Will he or won't he? That's the question even the Pittsburgh Steelers players are asking themselves about Bill Cowher's future.
In the moments following the Steelers' dramatic 23-17 overtime victory over the Bengals Sunday, the Steelers coach was asked point-blank whether he would return for a 16th season in 2007.
"He was talking to us and we just wanted to know," said linebacker Joey Porter. "He gave us the same answer he gave you all – he just needs some time to think about it and whatever decision he makes, he asked us to respect his decision. We don't know. He just said he didn't want to give us an answer off of emotions so he couldn't give us a real answer."
Even the players remain in the dark about Cowher's future, though Cowher is pretty sure what he's going to do.
"I know where I'm leaning, but I want to make sure that I think clearly about it," Cowher admitted. "It's too important a decision to do it any other way. I'm not burned out, I won't need a lot of time, but I will need some time to make sure it's a well-thought-out decision."
With that said, you can bet Cowher is leaning toward stepping down as head coach of the Steelers.
If he were coming back, the natural thing would be to just say it. But if he's leaning toward quitting, the natural thing would be to step away and make sure that it's the right decision – one not made in haste. Heck, he even got a little teary-eyed while talking about the players following the game.
"I think he's going to do what's best for him and his family," said Porter. "Being a head coach is an emotional job; there's a lot of stress. It's a stressful job. To do it for 15 years and have the credentials he has – he's a Hall of Fame coach – I have no problem. You give up a lot when you dedicate yourself to football."
Over the past 15 years, Cowher has certainly done that. He's had plenty of ups and downs. Sunday's win – even in a meaningless game – was certainly a high moment.
All it did was get the Steelers to an 8-8 finish, but it was a good way to cap Cowher's tenure in Pittsburgh. Santonio Holmes' 67-yard catch-and-run touchdown in overtime will rank up there in terms of great finishes during the Cowher era. It also could be a nice springboard for the next coach.
After their horrendous 2-6 start, the Steelers finished the 2006 season by going 6-2 in the second half.
Some young players – rookies Holmes and safety Anthony Smith among them – got some valuable playing time down the stretch and should be prepared to emerge in 2007.
If and when Cowher does walk away, he leaves a team built to be successful in the future.
That could be Cowher's biggest legacy. Though he only led the Steelers to one Super Bowl championship, every year he was here, he gave people hope the Steelers could win another one. It's not that way in every NFL city.
Cowher always seemed to get the most out of his teams, regardless of the situation. They seldom, if ever, quit on him, battling through every game as if it were their last.
That will be the thing that stands out the most from his 15 years here.
© Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has to be beside himself right now. Had the Bengals actually showed up in the first three quarters of Sunday's game, they would be in the playoffs right now.
Instead, they sleptwalked through the first 45 minutes of Sunday's game and missed out on an opportunity when Denver lost to San Francisco later in the day.
But hey, at least Lewis won't have to worry about getting any calls about his players getting in trouble in the offseason – yeah, right.
©That's two drives for the Steelers in their final two games that totalled more than 90 yards that ended without a point being scored.
That's pretty hard to do.
© Other than his ridiculously stupid taunting penalty at the end of the third quarter, rookie offensive tackle Willie Colon played a good game Sunday.
In fact, add his name to the list with Holmes and Smith of rookies who got valuable playing time this season.
Speaking of which, how about Smith's hit on T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the third quarter? That kid is going to be a star.
Palmer jumped to make the pass, thus exposing himself to the big hit from Farrior. Ridiculous.
© James Harrison's unnecessary roughness penalty for suplexing Chad Johnson was a little more understandable. Not much, though.
© The Steelers were upbeat following the game. The Bengals were down – very down.
There are different kinds of 8-8.
Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter