Bill Cowher was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame over the weekend as part of the one-time-only Centennial Class in conjunction with the NFL’s 100th anniversary.
Younger Steeler fans have only known life with Coach Tomlin, but for SteelerNationUK the Bill Cower era brings back some sweet memories.
Cowher was the coach who brought the first Lombardi trophy to SteelerNationUK. There were a small number of Steeler fans in the UK when the Steelers won their four Super Bowls in the glorious seventies. The UK fans usually followed their team on AFN because there were few other sources of information.
Channel Four began showing football in 1982 and it wasn’t too long before Steeler fans came together to show support for their team with the Steelers Supporters Club which was acknowledged by Dan Rooney and the Steelers.
When Chuck Noll announced his retirement on December 26, 1991 after twenty-three years as the Steelers most successful head coach, it was Joe Greene who was mentioned as being top of Dan Rooney’s list of candidates for the vacancy.
Dan Rooney said it would be unfair to suggest the Steelers would go out and try to get a guy who was exactly in the mould of Chuck Noll. “That might be impossible,” Rooney conceded, “But as far as some of his basic characteristics, yes.”
Rooney confirmed he was looking for someone who had an appreciation of Pittsburgh. “We’ve had coaches here who looked down their noses at Pittsburgh and I don’t think you can do that. Pittsburgh is a good place and the Steelers are special.”
The Steelers initially requested permission to speak to the 49ers’ offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren and the Bears’ defensive coordinator Vince Tobin. The list of candidates extended to Greene and Dick Hoak of the Steelers, Dave Wannstedt (Cowboys), Bill Cowher (Chief) and Woody Widenhofer (Lions).
After the Chiefs were eliminated from the playoffs, the Steelers requested to interview Bill Cowher. Gene Collier writing in the Pittsburgh Press at the time advocated the Steelers were purely interviewing for assistants to Joe Greene as the preferred choice for head coach.
On January 10, Cowher was in Pittsburgh as the final candidate to be interviewed. Holmgren was offered a contract by the Packers which took him out of the contest before four potential successors were called back for a second interview.
Those four were Greene, Wannstedt, Cowher and surprise contender offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride of the Houston Oilers.
Greene was the first candidate to be told that he wasn’t going to get his dream job. “Joe, we’re not going to hire you as head coach,” Dan Rooney said. As Greene revealed in Jim Rooney’s recent book, “A Different Way to Win,” he was disappointed at first. By the time he left Three Rivers Stadium that day, Greene was relieved because he realised that Rooney was right. “If Dan Rooney said I wasn’t ready, then I wasn’t ready,” Greene declared.
Eventually, Cowher fought off the challenge of fellow-Pittsburgher Wannstedt to be presented as the Steelers fifteenth head coach on January 21, 1992.
“Bill is a very capable young man with the experience and intelligence to be a successful coach in the NFL,” said Dan Rooney. “One of the things that impressed us was Bill was an achiever,” admitted Steelers new director of football operations Tom Donahoe. “He always had a goal and a definite plan.”
Cowher’s goal as head coach was to put a fifth Lombardi in the Steelers trophy room. He missed the opportunity in 1996 but fulfilled that quest ten years later in Super Bowl XL.
Every NFL player and coach aim to be inducted into the Football Hall of Fame. Coach Cowher will realise that ambition as part of the class of 2020.