Cowher deserving of market value

Head coach Bill Cowher has been coy about his future with the organization. Maybe he's retiring. Maybe he wants more money. Maybe he just wants a good seat for NCAA women's basketball games. Blogger Ryan Wilson has some thoughts.

Last week came a report from the Website That Shall Not Be Named that Bill Cowher was using the retirement angle as a ploy for more dough and the Pittsburgh Steelers' front office wouldn't be inclined to oblige him if the head coach was looking for "Mike Holmgren money."

Before I address the Cowher situation, let me clear up a few things concerning the WTSNBN, more commonly known as ProFootballTalk.com. I don't actively read PFT, but A LOT of people do, and they love it because Mike Florio, the main man behind the site, has loads of sources and occasionally breaks a story. That's great. But his hit-to-miss ratio is somewhere south of the Mendoza line. I'm all for gossip – I mean, I read People magazine for chrissakes – but there's a difference between harmless speculation and just making stuff up. That's not the case in the Cowher scuttlebutt, but it certainly does apply on all things Santonio Holmes-related, which is just the most recent example. Another example occurred last August when Florio reported that everybody on the Steelers hated Big Ben:

"For months, we've noticed a curious phenomenon in the 'Burgh. The fans love quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The organization coddles him. The local media (for the most part) won't criticize him.

And, per multiple league sources, many of his teammates hate him.

That's right, hate. Offensive line? Hate. Other quarterbacks on the roster? Hate. Members of the defense? Hate.

The only guys on offense we can't get a feel for are the receivers and running backs. Our guess is that the pass-catchers and ball-toters know not to express any displeasure with the guy primarily responsible for distributing the pigskin."

Great call on that one. The Steelers hated Big Ben all the way to the Super Bowl. Maybe the Seahawks should've hated Matt Hasselbeck more and we could forget about all those questionable calls. Anyway, my point is this: the internets are a big place and there's enough room for everybody. But mostly baseless gossip sandwiched between the homophobic remarks and vitriolic commentary is something that I prefer to avoid. Plus, Pittsburgh already has that job filled.

Now, back to Cowher ...

According to the, ahem, rumors, Cowher ain't getting $7 million a year no matter how many Super Bowls he wins. That's fine. The Rooneys certainly have the right to decide how they will spend their money, but if this is true I'm not sure why some people (read: fans) think Cowher is being selfish by asking for a raise. The guy is one of the most successful NFL coaches in recent history, he just won a Super Bowl, and despite coaching for 14 years he's entering the prime of his career. Why shouldn't he ask for more bucks? Yeah, the Rooneys took a chance on him in 1992, and the Steelers, as they're currently constituted, are in position to make several more Super Bowl runs, but maybe being fairly compensated is a part of Cowher's overall job satisfaction.

Now, how you define "fair compensation" is up for debate. And yes, I know that Seattle owner Paul Allen basically Dan Snyder-ed the whole head coaching salary structure by paying Holmgren $7.5 million a season, but how is that Cowher's fault? If you're going to ask for a raise, and you're more qualified – at least based on your record – than a guy making more than you, wouldn't you use his salary as a starting point? As somebody somewhere once said, "Don't blame the guy cashing the checks; blame the guy writing them."

Look, I'm not saying that Cowher should make $7 million a season – I don't think there are many people, in any profession, who are worth that much – but if we're talking about a performance-based deal then he should be one of the highest-paid coaches in the league. To say he should be content with a middling contract because he's in a great sports town with great fans is naïve. Even on a deal paying substantially less than $7 million a season I don't think Cowher will go Latrell Sprewell and claim he can't feed his family, but that's kinda missing the point. If you're one of the best at what you do, why shouldn't you be compensated accordingly?

For the sake of argument, let's assume Cowher does leave for what he perceives to be greener pastures. And so I don't make myself ill envisioning Cowher in Redskins burgundy and gold or some such lunacy, let's also assume he gets his $10 million payday to coach the Toronto Argonauts. So what does the new Pittsburgh coaching staff look like? Well, here's my take on the top three jobs:

Head coach? Ken Whisenhunt. At the turn of the century (and yes, it feels weird typing that) Mike Mularkey was the next great coaching phenom and Whisenhunt was an anonymous tight ends coach only recognizable to family, friends, and a couple of co-workers. Mularkey, like Gregg Williams before him, took the Bills job – also known as, "Where promising coaching careers go to die" – and saw his stock plummet faster than you can say, "J.P. Losman." Whisenhunt graduated to Steelers offensive coordinator and in two seasons positioned himself as the next hot coaching prospect. Like Mularkey, Whisenhunt loves gadget plays, but unlike his predecessor, he's less inclined to call the triple-reverse option on third-and-three that invariably would result in an Amos Zereoue eight-yard loss.

And if the Steelers hired Whisenhunt as the head coach, who becomes the offensive coordinator? Two names come to mind. Obviously Russ Grimm would be an option, although he might consider a lateral move at this stage of his career one not worth making. A more intriguing option – at least for me – would be Mark Whipple. He's currently the quarterbacks coach, but he's a smart guy who's spent two years in the system and he has a great track record at the college level. Plus, between Whisenhunt, who has a civil engineering degree from Georgia Tech, and Whipple, a Brown alumnus, the Steelers would clean up in Blockbusters.

Let's also assume for the sake of discussion that Dick LeBeau follows Cowher to Toronto and Whisenhunt needs a new defensive coordinator. How about Darren Perry? He's intimately familiar with the system – as both a player and coach – looks to be well-respected by his players, and in the few times I've heard him speak, he seems like a pretty sharp dude.

In a perfect world I'd love to see Cowher stay in Pittsburgh forever, but there's a better chance of Santonio Holmes not getting arrested at least one more time before training camp. If Cowher does leave, I'd wish him well – unless he ends up in Washington – and be thankful for all the good things he accomplished in Pittsburgh. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.


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