Imagine an alternate timeline in which Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher unretired, after he resigned from his position with the team following the 2006 season. Team president Art Rooney II recently said of Cowher that, when that happened, he always thought “he would come back and coach somewhere, if not here”.
Now imagine the place he unretired for was the Cleveland Browns. It’s not as farfetched as it might sound, even though he spent 15 seasons beating the pants off of them as the Steelers’ head coach, from 1992 and onward. In fact, it was the closest he ever came to considering returning to the sidelines, as he recently recalled to the Akron Beacon Journal.
Though a Pittsburgh-area native himself, Cowher was actually signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, remaining in-state, in following the 1979 NFL Draft. But he would spent the next three seasons playing for the Browns. He was primarily a special teams player, though he did once break Jeff Fisher’s leg (yes, that Jeff Fisher).
After finishing his playing career with two more seasons in Philadelphia, he immediately moved into coaching, and spent four years, beginning at the age of 28, under Marty Schottenheimer with the Brown before following his head coach to the Kansas City Chiefs with a promotion to defensive coordinator. It was from that post that he Steelers would hire him in 1992.
The Browns had a vacancy at head coach in 1991, at which point they could have sought to hire Cowher. They did not, instead hiring Bill Belichick. The better part of two decades later, they did finally come calling, in 2008.
“You almost needed to go through the process of listening to someone and talking about what they wanted and talking about their football team”, he told the paper. “I just kept thinking, boy, if people have to talk me into something, that’s not the reason to come back”, adding, “so I never really came that close”.
To the best of my knowledge, though, this may be the first time he has gone on record as acknowledging that he not only was pursued by multiple teams about head coaching opportunities after he resigned, but that he did even engage in some level of conversations, saying, “I met with people. Did I ever think about coming back? I never got to a point I was talking about a contract”.
Some 12 years after resigning his post with the Steelers, he is now set to be enshrined as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2020, posting 10 postseason appearances, eight division titles, two Super Bowl appearances, and one championship during his 15-year stay presiding over his hometown team.