financial situation with the Steelers.

Not only was he under-paid as a head coach, but the Steelers allowed several star players to walk away during Cowher's tenure because of money.

I have a feeling that Lerner, a billionaire, would not let the almighty dollar get in the way of his fielding the best team money can buy. Having Cowher on board would probably perk the interest of free agents coming to Cleveland, something which is not situation with the current state of the team.

Most NFL fans know Bill Cowher as the guy with the huge jaw. His players know him as the guy who would often unintentionally spit in their faces when he was having an up-close discussion.

I will forever think of Cowher as the guy who got away, all because he didn't have a Super Bowl ring on his finger.







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