Wilson: The plot thickens

Bill Cowher is resigning today ... and now things get interesting. The Steelers will be looking for a new head coach and there's speculation that Cowher might be more interested in a big payday than watching women's amateur basketball. Ryan Wilson has some thoughts.

Yesterday, in a very interesting post, ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio speculated about Bill Cowher's future. Also, it looks like today's the day Cowher resigns his head coaching gig with the Steelers and catches up on all the women's college and high school basketball he's missed the last five years or so... Or, now that Nick Saban's Alabama's new head coach, maybe Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga will throw enough cash Cowher's way to convince him to relocate to Miami. I know, that's not very likely since Cowher's "expected to stay out of coaching in 2007", just hear me out. At the very least it'll be a nice little thought experiment to take your mind off Cowher retiring.

From Thursday's Miami Herald:

The Dolphins will now start gauging their interest in candidates in earnest. The Steelers, Cowher and his agent might be among the first they contact. If Pittsburgh grants the Dolphins permission to speak with its coach, a person close to Cowher said Wednesday he would be willing to listen...

There are obstacles to Cowher joining the Dolphins. He reportedly wants a contract extension in Pittsburgh that would pay in excess of $7 million annually; the Steelers offered $6 million. And the Steelers would demand draft-choice compensation in return for releasing him from his contract.

The Dolphins also would have to gauge Cowher's personal situation to see if he indeed is willing to take on a job long-term basis rather than for a two- to five-year spurt. But the obstacles are not insurmountable if Cowher is receptive. Huizenga has deep pockets and said Wednesday that he badly wants his team to win. ''I don't care what it takes, what it costs, or what's involved,'' he said.

It's the last sentence that gives me pause. Whenever anyone says it's not about the money, more times than not, it's about the money.

Whatever happens, the Pittsburgh Steelers will be fine. If Cowher wants to retire to spend more time with his family, I'm all for it. If Cowher wants to retire to clear brush off his new property, more power to him. If Cowher wants to retire to update his languishing porn collection then I say, "Yay Bill!" And even if Cowher wants to get out of his current deal to become the highest paid coach in the NFL somewhere else, then all the better. This still is America, right? Land of opportunity, capitalism, free enterprise and all that crap?

I can't think of too many lines of work that are more competitive than professional football coach. After a hall-of-fame 15-year career in Pittsburgh, where Cowher spent virtually all his energy competing to field the best team in the NFL, why wouldn't he also want to be the highest (or one of the highest) paid coach in the league? If it's about competition, this makes sense. Here's what I wrote last summer (I would provide the link, but Scout's archives don't go back that far):

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 a performance-based deal, then he should be one of the highest paid coaches in the league. To say that 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?
And my thoughts haven't changed. I've made it nauseatingly clear that I'm a Cowher fan, but if the Rooney's don't want to spend their money to keep him around, well, that's fine by me. History suggests they know what their doing when it comes to evaluating talent on a per dollar basis. Plus, it's not like Cowher's infallible. He did, single-handedly, lose the first Bengals game this season. And he's had similar brain farts in the past.

For me, the biggest question won't be how will the Steelers replace Cowher's tactical skills (he's never been accused of possessing Norman Einstein-like brain power), but his aptitude for motivating players. It's pretty impressive that after 15 years his team still responds to him in the way they do. Look around the league and there are numerous examples of coaches not relating well to their players. And most of these teams are perennially drafting top-10 picks.

With all of this in mind, I wonder how proficient Ken Whisenhunt might be at motivating the troops. I have no doubt that he really knows football, but so do a lot of other guys who have since been canned as NFL head coaches. Since Whisenhunt wisely turned down the Oakland career-killing head coaching job last off-season, I was pretty much convinced he was the heir apparent in Pittsburgh. Russ Grimm was always in the conversation but I had a hunch that head-to-head Whisenhunt would get the nod. I still like Whisenhunt for the job, but in the back of my mind, I wonder if Grimm is better suited to fill Cowher's role as hard-ass while delegating the X's and O's minutiae to the coordinators. Just something to think about when not thinking about all the other Steelers-related stuff about to go down in the next few weeks and months.

Returning to Florio's post, if you're willing to concede that Cowher-to-Miami has a probability greater than zero (and frankly, if it's not zero, it's pretty close … but just indulge me), then you'll be happy to know this:

The Dolphins would be required to compensate the Steelers if Cowher becomes the coach in Miami. To get Jon Gruden from the Raiders five years ago, the Bucs gave up two first-round picks and two second-rounders and $8 million.
You had me at "two first-round picks." Think about that for a minute. The Bucs gave up two firsts and two seconds and eight million bucks to hire Gruden away from the Raiders. Yikes. In retrospect, I wonder if Tampa Bay's owner, Malcolm Glazer, thinks a 2002 Super Bowl followed by mostly mediocre football was worth all he gave up to get Gruden. I could see both sides to this argument, but I'm legitimately interested in what Glazer thinks after five years.

If the Dolphins offered the Steelers a similar deal, it's a no-brainer. You have to pull the trigger on this one. It's like found money. Plus, with Pittsburgh having plenty of draft needs, it would be like Christmas in April on the South Side.

For giggles, let's assume Miami signs Cowher to a billion-dollar deal, and the Steelers are the beneficiaries of two first-rounders and two second-rounders, one each this year, and one each next year. According to the 2007 draft order, that means the Steelers would pick ninth and 15th overall. With their newfound riches -- and depending on what need they valued most -- the Steelers could do any number of things:

  • Draft an offensive tackle with the 9th pick and defensive end/linebacker at 15;
  • Package some picks and trade down (I seem to remember that working out pretty well with the Anthony Smith deal);
  • Package some picks and trade up (I seem to remember that working out pretty well with the Santonio Holmes deal).
Let's say Pittsburgh decided to trade up. Consulting the handy trade value chart, a 9th (1,350) and a 15th (1,050) total 2,400 points. That's between the second (2,600) and third (2,200) pick. As long as we're fantasizing, let's fast forward to the 2007 draft weekend:

With the second pick of the 2007 NFL draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select ... tackle Joe Thomas, Wisconsin.

Okay, who's not psyched by the idea of grabbing Thomas? But it gets better: Pittsburgh still has two second-rounders to address other needs early on Day 1 and the team still has the Dolphins' first- and second-round picks in 2008. How is this not a good idea?

Okay, breathe. You're getting a little way ahead of yourself here.

I know, I know, it's baseless speculation at this stage and as I write this Cowher's still the coach for a few more hours. Not only that, but a lot has to happen for anything close to this little scenario I've painted to play out. It would be almost as improbable as, say, winning four straight regular season games to make the postseason, then winning three consecutive road playoff games, all before winning the Super Bowl. Almost.

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