PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers, so it seems, are starting to believe that Sunday will be the end of an era.
With the playoffs out of reach, the game at Cincinnati is the last in the Steelers' season. And it could be the last with the current coaching staff.
With head coach Bill Cowher set to make an announcement as soon as next week about his future, the players realize they could be playing for a new coach in 2007.
"There are so many questions out there, with Coach Cowher, guys on the team and with turnaround every year," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "You lose guys, you get guys. With this last game, it's going to be interesting to see what happens afterwards."
Because Cowher has been with the Steelers for 15 seasons and the majority of the team's roster is home grown, most of the players in Pittsburgh's locker room haven't been through the upheaval of a coaching change at the NFL level.
Gardocki, a 16-year NFL veteran, has been through several coaching changes during his time with Chicago, Indianapolis and Cleveland before coming to Pittsburgh in 2003. Farrior, meanwhile, had three coaches – Bill Parcells, Al Groh and Herm Edwards – in a three-year period with the New York Jets before he joined the Steelers in 2002.
"All of the coaches I played for were fired," Gardocki said. "It's been different every time I've been a part of situation like that. A lot of times there's been upheaval with the whole team, the (general manager), the coaching staff, everything. … It's very difficult in that aspect for the players."
When Parcells left the Jets prior to the 2000 season, he was replaced by Groh, the team's defensive coordinator. But Groh lasted only one season and Edwards was brought in from Tampa Bay, bringing in a completely new defensive system.
"It's like starting all over again," Farrior said. "You really don't know his personality, so you have to adjust to how he's going to be. It's just like going to your next grade in school.
"With Parcells, it was kind of a surprise – we didn't know and he just wanted to go. We had Al Groh, and he was on the staff, so we pretty much knew his personality. Things didn't change too much. Then, when Herm came, he was a totally different guy and we had to get used to him."
That's what the Steelers could face next week.
Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and offensive line coach/assistant head coach Russ Grimm are the two leading candidates to replace Cowher if he leaves. Other candidates could be Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, University of Iowa head coach and Upper St. Clair native Kirk Ferentz and Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
One thing is certain, a new head coach will have to tailor his wants to Steelers ownership.
"Everything is set in place here, from the top all the way down to the bottom," Gardocki said. "Whatever happens, I'm sure will be a smooth transition."
Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.