Q: Are you angry? Are you the Angry Man today?
A: No, not anymore. It's really much more disappointment to me than anger. It's disappointment. See, anger to me would come if I thought stuff was getting kissed off and I don't believe that it is. I truly don't believe that Cowher is not doing what he did last year at this very time, in terms of his role in things. I don't think that players are not showing up. I think they're kind of waiting for bad stuff to happen. I mean, it's the fine line thing. As trite as that is, it's true, and we're on the wrong side of that line.
Q: Do you disagree with what Willie Parker said?
A: Yeah. Willie Parker is a very young person. Young people don't have a lot of perspective necessarily on things. I think Willie Parker's pretty frustrated. At the time things might feel like that to him. But this is all part of this business. That's the kind of attention that these games get, especially this team in this town. There are going to be a lot of tape recorders in guys' faces. I'm not saying the media shouldn't be doing it, and I'm not saying Willie Parker shouldn't say what he feels at the time, I just think that people need to understand that just because this kid said something, they're not going to be taking out the stone tablets and engraving this at any point. He's a kid who's frustrated, but using him as the barometer I think is a mistake. I don't think there is a guy in there who speaks for everyone else.
Q: As a writer, I took the comments and matched them with the fact that Duce Staley made this team in a no-bid competition at training camp, and theorized that it symbolizes this team's standing. How much of that do you agree with?
A: Well, the Duce Staley thing was a principal that this team believes in. I mean, he took the pay cut.
Q: Doesn't this team believe in the principal of fair camp competition? Isn't that more important?
A: I defy you tell me a running back who didn't make the team that you could say was one of the 53 best players up there.
Q: I thought John Kuhn was much better than Duce.
A: He wasn't one of the 53 best players though. So, to me, if you're not keeping the 53 best players it doesn't matter. Then you're allowing other factors to get into it anyway. A principal to me is a worthy factor for the 52nd or 53rd spot on your roster. I think the way you conduct yourselves as a business means more than the competition at that lowest level.
Q: Are you saying the messages from the front office are more important than the messages from the coach?
A: It doesn't matter. Everything comes from the top here. I mean, this team, this business, is run according to the way that the Rooneys think is the right way to do it. That's the only thing that matters. I'm not trying to say they're against competition to make the roster. Again, I don't think John Kuhn was one of the 53 best guys, and then the pureness of the competition isn't being adhered to anyway; sometimes you have to make compromises on things. Again, it's the 52nd or 53rd spot on the roster. Do you believe that this team is not 2-6 if John Kuhn is on the team?
Q: I think the message sent at camp was that it's okay to take it easy. Your spot is made. You won't make your big, big money, but you'll make big money. I think it's a bad message. You know how I feel about training camp messages.
A: See, I disagree that that was the message. You can look it like this: If we come to you and give you our word that if you do something than we will do something, well we will hold up our end. Whether you hold up your end is on you. So if Willie Parker wants to be ticked off at somebody, he should be ticked off at Duce for taking the money and not showing up in shape, not at the team for the way they held up their end of the bargain.
Q: I don't think Willie's mad at the team.
A: I understand. But if he wants to be angry, there's some individual anger that can be directed around where he dresses every day, some of those individuals.
Q: Um, Cowher's making changes.
A: What can he do?
Q: Well, little changes. What do you see as problems?
A: There are a lot of problems that he can't do anything about. You can pull Santonio Holmes because he can't field kicks, but the people you put in, are they any better? I mean, Cedrick Wilson will return the punts; he's not a threat to return any, certainly not as much of a threat as Santonio. I mean, Willie Reid is hurt. If you don't have him on kickoffs, the option last week was Ike. I mean (laughs), I don't know if that really helps. If you want to bench Ike on defense, okay, because he can't play the fade and you think he may be playing too soft, okay, so put McFadden in. Then if Ike doesn't play at all, your third cornerback is Anthony Madison. I don't know how that helps you win. I truly believe that that's all this guy's about, Cowher; I mean, he wants to win this week. Do you bench Max Starks and put in Trai Essex? Ahhn, I don't know that that's a dramatic improvement. I think that that's a problem area, but I don't know that that really helps you that much. I don't know what else you can do. I mean, you're playing Marquis Cooper because you have to; you've got no thumper on special teams; James Harrison is gone. At this point, 2-6, do you go to Keisel and ask him to cover kickoffs? I don't know. Maybe that would've been a good idea at 1-2, something like that, work him in a little bit. Now, at this point, with the injury list where it is, I mean you're already playing Chukky. You can't seriously contemplate Kendall Simmons at center, not at this stage. You've got to give him an off-season to learn how to do that. Kemoeatu? We've tried that. That didn't make that much of a difference. Your running backs? I mean, that's it.
Q: Are you worried that two key areas – offensive line and secondary – still need help after so much has been rebuilt in both areas?
A: Let me say this: If you went back to some of these transcripts from 2003, I'll bet you it sounds a lot the same. And with very little dramatic personnel changes, they won 26 regular-season games over the next two years and a Super Bowl. So, I don't think that you can say these guys stink because they don't. I mean, it's down the hall. I can show it to you. Their names are on it. When you saw Bill Belichick win a Super Bowl with Greg Robinson-Randall at right tackle, you think, ‘How did that happen?' But, hey, the Steelers won one with Max Starks and you see how he's playing this year, so I think there's a lot of really salvageable stuff here. Again, I'm not angry as much as I'm disappointed because you're at a point now where I don't think you can turn it around. If you go 5-3 over the next half, you finish 7-9. Even if you have a good 6-2 second half, which I think would be a dramatic turnaround, you're still 8-8, so the reality of it is this is a disease that can't get better in time, this year, but I don't think that these are either bad players or bad guys; I don't think these coaches are bad coaches. They're just in a bad cycle. What is happening right now is everybody wants to make a difference and improve it. They really want to win. And when you're not, sometimes you think, ‘I've got to do more. I've got to do better. I've got to do whatever.' And then you're doing too much and that's bad.
Q: Are the Cowher rumors affecting any of this?
A: What Hines said, that people are auditioning for next year, if Cowher's not coming back – let's just pretend he's not – you better be auditioning for next year. If he is coming back, you better be auditioning for next year. Right? Because if you lay down on Cowher, if he's coming back, he's going to hate you. And the next guy doesn't want a dog, period, because once a dog always a dog.
Q: What percentage do you put on Cowher staying?
A: I think 50-50 is optimistic. He would have to sign a contract extension. If he doesn't I'd be stunned if he comes back because then you're really emphasizing the situation and that makes it difficult. That's what I mean by saying 50-50's optimistic. If he doesn't sign a contract extension it's on the bad side of 50-50. January fifth he might sign a contract extension, but it all depends on that. They've got to get a deal done.
Q: In your expert opinion, are they going to win this week?
A: I just can't believe it's going to get much worse than 2-6. I do sense that everybody – fans included -- is waiting for the first disaster. Even the fans in the parking lot aren't getting drunk with confidence.
Q: But aren't they also waiting for the first good thing to happen?
A: Yeah, but, I mean, 14-nothin'. The problem is you can't run the ball, not as a weapon that has to be feared and game-planned for. And when you can't do that, if you've got to throw it, three things happen and two of them are bad. And there's just no physical consequence to play the Pittsburgh Steelers anymore. Everybody gets big balls then.