Pittsburgh Steelers Team Report

At first, Bill Cowher thought he would have to hire no coaches this year. Now, nearly half of his staff may turn over before all is said and done.

The departure of Mike Mularkey to the head coaching job in Buffalo could trigger a chain reaction that resonates throughout the Steelers' staff. Cowher now must hire two coordinators because he fired Tim Lewis, who was in charge of the defense the past four years.

Mularkey will take Tom Clements, the Steelers quarterbacks coach, to Buffalo as his offensive coordinator.

Mularkey also is trying to beat Cowher to the punch to hire Dick LeBeau as his defensive coordinator. LeBeau coached on Cowher's first staff from 1992 to 1997.

Also, Steelers secondary coach Willy Robinson will leave to take the defensive coordinator position in San Francisco. He and 49ers coach Dennis Erickson go way back to their days at the University of Miami and Robinson was offered the job last year, but the Steelers declined to let him go at that time.

The count right now stands at five coaches Cowher will have to hire: Defensive coordinator, offensive coordinator, wide receivers, quarterbacks coach, and secondary coach.

Cowher likely will promote Ken Whisenhunt as his offensive coordinator. Russ Grimm, who lost out to Lovie Smith for the Bears coaching job, will get a new title in Pittsburgh to go with his line coaching duties.

The battle at the moment is over LeBeau. Cowher hired him as secondary coach on his first staff in 1992 and promoted him to defensive coordinator in 1995 after Dom Capers left to become Carolina's head coach. LeBeau introduced the zone blitz defense to the Steelers when he arrived from Cincinnati. LeBeau quit the Steelers in 1997 to return to the Bengals as defensive coordinator and, later, head coach.

It was reported that LeBeau did not enjoy working for Cowher, which is why he left. LeBeau has never said that publicly and Cowher has always held him in the highest regard.

"It's a division that I spent most of my life in," LeBeau said, "and in a town I was fortunate enough to spend a good portion of my life in and have some wonderful experiences and memories. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to go back and give it another shot."

One of LeBeau's sons lives in Pittsburgh, where he also developed some close relationships during his six years with the Steelers. Another son lives in Cincinnati, where he maintains his home and is a shorter drive from Pittsburgh than Buffalo.

Mularkey, 42, had been a candidate in Atlanta before the Falcons hired Jim Mora, and he recently declined a request to interview for the vacant job in Oakland. Last year, he turned down an offer to become Cincinnati Bengals coach and also was interviewed by Jacksonville. He was interviewed after the 2001 season in Tampa Bay before they hired Jon Gruden.

Mularkey's first job was offensive line coach for Concordia College in 1993. Sam Wyche hired him as quality control coach with Tampa Bay in 1994 and then as tight ends coach in 1995 before he joined the Steelers.

FA Update
FB Dan Kreider (they would like him back, but won't make a big offer to him); SS Mike Logan (They won't make an offer because they have first-round pick Troy Polamalu ready to move in). WR Chris Doering (They might want him back another year at minimum wage). LS Mike Schneck (At minimum wage, perhaps). Backup NT Kendrick Clancy (don't care), No. 4 TE Matt Cushing (don't care) and top backup LB Clark Haggans (would like to keep him at a reasonable price).

Steeler free agents RB Amos Zereoue, CB Dewayne Washington, LB Jason Gildon and TE Mark Bruener are four veterans who likely will be released by the Steelers before training camp this year. All but Gildon were benched from starting jobs in 2003.

Feeling a draft
With the 11th pick in the first round, the Pittsburgh Steelers draft ... a quarterback, a cornerback or an offensive tackle. Take your pick. They would love to have a cover corner or a tackle who can step right in. It's likely they won't draft a tackle because Outland Trophy winner Robert Gallery of Iowa will be gone. It's more likely that a quarterback could fall to them before a tackle. They also could find a great running back tempting.

Steelers Quick Hits

  • Mularkey is the second offensive coordinator under Cowher to leave the Steelers for a head coaching position in the NFL. Chan Gailey left in 1998 to take over the job in Dallas. Two defensive coordinators under Cowher also were hired off the Steelers to become head coaches, Dom Capers in 1995 with the Carolina Panthers and Jim Haslett in 2000 with the New Orleans Saints. Others on Cowher's staffs who became head coaches were Dick LeBeau (Bengals), Marvin Lewis (Bengals) and Ron Zook (University of Florida).
  • Cowher interviewed two candidates to become receivers coach: Larry Kirksey and Tyke Tolbert. Kirksey, who was fired after one year coaching Jacksonville's receivers, also coached the receivers in San Francisco and Detroit. Tolbert coached the receivers last season for the Arizona Cardinals.
  • Bill Cowher, after firing Tim Lewis as defensive coordinator and Kenny Jackson as receivers coach, was asked if he's tough to work for. "I will say this: I'm demanding but fair, I'd like to think, and that's been a term that I've heard people use."
  • No Steelers made the list of 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the second straight year. DE L.C. Greenwood and SS Donnie Shell, among the 25 finalists, were eliminated, as was Steelers line coach Russ Grimm, a Pro Bowl guard with the Redskins. Before last year, the previous time a Steeler wasn't on the final 15 was 1985.
  • LB Joey Porter missed the first two games of last season after he was shot in the butt as an innocent bystander outside a bar in downtown Denver. Whether that was the reason or not, Porter's play slipped and he didn't not make the Pro Bowl. He listed several things he must do this year to get back in form for 2004, including this one: "Stay out of Colorado."
  • Pro Bowl OG Alan Faneca thinks the 6-10 Steelers can bounce back next season and be a Super Bowl contender again. "I'd say we weren't far away this year even though it didn't show. So, I would have to say yeah, we're not that far away. It's a little here, a little there, a catch here, a catch there and the season's turned around a little bit."
  • Medical Watch:
    --C Jeff Hartings will have surgery to clean up bone spurs on an ankle.
    --G Kendall Simmons will need shoulder surgery.
    --RB Amos Zereoue has a mid-foot sprain that will heal soon.
    --CB Chad Scott is recuperating from hand surgery a month ago.
    --DE Brett Keisel had shoulder surgery early in the season and will be OK.

Quote to Note
"Offensively, to be honest with you, without getting into a bunch of details, we're gonna run and we're gonna pass." -- Steelers OL coach Russ Grimm after interviewing for the Bears coaching job.

Steel City Insider Top Stories